Title: Your Name. | Rated: PG | Runtime: 106 min | Theaters wide
In order to be eligible for Oscar consideration, a film must be scheduled for at least a week-long qualifying run in theater(s) in a given year. This tends to explain why there’s always a host of “Oscar bait” films squeezing into the cinema in November and December. Makoto Shinkai’s anime film Your Name. was one of these pictures last year, having screened at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Los Angeles from December 2 to December 8. At the time, I was aware of the buzz surrounding it (it was Japan’s highest grossing film last year, and just a month later, it beat Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away to become the highest grossing anime film worldwide) and wanted to check it out, but previously scheduled plans kept me from doing so. Now, months later, I finally caught it as it graces American theaters again. Truth be told, reader, when the end credits began to roll, I was mentally kicking myself for not seeing it back in December.
This is an efficiently told story that holds plenty of surprises. The film begins as an innocent and innocuous body swap tale involving Mitsuha Miyamizu, a girl living in the quiet town of Itomori, and Taki Tachibana, a boy living in bustling Tokyo, that inevitably leads to romance. With the film’s first half, Shinkai hits all the notes of a body swap story with confidence and infectious joy – needless to say, it provides laughs aplenty while also presenting engaging dichotomies, as it contrasts the rural with the urban as well as modernity with tradition. What’s worth noting here is how the filmmaker chooses to have his story unfold, as he uses quick and unexpected cuts to spring back and forth between the characters’ perspectives while providing tidbits of information in each moment; he trusts his audience to connect the dots, and it proves key in keeping us emotionally involved with the characters. At this point, we may think we have it all figured out – then Shinkai gleefully pulls the rug out from under us to kickstart the film’s second half. To reveal any further plot details is to spoil the film, but what I can say is that it takes an unexpected yet welcome turn into the mature and melancholy, which proves to be so powerful that our hearts can’t help but ache. The seemingly minor details that are introduced in the first half all come together in a stunning manner and reinforce not just the characters, but also the now deeper themes at play, namely destiny and memory. It must be said that the film moves at a very brisk pace, which arguably works against the film in the second half as the plot does get rather muddled in the buildup to its climax; indeed, it would have been beneficial for it to slow down a bit there.
As smartly plotted as the film is, its emotional impact rests solely on Mitsuha and Taki, and they absolutely soar. The body swap tale provides an interesting opportunity for us to get to know them in two ways: when they’re in their own bodies, and when they’re occupying the other’s (the body swap occurs only in their dreams). What’s neat is that they don’t know each other before all these shenanigans occur, and so with this cold open, we come to know them through their environment, lifestyle, interactions with other characters, actions, and – of course – reactions to those actions. There’s an irresistible earnestness to how they develop over the course of the film that it’s so easy to root for them. Mone Kamishiraishi and Ryunosuke Kamiki, who voice Mitsuha and Taki respectively (the film is available in both sub and dub versions as it plays in theaters, and I watched it in the former), deserve much credit for the sheer empathy we have for their characters. They each act out feminine and masculine personalities with ease, and the gusto they put into their performances make Mitsuha and Taki feel completely genuine. It says a lot that these two don’t directly speak to each other at all for most of the film, yet their chemistry is clearly evident and incredibly natural. The strong character work here are what makes the film’s biggest emotional moments feel earned and then some.
The intricate plot and strong characters ultimately sweep us into the picture, but the incredible animation and spirited music certainly play a key role in that process. The liveliness of Tokyo and the natural beauty of Itomori are stunningly rendered on screen, and this level of loving care makes these two locations feel like characters too. They, as well as stunning cosmic shots of the night sky, ensure that there’s color and vivacity in every frame, making the visual experience absolutely breathtaking. Shinkai also employs an active camera, which moves with and around its subjects to effortlessly extend the expression of their emotions. Yojiro Noda, lead vocalist of the Japanese rock band Radwimps (who also contribute some energetic songs), composes a score that never overwhelms and instead coaxes us in and cues us for the moments to come. It’s gentle when it needs to be to highlight the characters’ innocence and, in the film’s biggest moments, help the characters’ emotions come across and be keenly felt.
Honestly, what more do I need to write in order to express how emotionally rich and satisfying Your Name. is? Well, I know I’m buying this as soon as it’s available on home media so I can share it with friends. Believe the hype, reader.
* Photos courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment