Your Name (君の名は / Kimi no Na wa) is the international anime movie sensation of the year. It recently broke the all-time box office record previously held by the legendary Spirited Away. Not only that, I can easily say that this is the best body-switch movie I’ve seen since I saw the Lohan-Curtis version of Freaky Friday that I watched on Disney Channel when I was 11. To be honest, I haven’t seen an anime film in a while, but my brother convinced me to catch Your Name and I rode the wave. Here’s why you shouldn’t hesitate to join us.
Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name is about two high-schoolers, Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki), who one day wake up in each other’s bodies. The switch is not permanent — the effect seem to disappear whenever they fall sleep, as they return to their own lives when they wake up. At first they are oblivious, as the memory from the previous day disappears quite quickly once they return to their original body. The two of them seem to live opposite lives: Mitsuha lives in the mountainous town of Itomori, a rather secluded region where the only ‘cafe’ that exists is in the form of a vending machine by the roadside. She longs for a life bigger than what she has in her small town, expressing that she would rather live as a boy in Tokyo. Mitsuha and her younger sister Yotsuha (voiced by Kanon Tani), with the guidance of their grandmother Hitoha (voiced by Etsuko Ichihara), carry their maternal family’s traditional rituals, braiding kumihimo and brewing kuchikamizake as young maidens of the land. Taki, on the other hand, is a city boy who lives in bustling Tokyo and works after school as a waiter in a restaurant, with dreams of being an architect. They slowly understand what is happening in their switches, and decide to leave notes for each other to help keep track of what happens. The two are somehow more confident in the other’s body as they experience a life outside their own, and through this intermittent switching they develop deep a emotional connection. One day, the switching stops. Taki decides to find Mitsuha in her hometown by using whatever detail that he remembers, but the memory quickly fades as he embarks on his journey to find her.
What Your Name succeeds at is creating an immense emotional connection between Taki, Mitsuha, and the audience. Unlike Studio Ghibli movies that have a very strong take on world-building and the characters’ interaction with the world, Your Name focuses on how the characters interact with each other and themselves in a world given as established. The animation, spot-on use of musical montages (by the popular Japanese band RADWIMPS) and gorgeous mix between fantasy and reality, elements that this movie does particularly well, exist to support the unique structure of the story, which is what enables Shinkai to create such heart-wrenching moments of loss and longing. Subtle visual juxtapositions are peppered in the movie without being overly stated to give us clues as to how the characters are feeling. We are guided through the emotional evolution of the characters by having them know just about as much as we do at any point, as the film create genuine bonds that makes us feel as if we were walking in their shoes as they walk in the other character’s shoes. Another success is that this movie successfully keeps its narrative coherence despite the daring (though necessary) use of nonlinear storytelling in a body-swap movie. This is so successful, in fact, that the story would make more sense if you watched it rather than having me explain it to you.
At its core, I see Your Name as a coming of age movie. The two teenagers, in their own ways, long for something more than what they have. Much like other fired-up young souls, however, this desire exists in a cluttered mosaic in their heads, floating in a dream-like state of constant disappearance and reappearance. That empty feeling of longing for something and not knowing what is something that all fin de l’adolescence experience at one point. In Your Name, Taki and Mitsuha find that as the opportunity for responsibility is slowly placed in their hands, the mosaic becomes clearer whenever they choose to do what scares them. Beyond the record-breaking numbers, popular J-rock band soundtrack or magical realist premise of the film, the reason why anyone should care about Your Name is that it successfully uses the opportunity found in this storytelling device to create deep feelings of empathy between Taki, Mitsuha, and the audience. As we uncover what is important for one character through another’s eyes, they discover what is important to themselves, and grow as young adults throughout the duration of the movie. These are the true maturing experiences that makes this movie so satisfying to watch. However, I must admit that there is one other reason that makes this a satisfying anime film, but you just have to go see it yourself to find out.
Your Name (君の名は / Kimi no Na wa)
dir. Makoto Shinkai
Now playing at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and elsewhere.