Your Name, 2016.
Directed by Makoto Shinkai.
Featuring the voice talents of Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi and Madami Nagasawa.
A teenage boy and girl from different parts of Japan randomly wake up in each other’s bodies, with no idea why.
Before watching Your Name, the only other Makoto Shinkai film I was familiar with was 5 Centimetres Per Second, which had a wonderful atmosphere but was very light on plot. This film shares the same basic theme of long-distance relationships, but is far more ambitious, funny and emotionally rich. It seems inevitable that any outstanding Japanese animation not made by Studio Ghibli will earn comparisons to them and their incredible back catalogue of films, but with Your Name Shinkai has crafted something unique, hard-to-categorise and decidedly modern. In fact, the only old-fashioned aspect of it (apart from the standard anime character design) is the quality of the storytelling.
Mitshua, a teenage girl from a quiet lake-side town, and Taki, a teenage boy from the centre of Tokyo, wake up one morning in each other’s bodies. Assuming it’s some kind of crazy dream, they simply go with it – he enjoys fondling Mitshua’s breasts, and she makes friends with a female co-worker at Taki’s restaurant job who likes his new-found ‘feminine side’. When they wake up in their own bodies again, they’re told by their friends that they were acting strange the previous day, and from then on it happens more and more frequently. Even though they haven’t actually met, they form a unique and amusing relationship, leaving notes, instructions and updates on each other’s smart-phones (a rare example of modern technology being used elegantly as a plot device). The characters are immediately likeable, making the comedic first act very enjoyable.
Visually, the film is stunning, full of beautiful painted backgrounds and stylish close-ups (ribbons, doors opening and closing) that serve as helpful visual motifs for decoding the story as it becomes more complicated. And even though I usually dislike when hand-drawn films incorporate CG elements, they’re used to such great effect here that they’re entirely justified artistically – whether it’s used subtly so show the kids’ point-of-view when they wake up in their strange new bedrooms, or when it allows the camera to soar alongside a spectacular comet that becomes increasingly important in the second half of the film. This is when the film almost swaps genres entirely to become a disaster-based mystery/drama, but our emotional investment in the two main characters keeps us hooked through the change. When the body-swapping suddenly stops, Taki tracks down Mitshua’s home-town only to discover it was destroyed three years ago by a meteor that broke off the aforementioned comet. He desperately tries to swap places with her one more time, which leads to a trippy flashback sequence (gorgeously realised with pastels), a bittersweet mountain-top meeting between the two of them, and daring plan to warn the townspeople of the meteor’s imminent arrival.
The only element of the film that I was unsure about was Mitshua’s grandmother, a spiritual lady who preaches about interconnectivity and the flow of time. Her understanding of what her grand-daughter was going though, and role in helping her bridge the cosmic gap with Taki (something to do with a special form of saké that she ‘leaves a part of herself in’) wasn’t entirely clear to me. However, all the other supporting characters were likeable, well-defined and very accepting of the bizarre phenomenon happening to their friends (something you can only really get away with in a fantasy film this endearing). The music in the film is incredibly effective too – there are some catchy J-pop songs (provided by Japanese band Radwimps) as well as some typically pretty piano cues, and the guitar-pop score that accompanied the final life-saving scramble somehow added to the tension of the sequence, despite being it being happy and upbeat. This film is so stuffed with ideas that it would collapse under the weight of all of them if they weren’t balanced and handled so well, which is a huge credit to Makoto Shinkai. The communicating-across-time plot may seem reminiscent of The Lake House, but it makes far more sense and is infinitely more emotionally satisfying. And without wishing to give away too much about the ending, I’ll just say that it reminded me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (in a good way).
Who would have thought an animated teenage body-swap comedy would turn out to be one the most soulful and enjoyable artistic triumphs of the year? Not me! And as much as I loved Finding Dory, this looks like one of those rare years when Pixar isn’t a shoe-in for the ‘Best Animated Feature’ Oscar.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★★