If you’ve heard of Your Name, the latest film from director Makoto Shinkai and highest grossing anime film worldwide, you’ve almost certainly heard of it in glowing terms and heaped with praise. Recently I’ve frequently found myself on the opposite side to popular opinion, I’m not sure if it’s simply a matter of taste or if I just take pleasure in being contrarian. That is not the case with Your Name. It’s easily one of my favourite films of all time, if not my absolute favourite. Your Name really is as good as you’ve heard, so if you’re after a contrarian opinion I’m afraid you won’t find one here. That being said, before we get onto talking about the film, let me briefly mention what prompted all this. On Wednesday (23rd of August) Your Name will be hitting cinemas again, including in IMAX in certain locations, so if you haven’t seen it yet, get on that.
Your Name is, at a very basic level, a story of love transcendent. “Transcendent of what?” You ask. “Everything” I reply. I mean that literally, the love at the heart of Your Name‘s story transcends logic, memory, physical form, space and time. Now that might be because our protagonists are teenagers and teenagers have little time for things as petty as reason or the laws of the universe in the face of an emotion as hugely important and simply huge as capital-L Love. Your Name is openly supernatural and begins, oddly enough, as a body-swap film.
Body-swapping is not a trope used for romance, at least not in my experience. Body-swap films usually are about understanding others and accepting oneself, whether it be swapping places with someone of a different age, social status or even gender. What such films have in common, however, is some manner of dissatisfaction of the self on the part of the swappers, each of whom have a desire for what the other swapper has. At first Your Name seems to fit the bill: our heroine Mitsuha hates her small, rural town and her tradition bound life as a shrine maiden in the local temple. She wishes for nothing more or less than to be a handsome Tokyo boy. Then she wakes up as our hero, Taki, a handsome Tokyo boy.
From there on out the film starts to look less and less like a traditional body-swap narrative. For starters the swap isn’t permanent, at first seeming to be nothing more than strangely realistic dreams. Then there’s the fact that Taki doesn’t seem to have any interest in being a pretty rural girl and stands to undergo little of the character arc such a narrative usually takes. It quickly becomes obvious that the body-swapping isn’t a vehicle for the usual character growth based story as much as it is a bizarre and intriguing way of introducing and creating a relationship between the protagonists. Which makes things really interesting when the swapping is suddenly taken away. I fear that going any further into the plot will tread too deep in spoiler territory but suffice to say that Your Name continues to wind and twist its way through to a nigh on perfect conclusion whilst still feeling like a coherent whole, much like the braided red string of fate it uses so heavily as a motif.
The story of Your Name is only part of what makes it so good however. It is as much, if not more, a film about mood, atmosphere and turbulent emotions as it is about plot. This is greatly aided by stunning visuals and a glorious soundtrack. One of the most common words associated with Your Name is beautiful and whilst that applies on every level it is most immediately apparent on the superficial level. Your Name looks gorgeous in screenshots but where it really impresses is in how fluid the animation is. It’s also important to give credit to the excellent soundtrack with music from RADWIMPS and how it’s woven into what’s happening on screen.
The real heart of Your Name is in its characters. Our protagonists, Mitsuha and Taki, deserve special mention but in truth I can relate to, or at least believe in, every character Your Name presents. This matters because without investing in them the film’s emotional weight, and the punches it throws with said weight, would be greatly lessened. The problem here is exactly how the film accomplishes making its characters so easy to invest in is a difficult phenomenon to articulate. A lot goes into it, from solid writing to excellent voice performances. The actors are great in both the original Japanese and the English dub, personally I prefer the dub because listening in a language one intuitively understands allows one to pick up on the nuances of tone and word choice that simply aren’t detected when reading subtitles. That’s not to say the dub is better, just that I prefer it.
I’d like to pick apart what makes Mitsuha and Taki great characters but I’m not sure I can, at least not outside of an essay dedicated to doing so. In brief I think it comes down to the fact that they execute three things very well: they are internally consistent, easily relatable and understandable to the audience. There’s never a point where you’re pulled out of the experience because someone did something that character simply wouldn’t do and, in spite of the constant and often rapid character growth and development the protagonists undergo, I always felt like I understood who they were and how they thought and felt. Most importantly of all I cared about Mitsuha and Taki and wished them nothing but success, which is why it’s still impactful when the film threatens to stamp all feeling out of your chest and grind it beneath its cruel, merciless boot heel for the third time. Combine this characterisation with the excellent art and sound I mentioned earlier and it’s easy to see why Your Name has received an overwhelmingly positive response from audiences worldwide. It is, plainly put, a masterpiece.
Normally I would at least try to talk about the flaws of a work before rolling on to a conclusion but I really can’t think of any for Your Name. I don’t say that because it’s flawless but because I fell so hard for the film that I just can’t see them. As far as I can see, blinded as I am, the biggest problem with Your Name is that everything that follows (see all the anime films we’ve reviewed in the past year) are going to be compared to its impossible standard. I can give it nothing but a wholehearted recommendation. Catch it in the cinema if you can.