AKA KIMO NO NA WA
IN SELECTED CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 106 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Mitsuha, a high school girl living in the countryside town of Itomori, is fed up with her slow, uneventful life and wishes to be a handsome Tokyo boy in her next life. Taki is a high school boy living in Tokyo but is no happier, ground-down by the commotion of city life and uncertain job prospects. The two teenagers begin to periodically inhabit each other’s bodies and start communicating with each other by leaving notes on paper and leaving memos in each other’s phones. As time passes, they become used to the body swap and start intervening in each other’s lives, and Mitsuha tells Taki about an upcoming comet and how excited she is to see it, as it will arrive at the same day as her town’s festival….
The most commercially successful anime feature in Japan outside of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, and the seventh biggest hit in that country of all time, Your Name has led to talk of its writer and director Shinkai Makoto being the heir to the god that is Miyazaki, though a quick bit of research [I like my anime, but I’m more of a casual fan and have certainly not explored the genre nearly enough] reveals the majority of Makoto’s stuff to be un-fantastical with an emphasis on romance, and not really similar to the wondrous whimsy of Miyazaki. Annoyed that I didn’t make it to the other major anime release of the year When Marnie Was There [which has been sitting in my never decreasing pile of un-watched Blu-rays and DVD for a few weeks now but I’ll get to it soon], I decided to travel a bit [of course such films are not shown in either of the two multiplexes in my home town] and check out Your Name. A quick glance at the IMDB comments reveals lots of rave reviews, and indeed Your Name really is quite brilliant some of the time, though personally I feel that it’s a tad limited by its teen-orientated approach. It is, though, one of the most visually wondrous animes I’ve ever seen, and is certainly worth making an effort to go and see, despite its ghastly pop video opening which almost made me want to walk out of the cinema screen there and then!
What we initially seem to have here is a variant on body swap movies. The director says he wasn’t so much inspired by American flicks like Freaky Friday and Vice Versa but by lesser known – to us Westerners – Japanese equivalents like Tenkosie, while in terms of US movies I detected more an influence of The Lake House, which was itself a remake of a Korean picture, and even Back To The Future. It’s one though that has a bit of social commentary as both Mitsuha and Taki are unhappy in their respective lives and long for what the other person has – while the theme of longing, in many of the guises in which it comes but in particular for something we don’t have and can’t always even define – is one of the major ones of the picture. On the face of it Mitsuha seems to live the happier life and Itomori seems to my western eyes to be the rural Japanese village paradise of dreams, but as the story reveals more and more about her environment and her background our opinion gradually changes. Unlike the gradual pace one might expect, the film gets into its stride very quickly and actually seems to rush parts of its first half. Mitsuha and Itomori accept their situation very quickly and their influence on each other’s life would have worked better if it had been shown in a more gradual fashion.
There’s less of the humour one might expect [though a repeated breast groping gag is funny] and certainly not much pushing of the gender aspects, and the emphasis is in following the romantic tribulations of each character while they also develop feelings for each other. Mitsuha helps Taki in getting closer to his female boss, Miki Okudera, and eventually landing a date with her, but Taki ensures that her friendship with her admirer Katsuhiko, who annoys her because he has no ambitions whatsoever to leave Itomori and better himself, doesn’t really change. Then the two suddenly stop swapping bodies, and Taki, especially, feels lost and certainly loses his enthusiasm for Miki who is clearly crazy about him. Attempts to contact Mitsuha fail, and then the story changes to become darker and more urgent. I really don’t know how much to reveal here as the twists and turns are best experienced the less you know, but suffice to know that it brings in several seemingly disparate aspects like different time lines, a natural disaster probably inspired by the Great Eastern Earthquake of Japan in 2011, and a desperate race against time, plus a surprising amount of Shinto mysticism which adds a deeper element to matters and reinforces the other major theme, the ties that connect us all, without really explaining everything, though one of the loveliest moments in the film is when it’s revealed that many other folk have body swapped with others, including members of Mitsuha’s family.
All well and good, and by the time Mitsuha and Miki are running atop rocky countryside for practically ages desperately trying to find each other, I was certainly hooked in the way that was clearly intended. However – though this is probably a minority opinion and may be prompted by my own sensibilities more than anything else – revelations towards the end seem at odds with the generally melancholic tone [something which the flashy montages and pop music never quite succeed in hiding] and it seems that Makoto doesn’t quite have the courage of his convictions. The coda, despite its sad, wistful tone, goes on for far too long and if I’d made the film I would have especially removed the final few seconds which seem to me to weaken the ‘longing’ theme. But I didn’t make the film, and Makoto definitely did the right thing in terms of commerciality. And it’s not as if there isn’t intelligence at work all over the film, such as the way lots of things just mentioned or hinted at almost in passing so you really do have to pay attention.
And By God Your Name is stunning to look at. It seems to be a combination of 3D and 2D animation but the two styles merges extremely well. From the camera following a comet as it plunges from space into and through clouds, to a truly magical transition from tons of raindrops splashing into puddles to gentle snowfall, from incredibly detailed renderings of Tokyo to simply gorgeous ‘magic hour’ countryside shots, this film offers satisfying spectacle, almost transcendent beauty and lovely visual metaphors in spades. There’s even a couple of virtually psychedelic moments to lose yourself in, but it’s possibly that it’s the tiny details of daily life in both of the main locations that will be most appreciated in successive viewings. And the characters are generally well written and rounded, with even Mitsuha and Miki rather flawed individuals. And despite the ‘out there’ nature of much of the story, it seemed to me [though I’m not sure if this applies to his other pictures], by the time Your Name had finished, that Makoko’s real inspirations are less obvious folk like Wong Kar-Wai and Akira Kurosawa [just look at his use of the frame]. It’s a slight shame that his story telling skills occasionally fall short. There are some glaring holes in the narrative [example: it’s impossible that anyone who has a smart phone and goes to school everyday wouldn’t know what year they were in], and Makoto sometimes lapses into goofy stuff like ending scenes with somebody shouting inanely what he or she is going to do next, but I loved a recurring visual motif of a door sliding head-on towards the viewer. I certainly need to seek out his earlier work.
Anime is always better watched in its native Japanese language, but on the day I went to see Your Name only the English-dubbed version was showing. The American voices take a few minutes to get used to but are well chosen and after a while I failed to notice them, though it did seem that a couple of jokes needed one to have a knowledge of Japanese speech to work. Meanwhile the soundtrack from currently very hot Radwimps is also initially annoying when you know how awesome many anime scores can be, but it ends up not diminishing either the emotion or the excitement of the thing. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Your Name was slightly compromised, especially towards the end, but it’s still quite an emotional rollercoaster ride [its poignant depiction of forgetting hits home especially well] as well as a visual marvel.