According to Wikipedia, Your Name is currently the fourth highest grossing film in Japan, the seventh highest grossing traditionally animated film worldwide, and the highest grossing Japanese animation ever. And, on seeing the film, it’s the easiest thing in the world to see why. Makoto Shinkai’s overwhelmingly emotional, genre-bending film is a masterclass in…well, everything. Animation, music and storytelling join forces to create an experience that is unlike anything you’ve seen.
Mitsuha is a teenage girl living in rural Itomori, a small village steeped in tradition. Taki is a teenage boy living among the concrete and steel of Tokyo’s urban sprawl. Despite distance and the disparity of their lives, Mitsuha and Taki appear to be sharing each other’s lives. Seemingly at random, each dreams of inhabiting the other’s body. Except they’re not dreams.
To say any more of the plot would be the most heinous of crimes. Your Name settles us into a playful tale of teenage body-swapping (guess what the first thing Taki does when finding himself in a teenage girl’s body?), then suckerpunches us with a reveal that sends the film flying in a completely unexpected direction. Then it does it again a few more times for good measure. Imagine if Freaky Friday had spiraled out into a chimerical dreamscape, and you might have some idea of what to expect from Your Name. It’s a body-swapping, time traveling (kind of) fantastical romance.
It’s also a film of juxtapositions. Through the contrasting lives of his two leads, Shinkai explores the duality of Japanese culture. Male and female. Rural and urban. Ancient and modern. The tone, too, is a clash of styles, flitting between playful and pensive, funny and sombre, prosaic and poetic, heartwarming and heartbreaking, often all at once, and in the middle of a scene. The overall effect is a film that feels simultaneously personal and universal; a slight story that feels like the grandest epic.
Shinkai handles the juxtapositions, the twists and turns, the tonal shifts, with a masterful confidence. Your Name has a peculiar rhythm all its own. It mixes Mitsuha’s rural vistas, Taki’s time-lapse Tokyo, and sequences of astounding visual poetry, and does so in a way that, for this story and these characters, feels natural. Assisting, and binding everything together, is a sumptuous score which heightens the emotionality as only the best scores can. J-pop band Radwimps provide a handful of songs, which give the film an exuberant, poppy vibe that never clashes (or perhaps actually enhances) the pervasive melancholy.
If you think all of this sounds exhaustingly improbable – an impossibly heady brew that would barely work on paper and make for a confounding mess of a film – then you would be completely, wonderfully wrong. Your Name is breathless, beautiful, joyous, heartbreaking, and life affirming, by turns and all at once; and Shinkai (who is already being touted – perhaps unfairly to both filmmakers – as the new Hayao Miyazaki), with a dextrous and profound filmmaking talent, makes it all work. Your Name is more experience than film, and one that I urge everyone to have.