Your Name (2016)

What if you woke up in someone else’s body? And what if, like a dream, you later woke up back in your own? Anime director Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimeters Per Second) tells the story of Taki, a boy in Tokyo, and Mitsuha, a girl in small-town Japan, who suddenly find themselves in each other’s bodies seemingly at random. Shinkai’s reputation as the next Hayao Miyazaki is becoming increasingly accurate as Your Name was a mega-hit in Japan and became the second highest grossing domestic production ever. As usual his film features gorgeous renderings of both city and country life with plenty of endearing humor. Taki and Mitsuha have never met so the awkwardness of their sudden displacement brings a plethora of situational comedy. The leads act out of character to the confusion of their family and friends and even more culturally specific jokes, like the misuse of gender-specific pronouns, still carry to an English-speaking crowd making the film much more approachable to a wider audience than most anime.

Your Name is able to take on its subject matter from a unique perspective. Body-swap narratives have been done many times over in movies like Freaky Friday, but Shinkai doesn’t focus on his characters learning empathy. He is more interested in the bond that forms between Taki and Mitsuha. Because their swaps are temporary and unpredictable, they leave notes to each other describing the day’s events and begin to take risks that make small improvements to each other’s lives. Mitsuha flirts with Taki’s boss on his behalf and Taki connects Mitsuha to other students at school. In the course of these small gestures, a romance begins to form. Taki and Mitsuha want to meet each other but aren’t in the same part of Japan and are unable to reach each other. Their longing becomes the emotional core of the film.

Taki and Mitsuha try (unsuccessfully) to create ground rules for how to live their lives.
Taki and Mitsuha try (unsuccessfully) to create ground rules for how to live their lives.

The trouble is that their romance stretches belief. While their attempts to better each other’s lives are genuinely altruistic, the leap to romantic is difficult to make. Particularly in the case of Taki who is already pursuing a relationship with someone else, the love doesn’t make sense. What makes them desire more than an understanding of the supernatural events that are happening to them? Their interactions don’t paint them as particularly lovelorn individuals, just regular teenagers. Maybe because of the director’s previous work we are expected to naturally assume a romance will develop, but the film itself doesn’t provide enough evidence to support it.

Shinkai uses Taki and Mitsuha’s relationship to revisit his favorite themes. Like in 5 Centimeters Per Second, he explores the idea of connecting with a first love. He draws heavy influence from authors like Haruki Murakami and continues the motif of estranged characters walking past each other only to realize they are somehow connected. In Shinkai’s world, love is ethereal. Feelings, however old, never truly die and the connections formed between two people don’t require face-to-face interaction. It is their love that transcends their physical forms, not their role reversal. It’s a shame that this original take on a body-swap story hinges on an undeveloped romance. Without a plausible relationship supporting it, Your Name is unable to fully reach its lofty goals.

3/5 stars.

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