I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into Your Name. I’ve had a dubious history with Makoto Shinkai’s works, and I found his character writing to be his weak point held up purely by his emotional appeal drama appeal. Yet it was hard to ignore something when it suddenly becomes the highest-grossing anime film of all time. So I took the first opportunity I had to see it when it released in theaters near us.
Your Name is the story of two teenagers, Mitsuha and Taki, who are unhappy with their day-to-day life. Mitsuha is bored of life in her quiet little rural town, and finds herself wishing she could travel to the big city and live life as a “handsome Tokyo boy.” Taki, meanwhile, is troubled by his violent nature and short temper and finds life in Tokyo overwhelming. Their lives change dramatically, however, when they realize that they switch bodies every night.
Once they get past the initial freak-out phase of their situation, they begin communicating via messages left for one another. Mitsuha helps Taki establish a relationship with a coworker, while Taki helps Mitsuha come out of her shell and become more popular at school. As they start growing more used to being around each other, they begin to wonder where their relationship is taking them, and what has caused them to switch bodies like this.
While the basic idea of the premise may sound familiar, Your Name splits from established formulas rather quickly. Focusing less on the idea that you should appreciate what you have, Your Name instead tells a story of people working together and coming to better understand the world around them through living in another’s shoes. Mitsuha and Taki both come across as very believable in their worries and fears, and their interactions with one another and the world around them end up being quite engaging.
What starts as a story about understanding quickly morphs into a complex and serious drama as we learn more about the nature of the body switching, the reason why they can’t get in communication with one another, and the true purpose of the comet scheduled to pass over Japan. Makoto Shinkai’s forte is gripping emotional drama, and he absolutely nails it in Your Name.
All this still wouldn’t explain the film’s popularity were it not accompanied by the film’s visuals and music. Fantastic animation and beautifully-drawn backgrounds bring the world the characters inhabit to life, and helps you truly understand how empty, or how overwhelmingly chaotic, the world around them is. This is made all the more important as the film delves into themes of spirituality and sci-fi, with otherworldly sequences supported by incredibly beautiful haunting vistas.
The music, composed by Japanese band RADWIMPS, heightens the emotional drama in a spectacular way. Somber piano pieces contrast upbeat rock tracks to fit the mood of each and every scene perfectly. Of particular note is the film’s main theme song, Sparkle, which lends the climax the emotional tension it needs.
I was worried that the intense popularity and endless hype train for Your Name would ruin it for me, but it absolutely did not. I walked out of that theater feeling emotionally drained, yet satisfied. Your Name is a beautiful, emotional, and gripping film, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.