By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
Since the retirement of famed Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki in 2013, the search has been on to crown a worthy successor, but it’s a pursuit that has cast a weighty shadow over the new generation of Japanese animators. One candidate on this short list is Makoto Shinkai, who has managed to build up a sizeable following since his black-and-white short She and Her Cat in 1999. With fan favourites like Voices From A Distant Star (2003) and 5 Centimetres Per Second (2007) under his belt, Shinkai returns with Your Name, which has proven to be his most successful film to date, both critically and commercially.
While Japan awaits the imminent arrival of a comet that promises to light up the night sky, we are introduced to high school student Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi), who wakes up to the typical sounds of her rambunctious younger sister Yotsuha (Kanon Tani). While having breakfast with her grandmother (Etsuko Ishihara), it is mentioned how the teenager acted very strangely the day before, comments later shared by her school friends, who are still baffled at certain things Mitsuha did. Unable to remember any of this, Mitsuha is suitably unsettled, and intensifies her wish to leave this small mountain village and head for the bright lights of Tokyo.
Meanwhile, Tokyo student Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is suffering similar memory problems, along with the same, bemused reaction from friends. Employed part-time at a local Italian restaurant / coffee shop, Taki is attempting to deal with the crush he has on fellow employee Miki (Masami Nagasawa).
What Mitsuha and Taki soon realise is that when they fall asleep, the two swap bodies, leading to awkward confrontations with gender relationships and politics, which have to be dealt with as delicately and covertly as possible. Endeavouring to help each other know what they did during these cross-overs (usually occurring two or three times a week), information is left on their respective cell phones, and as more details are obtained, these gradually maturing teenagers start to form a close bond.
There are other plot elements at play, but these are best kept secret, as knowing certain story arcs may mute what is admittedly an emotional second half.
There is no mistaking who has made this film. Once again blending natural drama between young characters and science fiction, Shinkai creates a vivid environment where the impossible seems plausible, and the genuine care he displays towards these souls makes sure that we the audience care about them too. The multiple relationships covered might have gone under-developed in lesser hands, but Shinkai’s skill in carefully detailing each interaction and growing friendship is undeniable, with a number of scenes (both comedic and dramatic) that should resonate with many people.
Visually, Your Name is gorgeous. Shinkai has an incredible eye for neighbourhood colour and detail, to such an extent that his work can transcend its local setting, allowing international movie goers to recall childhood memories, both good and bad. Here he initially portrays adolescent behaviour in a playful manner, before introducing a more somber atmosphere that requires its main protagonists to acquire a deep sense of responsibility beyond their years. It’s these more dramatically challenging themes that has largely set Japanese anime apart from their Hollywood counterparts, although Pixar has certainly done a lot to try and bridge this gap which has existed for many years.
Vocal performances are outstanding, as is the sound design. An alternate English language version has been produced, but I highly recommend seeing the film with the intended Japanese audio track, to fully experience all the nuances inherent in the original voice readings.
While not reaching the sacred heights of films such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Only Yesterday, and Grave of The Fireflies, Your Name is a significant entry in the world of Japanese animation, one that shows an extremely talented animator growing as a film-maker. The fact that it has made nearly $200 million at the Japanese box-office (spending almost three months at number one) demonstrates that audiences also feel the same way. One hopes that someday Makoto Shinkai’s name will be as easily recognised worldwide as it is in his native country.