‘Your Name’ explores the fantastic and the familiar

In Your Name (Kimi no Na wa), Mitsuha, a teenage girl, is hopelessly dissatisfied with her life in an idyllic, picturesque country town. One night, she finds herself particularly upset, and running down the steps of a Shinto shrine, she yells out to the world, “Make me a handsome Tokyo boy in my next life!” Enter Taki, a clueless Tokyo high school student, the epitome of Mitsuha’s envy. And one morning, almost no sooner than we are introduced to Taki and Mitsuha, they are introduced to each other — when they suddenly wake up in each other’s bodies.

Just like the characters, we are, without warning, immediately plunged in to this strange world in which boy becomes girl and girl becomes boy, complete with the mini-tragedy of a red-faced Mitsuha facing the daunting prospect of having to go to the bathroom in Taki’s body. We are left contemplating director Makoto Shinkai’s decision to introduce the film’s strangest twist at the beginning of the story, only to realize soon enough that the body-swapping, gender-bending adventure isn’t even the strangest twist of all.

Yet in some sense, the bizarre body-switching phenomenon becomes just another device through which we discover the wonderful idiosyncrasies of the two characters and their lives, and like all teenagers, they soon find themselves accustomed to their new bodies. The ease with which the characters settle into their gender-bending identities (along with the occasional winks to gay/lesbian sexuality along the way) marks Shinkai’s story as unmistakably queer, an admirable decision, as is the choice to normalize the queer elements to the story by leaving them as unremarkable (teenage jokes about genitalia aside).

One of the film’s great strengths is how often the beautiful settings and gorgeous animations fall away, leaving us absorbed in the simple story of an extraordinary connection between two individuals. Your Name is unmistakably a teenage film, one that deftly captures the paradoxical emotionality, confusion and idealism of adolescence; near its conclusion, it exploits the strange sense of pain and loss that comes with the unstoppable force of growing up and leaving behind parts of our lives. As the film’s young protagonists explain in unison, “the sensation that I’ve lost something lingers, long after I wake up.” The film is deeply sentimental, shamelessly so, punctuated by moments of comedy that are simultaneously absurd and heartwarming.

At times, the film displays an obsession with the little moments of waiting, the minutia of daily life — a lonely train ride home after a long day of work, a walk along the idyllic Japanese farmlands — and yet in its idealization of its settings, both rural and urban, the film reminds us subtly yet constantly that the story is one told through Mitsuha and Taki’s wide-eyed adolescence. The story is steeped in Japanese spirituality (and in fact the premise is loosely based on an ancient poem), yet the simplicity of its most touching moments exhibits a universality that is as compelling as it is emotionally turbulent.

Shinkai himself has seemed surprised, if not uncomfortable, with the film’s runaway success — since its domestic premiere in August 2016, it has become a cultural phenomenon across East Asia as the highest-grossing anime film of all time. “It’s not healthy,” he said in December. “I don’t think any more people should see it.”

It’s easy to see why Your Name has become so unfailingly popular. As Shinkai’s fifth feature, Your Name is the culmination of over a decade of refining his art. Your Name is at once less sentimental and more otherworldly than 5 Centimetres Per Second, Shinkai’s 2007 breakout masterpiece, and yet they carry the same breathtaking manipulation of scale, in which the simplest interactions, upon reflection, feel cosmic. It is a shining example of his signature style, a breathtakingly meticulous form of animation in which any frame could be mistaken for a painting. Even his depiction of the everyday — wires crossing on a desk, a rush-hour train station platform — is handled with an incredible attention to detail, leaving every scene, extraordinary and ordinary alike, imbued with a warm, romantic glow.

And of the extraordinary, there is no shortage in Your Name. Like the best of anime, it takes advantage of animation’s unique ability to blend the fantastic with the familiar, and it is in this space that Shinkai seamlessly weaves together tales and questions both grand and minute, ancient and modern. The film’s unexpected yet deep forays into melodrama left me at times a little exasperated, but even as the most deeply metaphysical elements of the plot took center stage, I could not help but be quite simply enamored by the gripping bond between the two teenagers. Throughout the film, the mystical connection between Mitsuha and Taki feels monumental, a credit to Shinkai’s delicate handling of a genre that can too often veer into meaningless drama.

Your Name is a film that explores the everyday trials and tribulations of adolescence through a novel lens. It sheds new insight onto the little moments that magnify a hundred times over in our minds, and it never fails to maintain the gentle subtlety that keeps the story grounded, even in its most fantastical moments. Makoto Shinkai’s work, as the best of filmmaking does, invites a profound exploration of what it means to live, of what it means to love. In this effort, Your Name succeeds resoundingly.

‘Your Name’, directed by Makoto Shinkai, displays perfectionism and an attention to detail that proves a strength for the animated film. Photo courtesy of Wallpaper-Abyss