A Deeply Human and Lovely Supernatural Tale
Soon after its 2016 release in Japan, writer and director Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name became the highest-grossing anime film ever released worldwide, making waves in both Japan and countries around the globe. With a simple-seeming story of a teenage boy and girl who swap bodies, the idea of Your Name seems like a been-there-done-that movie, but through gorgeous animation, some unexpected twists on the central concept, and two wonderful central characters, Your Name is among some of the best animated films released in the last several years. It’s a rousing, earnest, lovely success on every front.
Your Name is focused on two characters, Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), a high school girl who lives in the rural and quiet mountain town of Itomori, and Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a high school boy in Tokyo. These two suddenly begin to swap bodies at random, waking up in each other’s forms at the start of various mornings and left to figure out their new surroundings and relationships without ruining each other’s lives. Their time spent in vastly different day-to-day lives begins to expand their worldview and opinions of one another, leading to burgeoning feelings and a very unexpected chance at falling in love.
It’s best to go into Your Name knowing as little of the plot as possible, as Shinkai has purposefully made his film into a mini-mystery that creates joy through its many gradual reveals. It’s evident from the start that there are many things to be learned throughout the course of Your Name, as the film quickly hits the viewer with a multitude of concepts and hints that won’t be revealed until later. Thankfully, there’s a deft hand behind them all, which turns what could be infuriating questions into exciting seeds that will eventually blossom for satisfying reveals.
Like the greatest animes, Your Name is able to take its high concept premise and turn it into something unexpected and thrilling in its unique nature. Shinkai’s film is deeply human, taking a body swap film that would seem run of the mill at first glance and making it feel refreshing in a multitude of ways. Not only is Your Name deeply funny thanks to its character-focused humor, it’s constantly one step ahead of its audience, throwing in new twists and turns that keep you engaged with its ever-evolving plot without losing its myriad charms.
Wisely, Your Name starts with its protagonists having already swapped bodies once before, creating enough confusion and questions that push audiences to actively engage with the material in the search for answers. In doing so, the film quickly moves past a potentially laborious setup that can turn any familiar film concept into a boring slog. Rather, Your Name moves at a brisk and fun pace, trading laughs with moments of character reflection that fill the movie with a broad range of very human, very relatable emotions.
From its deliberate, character-focused first act and into its high speed, stylish second, Your Name is remarkably entertaining while giving enough moments of quiet intimacy to make the reality of its characters sink in. In particular, a journey into the mountains is a true standout for its change of pace and its ability to convey so much emotion and meaning with so few words. But it’s once the third act arrives, pivoting the film’s narrative on a reveal too spoilery to discuss here, that Shinkai’s film ramps up to a new level. With new revelations and a major obstacle to overcome, the previous character investment raises the stakes much more than they would have been otherwise. While there are some late-in-the-film plot details that feel a little too frustrating for their own good, despite being designed to do so, Shinkai makes each moment in his finale feel earned and genuine.
That character-investment isn’t just due to the lovely voice acting and naturalistic dialogue that contrasts well against the wild supernatural storyline, but the fantastic acting on display through Shinkai’s vision and CoMix Wave Films’ animation. Taki and Mitsuha, as well as their family and friends, are given life in a style that is just heightened enough for comedic moments, but realistic in the ways needed to show every type of expression.
The fantastic animation isn’t just limited to the characters, it comes to most vivid life in the world that surrounds them. The towns of Tokyo and Itomori feel like living breathing live action settings, except that they are even more exquisite than they could be in real life. Your Name contains easily some of the greatest animation ever put to film, with its use of light being quite literally jaw dropping from beginning to end. Sunshine streams through clouds, leaves, and windows, changing through every moment of the day and creating a dynamic and wonderful world. Every leaf, every water cloud, every moment is brought to life in ways that feel like discovering a new world.
But if Your Name’s animation was simply made to stun in how it looked, it wouldn’t bear much weight beyond being something visually pleasing. Instead, Shinkai imbues deeper meanings and narrative importance to both light and landscape, as these elements eventually play crucial roles within the context of the story. There are many themes and ideas to unpack in a story that is fairly simple and concise in its focus, which will surely lead to rewarding rewatches and encourage deeper study of the film. However, Shinkai brings a balance to these elements, as they support and enhance the film as a whole, rather than distract or muddy the narrative.
With its twists and turns that augment its main and supporting characters’ satisfying narrative arcs, Your Name is satisfies emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It feels like a singular vision from Shinkai, which has been expressed through the talents of an incredible, cohesive team.
There are so many reasons why Your Name feels like so much more than a simple body swap story. Most importantly, it’s because of its gentle, honest emotions, which are enhanced and affirmed by the exquisite craftsmanship on display. The end result is a fantastic, unforgettable, emotional, and rewarding experience that will captivate you like it has captivated millions around the world.