In the wake of Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement – co-founder of Studio Ghibli and the creative mind behind its most successful features – Your Name seems to have come at a perfect time. Adapted from a novel of the same name, Mikoto Shinkai’s story of two teenagers who wake up in the wrong body is a dazzling – and more than adequate – substitute. Could Shinkai have usurped the throne of Japanese animation?
“your name has been marketed as a body-swap comedy, though that does the film little justice”
For want of a better description, Your Name has been marketed as a body-swap comedy, though that does the film little justice. A stunning opening sequence introduces a meteor shower against the backdrop of Itomori in rural Japan. A resident of the town, Mitsuha, yearns to be ‘A handsome Tokyo boy in [her] next life!’ and, sure enough, wakes up in Tokyo in the body of a boy named Taki, who himself wakes up as Mitsuha. Over time, the pair manage to make sense of their strange predicament. They find a way to communicate, leaving one another messages for how to best navigate their respective lives and mitigate any potential embarrassment in the process.
Though these two characters lie at its core, Your Name also explores the differences between rural and urban Japan and the distinction between old and new – and the way in which these locations are realised is nothing short of breathtaking. Shinkai finds a balance between realism and impressionism in these settings; the Tokyo skyline is rendered with painstaking accuracy and yet possesses some unearthly, impressionist quality. This blend of the fantastical and photorealist makes Your Name appear as a kind of showreel for Japan’s tourist board – and while it is easy to lose yourself in the rich cultural details, Shinkai’s story extends far beyond the superficial.
“its characters are distinct and vivid agents of the narrative”
Beyond its initial premise, the genre of Your Name is hard to pinpoint, and therein lies its charm. Though billed as a comedy, its ability to not only amuse, but delight and move in equal measure should not be underestimated. Its characters are distinct and vivid agents of the narrative, being used to both propel key story beats as well as catalysing moments of emotional intensity. They are expressive, authentic, acting as suitable touchstones for a narrative which might otherwise disorientate.
For all the predictability its body-swapping premise might otherwise invite, the film does not rely on convention, instead approaching a tired sub-genre with surprising vitality. The narrative itself is as intricate as the frames it is comprised of; this is a story that unspools with fascinating unpredictability from beginning to end, only growing in intrigue and complexity as it approaches its conclusion. It is a marvel, then, that Shinkai manages to retain the film’s simple philosophy throughout. At its heart, Your Name is a meditation on time, dreams and identity, yet does not fixate or become bogged down by its desperation to explore such themes. They are, instead, woven seamlessly into the film’s fabric.