My Rating: 9.5 out of 10
As an anime fan, my interested was piqued when I heard that a film I knew nothing about had overtaken Miyazaki’s Spirited Away as the highest grossing anime movie of all time. About a month later, it was announced that the film in question, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, would be airing in theaters across America. A couple weeks before the US premiere, a coworker and I bought tickets for the English dub. After watching the trailer, I was drawn in by the characters, beautiful artwork, and fun premise. Despite all the accolades and praise, I went in with moderate expectations. It seemed like a straight-forward, feel good movie that I would enjoy, but wouldn’t be blown away by.
I was completely wrong. Your Name is unequivocally the greatest anime film I’ve ever seen and is likely one of the best animated films ever created. It is a masterpiece that showcases the strengths of animation and takes them to new heights. The film flawlessly accomplishes what it sets out to do in every area and is crafted with an attention to detail that leaves behind no erroneous elements in either the artwork or writing. Despite having a small scale and fairly realistic set up, the movie would not have been as emotionally impactful if it had been made as a live action film instead. Animation as a medium, particularly in Japan, allows filmmakers to accentuate emotions in ways that their counterparts in the live action industry cannot. Characters can be expressive and landscapes can be exaggerated in ways that don’t seem out of place or take you out of the film, but draw you further into the created reality. In addition, Shinkai’s directing is phenomenal and easily on par with live action greats. Many times throughout, the visual approach mirrored the plot and allowed the film to take on a dreamlike quality.
I once read that the purpose of art is to convey emotions from one person to another. There is no doubt in my mind that Your Name is a work of art that will be seen as an anime classic for decades to come. This movie elicits powerful feelings that range the entire emotional spectrum, but it also makes you think. Great art can get into your head or your heart, but the best art can do both. Shinkai doesn’t spoon feed his audience. He allows them to be part of the journey and try to piece together the elements of his story that are not explicitly laid out. This makes the experience even more fun and really connects you to the characters and the world since they are also trying to piece everything together. There are so many words I can use to describe the film, but none of them truly do it justice: funny, sentimental, beautiful, heart-breaking, cute, inspiring, sweet, bizarre, riveting, complex, emotionally powerful, etc. The artwork, characters, story, voice acting, sound design, music, and thematic undertones all blended together in a perfect combination. Your Name easily became one of my favorite movies of all time and is arguably once of the best films of the last decade.
Despite being a bit misleading, I was grateful that the trailer left much of the movie’s plot as a mystery. Since Your Name relies so heavily on emotion, I think the best approach is definitely to go into it knowing as little as possible. With that said, I saw the movie twice in a six day period and had just as much of a visceral reaction during the second viewing. So if some of the larger plot twists have been spoiled for you, knowing that information won’t ruin the experience for you. In order to talk about the film in more depth, I will provide a brief plot summary that gives away roughly the same amount of information as the trailer. If you don’t want to know anything more, please stop reading here and go see Your Name as soon as you can!
The story centers around two main characters: a 17 year old boy living in Tokyo named Taki Tachibana and a 17 year old girl living in the fictional country town of Itomori named Mitsuha Miyamizu. Despite not knowing one another, the two begin to have strange dreams in which they are living each other’s lives. Due to the reactions of people around them and notes that they leave for one another, they realize that the body swaps are not dreams, but are actually occurring. While the film seems to initially be a light-hearted romantic comedy about these two teenagers getting to know one another while coming to appreciate their individual lives more fully, the story quickly veers off in a different direction. While the scale of the film is pretty small, the stakes are incredibly high.
One of the best things about Your Name is its universality, which is largely achieved through the excellently written main characters. Both Mitsuha and Taki are realistic individuals with very specific and different personalities. They are both relatable and the chemistry they develop is endearing and completely believable. Its because of how fleshed out these two characters are that the audience is able to understand and relate to their feelings. While they exist in a magical story being told through a medium that heavily uses exaggeration to portray emotion, the feelings that Mitsuha and Taki experience are real and relatable to almost everyone.
In addition, Shinkai takes the time to fully construct and explore the different worlds in which the two main characters live. Their homes and neighborhoods feel like real places (which is partly because they are based on actual places in Japan) and the people they interact with have just as much depth as they do. While using these details to connect us to the characters, Shinkai also manages to capture the beauty of everyday places and experiences in order to drive home a point that, like Mitsuha and Taki, we all take things for granted in our lives. This idea is further explored through the body swapping experiences, which are not used in a typical way, but are a means for the two characters to get to know each other, while highlighting differences between their genders, locales, and lifestyles.
The unique approach Shinkai has to telling this story is not limited to the way in which he handles the body swaps, but also in the way he presents the timeline. It’s clear from the beginning that Your Name doesn’t have a conventional structure when it comes to time. There were moments throughout the film that reminded me of Arrival and Memento due to how the timeline was presented. Yet, things never really got confusing, which can be attributed to Shinkai’s skill as a writer and director. In the hands of a less skilled filmmaker, this story would have been impossible to tell without becoming convoluted and confusing. Instead, Shinkai is able to take the mystical elements and make them completely believable and easy to follow by connecting the audience to the lives of Mitsuha and Taki. The grounding element of the story is the connection that these two share. Their feelings can withstand the flow of time. Because we are so connected to them, we share their feelings and don’t want their story to end.
This disjointed sense of time is also beautifully tied to the story itself. A portion of the film discusses the flow of time and how it relates to the connections we have with the people and things around us. In fact, there are several moments in the film in which Shinkai mirrors elements of the story in the film’s structure. Another example that stood out to me is how the film consistently presents emotions as more powerful and lasting than memories. Just like how the specific lines in a great movie may fade from memory, the feeling that movie created will remain. This mirroring shows Shinkai’s attention to detail. Every part of the story is thought out. There is nothing erroneously included. As mentioned earlier, Shinkai doesn’t always make things obvious to the audience. He expects them to figure things out for themselves. Not everything is neatly tied up and many of the messages are subtle. Because of this, there are many things that are easy to miss on the first, and even second, viewing. The film is full of symbolism and metaphors both in its storytelling and artwork, but there is an underlying sense of logic to everything which gives these elements a sense of purpose. For example, I loved how the film explored the juxtaposition of modernity and tradition. Shinkai seems to completely understand the feelings of modern people, but also believes it is important to keep old ideas alive. While there is beauty in our modern way of life, there is also beauty in nature and in tradition.
In case you haven’t already come to this conclusion, I urge you to go see Your Name as soon as possible! I can’t recommend the film enough. Whether you are an anime fan or not, you will be hard pressed to watch this film and not be able to find one element that you really enjoy. In fact, I think it would be an excellent means of introducing a friend or loved one to anime, since it has such universal meanings and blends so many genres (comedy, romance, thriller, mystery, sci-fi, coming of age, etc.) While I know there are some anime purists that despite dubs, I thought this one was phenomenal. There were a couple elements lost in translation from what I’ve read, but overall the dub was excellent. I think watching the dub during the first viewing allowed me to focus on the art and story in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do as actively if I had been reading subtitles the entire time. But regardless of which version you go see, make sure to see Your Name before it leaves theaters! You won’t regret it!