While he’s not as well known as Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda, Makoto Shinkai is still one of the most famous anime directors currently working. Prior to seeing Your Name, my only experience with Shinkai’s work was the 2002 OVA Voices of a Distant Star, but I already had high expectations when I saw Your Name at Anime Expo last weekend, expectations that it more than lived up to.
Mitsuha is an ordinary high school student living far out in rural Japan and is generally frustrated with her life. Her father, who’s also the mayor, is distant and they don’t have much of a relationship, and she’s tired of living out in the middle of nowhere. One day, she dreams that she’s a high school boy named Taki who lives in Tokyo, while Taki dreams that he’s a girl named Mitsuha. The next day, they both notice people commenting on how strange they were acting before and they soon realize that they occasionally swap bodies while they sleep. From there, they each try to continue living their lives and sometimes helping out the other, while leaving messages for each other on their phones since their memories of the swaps remain distorted and dream-like.
The premise isn’t anything new and has been done before in both anime and live action movies. What actually makes the story memorable is how realistic the characters are. Even the first half, which is pretty standard body swap antics, is generally entertaining and charming enough to carry an entire movie itself. Even the stereotypical “boy in girls body feels her up” gag is actually funny instead of being annoying or creepy. The key here is that Taki and Mitsuha both act like actual high school students just trying to live their (or each other’s) lives. There problems are ordinary, with Mitsuha being tired of living in the country and Taki having trouble asking out the girl he likes. Mitsuha helps Taki ask the girl out and enjoys spending time in the city, while Taki helps Mitsuha deal with bullies and become more assertive.
The reason why Taki and Mitsuha swap bodies and why the swaps work the way they do is never actually explained, but that somehow isn’t a real problem. Not much attention is given to the question in the first place and it never feels like a loose end. The entire story has the same folklore-like feel as a Miyazaki movie, which makes it much easier to accept something supernatural just happening in an otherwise normal world.
The real core of the movie lies in Taki and Mitsuha’s relationship, which is surprisingly believable, even though they share relatively little screentime. Because Taki and Mitsuha don’t actually meet for most of the movie, they only communicate through diary entries they leave on their cell phones when they swap. They start out being understandably frustrated with having another person living their life for a day at a time, but gradually grow closer through having to live each other’s lives. What helps sell this even more is how they’re given nearly equal screentime. Mitsuha is introduced first, but Taki gets about as much screentime as she does, so it becomes easy to understand both of them and how they feel about each other. Setting up a strong connection between them is crucial for the second half, where things get more serious. That part is where the film really shines, as Taki and Mitsuha mysteriously stop swapping and Taki suddenly can’t reach Mitsuha by phone. The actual reason why is both sad and cruelly ironic. I can’t go into more detail without getting into spoiler territory, but the second half is just great, finding an excellent balance of drama and emotion without feeling disconnected from the first. It’s actually very similar to Steins;Gate: it starts out light and comedic, but then gets darker and more dramatic. Both halves worked equally well on their own, although I would have like to see more of the body-swap antics and relationship development, but also like Steins;Gate, they really shine when put together.
The animation in Your Name is nothing short of amazing. There aren’t any flashy action scenes, but character movements and backgrounds all have a level of smoothness and detail rarely seen outside of Studio Ghibli. The most memorable scene happens later in the movie during a rainstorm and stands out just for how well animated the rain is. The music in Your Name mostly stays in the background, but is full of understated atmospheric tracks that are also reminiscent of a Ghibli movie. There are also a fair number of insert songs by the Japanese band RADWIMPS. The songs themselves aren’t bad, but don’t really add a lot either.
I had pretty high expectations going into Your Name, but I was still surprised by how good it was. The story has an excellent balance of comedy and drama, the characters are memorable while still feeling realistic and the animation was some of the best I’ve ever seen outside of Studio Ghibli. Your Name is just a great movie that I would recommend to almost anyone, anime fan or not.
Your Name has been licensed by Funimation, but hasn’t been released yet and isn’t available for streaming anywhere.
Final Score: 9.5/10