Freaky Friday meets Memento in this star-crossed, time-torn Japanese animated love story.
Can you trust an anime outside the Ghibli brand? One that can deliver the spiritual, allegorical and distinctly Japan-centric themes that makes them so attractive? As When Marnie Was There marked the end of an era for the iconic studio, Your Name picks up where it left off.
Both films explore the power of another state of consciousness to connect two individuals who are not living contiguously, but that meet on a deeper, emotional level. This ambitious, modern, sharp film is unashamedly thrust it into contemporary society (prominent Apple and Starbucks product-placements are surprisingly welcome, as though accepting they are a part of us). Animation that feels like cinematography also adds to the slick-looking design of the world Shinkai creates. Floor-level side angles of sliding Japanese doors, cuts to birds eye views of eggs cracked into a pan and sweeping flights through Japanese countryside all give a filmic, naturalistic feel.
Teenage protagonists Taki and Mitsuha embark on a body-swapping journey of self-discovery as they seemingly dream their way into each other’s lives; crossing time, geography and genders. Mitsuha comes from a small rural village, whereas Taki hails from the bright lights of Tokyo. They literally embody all the juxtapositions of modern Japan and indeed adolescent angst in general. Mitsuha must uphold ancient traditions under the watchful eye of her grandmother and as the daughter of the local mayor. In contrast, Taki is seemingly free of responsibility, enjoying the benefits of a busy city and a laissez-faire parent. The impending appearance of a comet in Mistuha’s life has unknown significance until the climax of the film. It provides the eye-catching aesthetic to the opening titles and proves to transcendentally bind the two youngsters beyond the immediate physicality of their body-swapping.
Director Makoto Shinkai is pretty fearless with his material, allowing the story to develop at its natural pace. This most notable for the sheer scope which it encompasses. The time-travelling aspect of the body-swapping stretches the imagination but never goes as far as to annoy or pointlessly overcomplicate. Mistuha lives in a village under threat of being struck by a fragment of asteroid. It is only slowly apparent that this event happens three years prior to the present in which we see Taki’s life unfold. Before the film builds to the unexpected question of whether the celestial collision can somehow be averted – across time – there are a whole series of amusing ways with which the two interact as the alternately wake up inside the other’s body at the start of the film.
Whenever Taki wakes up with breasts (belonging to Mitsuha) he cannot help but touch them in surprise and teenage curiosity. The situation becomes increasingly anticipated as Misuha’s younger sister slides open the door to summon her to breakfast each morning, moving from fright to despair at her sister as the mornings progress. Similarly Mitsuha finds unfamiliar aspects of Taki whenever she wakes up in his Tokyo. Initially they leave each other penned sribbles written on their bodies and then in notes on iPhones to explain what they have done during the day inside their counterpart. Mitsuha is much more mischievous in messing with Taki’s life, presumably a product of her dissatisfaction with her traditional upbringing. Their unconventional, but brilliantly eloquent epistolary exchange might be how Guy Pearce would have developed his self-awareness in Memento if he had a smartphone and a friend with whom he was swapping bodies.
Perhaps the teenaged star-crossed lovers and the closing question ‘what’s in a name?’ suggest there is something of the Romeo and Juliet underlying the plot. As Ghibli has used Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels and other British classics to create something completely original, Your Name is special enough to invoke The Bard. It’s intelligent without trying too hard, it achieves a huge amount in a subtle, real way before escalating to a thrilling, desperate race against time.