Anime is very much a niche artform here in the West. Aside from Studio Ghibli’s catalogue and the works of Mamoru Hosoda, it’s difficult to recall a title that achieved mainstream recognition outside of Japan. Your Name is a rare example of international success – and it deserves to be.
Mitsuha is a teenage girl living in the lakeside village of Itomori with her grandmother and young sister. She views life in her hometown as dull and boring, longing for the day when she can move to Tokyo. That day comes sooner than expected after Mitsuha awakes in the body of Tokyo boy Taki, a teenager who lives in an apartment with his father.
Much to her surprise, Mitsuha discovers that her male counterpart has been undergoing a very similar experience. Taki too has been waking up to find himself in another person’s body – Mitsuha’s. In his adventures, he has transformed her from a shy introvert into the most popular girl at school. Mitsuha retaliates by developing a friendship with one of Taki’s co-workers, Miki.
After a date with Miki ends awkwardly, Taki’s bizarre body-swapping episodes stop occurring, so instead he focuses his attention on finding Mitsuha. Doing so won’t be easy – he can’t recall where Mitsuha lives, and even struggles to remember her name. Undeterred, Taki sets off on a journey across rural Japan, hopeful that someone might know the whereabouts of Mitsuha’s home.
Your Name, or Kimi no Na Wa, has received a considerable amount of attention since its premiere back in July, breaking box-office records in Japan and receiving rave reviews the world over. The film’s director, Makoto Shinkai has become something of a celebrity, with many critics calling him “the next Hayao Miyazaki”. While it is a stretch to compare Shinkai to the Great Man, he does present his movie in a way which is unique to any other film-maker, animated or otherwise.
The plot, despite being based on a centuries-old Japanese fable, at no point feels predictable, but neither does it bewilder or confuse the viewer. Anime aficionados will spot the odd trope here and there, though somehow these tropes never come across as clichéd. The story is also emotionally brutal, with its heart-wrenching moments made all the more powerful by just how loveable Mitsuha and Taki are.
It’s difficult not to be drawn to the characters, but it’s even harder to resist the astonishingly gorgeous animation. The character designs, landscapes, colouring and detail are all brilliant – this is Studio Ghibli levels of artistry here, which would explain why Shinkai has been compared with Miyazaki. Astoundingly, the accompanying soundtrack by Japanese pop band the Radwimps is also enjoyable, and this is coming from someone who finds J-pop nauseating.
One problem, and the film’s only problem, is that the ending drags on just a bit too long. Otherwise, it’s faultless. In year where this reviewer has seen more movies at the cinemas than in any other, many of them mediocre, this one has proven to be the most enjoyable. What’s more, it may yet emerge to be the best of 2016. (Mind you, there are still three weeks left in the year.)
Even by live-action standards, Your Name can be considered an excellent film. With a heartfelt story and beautiful animation, anime novices and fans alike will find themselves utterly captivated. If this year’s other releases haven’t satisfied you, this one surely will.