Most of us are guilty of being dismissive of a certain type or genre of movie. Some people refuse to see romantic comedies and end up missing out on gems like Leslye Headland’s Sleeping With Other People. Others can’t understand what all this comic book movie fuss is about and thus forgo the pleasures of a Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy. For many adult Western viewers Japanese anime films are something we unconsciously filter out of our movie-going experience. It’s usually discomfort with the unfamiliar rather than genuine dislike that motivates our unknowing avoidance of films like Your Name, but it’s a shame either way because you don’t need to be Japanese or a fan of anime to enjoy Makoto Shinkai’s latest, beautifully rendered romantic drama.
The teen protagonists at the center of Your Name’s love story grew up in strikingly different circumstances. Frustrated, introverted Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) can’t wait to graduate from high school and leave her scenic but stiflingly small country town for Tokyo. Sociable city boy Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) loves to draw and has an afterschool job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant. Mitsuha craves the variety and excitement of life in a giant, sprawling metropolis, but Shinkai seems more interested in her own, more provincial life at first. As a miko (a Shinto priestess) Mitsuha is expected to participate in public shrine rituals including using her own saliva and rice to produce kuchikamizake (a traditional variety of sake). Her adolescent embarrassment over these rituals and estranged relationship with her domineering but distant father (the town mayor) seem to motivate her desire to escape Itomori as much or more than the lack of bookshops and cafés.
Taki’s only issue at this stage is an unrequited crush on a co-worker, making him the less engaging of the two leads initially. He receives greater shading and depth later on and the mystical and spiritual elements of Mitsuha’s story make it the better context for Shinkai to introduce the film’s body swapping conceit. Aside from some early awkwardness over genitals Mitsuha and Taki both cope with the realization that they are waking up in the other’s body several times a week fairly well. They quickly figure out a way to communicate with one another by writing notes and leaving reports on their smartphones and come up with a list of rules to prevent problems or exposure.
There’s a real grace and delicacy to the way the film explores Mitsuha and Taki’s growing mutual attraction over the next few months and their blossoming romance never feels silly or remotely implausible despite the circumstances. Equally well handled is Taki’s devastation following the sudden cessation of the body swapping on the night a comet appears in the sky above Itomori. We watch as he mourns the loss of his connection to Mitsuha and struggles to piece together what exactly happened between them. Things take an increasingly supernatural turn when Taki decides to try to find Mitsuha so they can meet face-to-face but Shinkai doesn’t allow it to overshadow the realistic emotional core of his story.
Like all four of the director’s previous films, Your Name is breathtakingly beautiful, particularly the exquisitely detailed backgrounds. Using his distinctive style of digital animation (which often manages to look hand drawn) Shinkai brings the same level of glimmering loveliness to his depiction of a Tokyo train depot or a teenager’s cluttered bedroom as he does to sweeping cinematic shots of a comet streaking through the night sky reflected in the still surface of Lake Itomori.