Your Name (2016)

Due to my wife’s insistence, we’ve actually watched pretty much all of Makoto Shinkai’s films and I can’t say that I’ve liked any of them. Your Name, his newest film, was a huge hit in Japan and seems to have been quite successful in China. Since we discovered that it is actually showing at a cinema here in Seremban, my wife decided to wanted to see it and it does seem like a somewhat novel experience as I don’t believe we’ve ever watched a Japanese anime on the big screen before.

The film tells the story of two characters in parallel. Mitsuha is a student in a small village who wishes she lived in Tokyo. She and her little sister are both shrine maidens due to their grandmother being the caretaker of the local shrine. They are taught the traditional art of braid-making and the belief that the coiled cords represent the flow of time itself. Taki is a more typical boy in Tokyo who works part-time in an Italian restaurant. One day, the two apparently switch bodies and live each other’s lives for a day at a time. At first they think it is only a weird dream as their own memories of the experience are very hazy but the reactions of the people around them convince them that the phenomenon is real as they behave very differently while their bodies are being possessed by the other. They try to make the most of it, leaving messages in each other’s phones but as you might expect the confusion still leaves plenty of room for hilarity. They have no idea what is causing the switch but the audience at least will quickly realize that this has something to do with the comet that is passing over Mitsuha’s small village.

Right from the start, we can recognize Makoto’s favorite themes: the search for the indefinable, the endless sense of longing, romance, the love for the ephemeral. What’s different here is that this is a full length film and the themes are part of a fully realized plot. The characters feel that they are lost because their hazy memories prevent them from fully knowing what they are searching for. But there is no mystery for the audience and we know what is really going on. This turns out to make all the difference and made me like this much more than any of the director’s previous films. The art is as beautiful as usual and even more spectacular to watch on the big screen. The opening scene of a comet’s eye view and it arcs down towards Mitsuha’s village is a sight to behold. It’s unfortunate that we often ourselves needing to flick our eyeballs up and down to catch the subtitles.

That said, the film is still more juvenile than it should be. As my wife notes, Makoto can’t help but reach for an unambiguously happy ending though this greatly lessens the film’s dramatic power. The film would have been much more interesting if he had dared to be more different. One aspect of the story that intrigued me was the gender bending nature of the switch. I know this has a healthy representation in anime but I can’t recall ever watching a story use it before. I really liked how this film flirted with the idea that Mitsuha would be a better Taki than Taki himself and vice versa. Unfortunately it never goes beyond using this as a gag device. Despite the disorienting nature of the switch, the gender identities of the two characters are never challenged I also found having them fall in love with each other to be trite and dumb. I can imagine them falling in love with each other’s lives but the nature of the switch means they can’t interact with each other so how could they possibly fall in love?

As I said, this is still my favorite of Makoto Shinkai’s films that I’ve watched so far and it feels very much like the natural culmination of many of his previous works. This does render those works somewhat obsolete and it would be extremely disappointing if he revisits similar themes again in his future works. He’s a talented director and it’s high time that he moved on to newer subjects.

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