In Makoto Shinkai’s haunting Japanese anime, two teenagers swap bodies and lives with cosmic results.
Teenage Kicksby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Your Name is a beautiful Japanese animation fantasy with an other-worldly feel. It opens with a sense of the universe as we see an awe-inspiring night sky exploding with shooting stars. In the world below, a teenage boy and girl inexplicably switch bodies.
Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) lives in the country town of Itomori, so provincial it doesn’t even have a cafe, and she yearns for the bright lights of Tokyo. Taki (voiced by Ryûnosuke Kamiki) is a Tokyo boy with access to everything the big city offers and a busy evening job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant. Although they don’t know each other, they find that they can suddenly wake up in each other’s bodies and lead each other’s lives for a while. There’s a running gag about the shock each finds at the change of body and Taki’s incredulous exploration of his breasts when he wakes up as Mitsuha.
At first they think they must be dreaming all this, but when they realise that it’s really happening, they work out how to communicate with each other by leaving messages on their smartphones and draw up rules about what each is allowed to do while they are in the other’s body. But although they do this, they find that when they return to their own bodies, they can’t remember the other’s name.
Animation is combined with hyper-realistic backgrounds. It’s fascinating to see the minutiae of everyday life in Japan as Mitsuha and Taki go to their different schools and at home have meals and interact with their very different families. Mitsuha’s father is the authoritarian town mayor, but she lives in a traditional house with her young sister and her grandmother, who instils in her a knowledge of Japanese traditions, such as musubi, the traditional local art of cord braiding which also represents the flow of time, and the family’s observation of the centuries-old Shinto religion and the importance of visiting the remote shrine. Taki lives in a modern high-rise flat alone with his father, a hard-working often-absent executive, and is left pretty much to himself in a bedroom with all electronic mod-cons and with the freedom of Tokyo.
Your Name ingeniously works on many levels. Though it’s apparently a teen film with a pop soundtrack by Japanese bank Radwimps, as well as comedy, romance and adolescent angst it combines gender politics, comment on the contrasts of changing Japanese society, time travel and a quest with an underlying fear of impending natural disaster, perhaps a preoccupation after Fukushima and the resulting devastation or perhaps dating back to something even earlier. The result is haunting and suspenseful. Do Mitsuha and Taki ever meet? What would happen if they did? It would be too much of a spoiler to reveal the twists in time and space.
The strikingly original film is written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, with animation by CoMix Wave Films. Shinkai launched his career with the ultra-indie Voices of a Distant Star and who made the 2011 adventure romance Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Your Name is his fifth film and already has been hugely successful in Japan with the highest ratings of any non-Ghibli animation.
Your Name screened in Official Competition at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and is released on 18 November 2016 in the UK.