Shinkai’s breathtaking romance anime is imbued with a modern sensibility as it takes on conceptual themes of time travel, apocalyptic disaster and body swapping with effortless aplomb.
Dir. Makoto Shinkai
2016 | Japan | Animation/Drama/Romance | 106 mins | 1.78:1 | Japanese
PG (passed clean) for some sexual references
Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryo Narita
Plot: Two high school teenagers who’ve never met – city boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha – are united through their dreams.
Awards: Official Selection (Busan)
International Sales: Toho
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 15 Nov 2016)
What Makoto Shinkai has accomplished in his latest anime is breathtaking, not just the bringing of different conceptual elements and themes together to tell an expansive story, but doing so with effortless aplomb. You can feel as you watch the film both the whirlwind and the breeze.
Shinkai, a criminally underrated anime director with such works as 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) and The Garden of Words (2013), will finally get his due as one of Japan’s most talented anime artists.
The mammoth box-office success of Your Name in Japan will surely spark an international exposure—and likely, appraisal—of his body of work, and if he continues to produce more brilliant anime in the near future, it is certain in time to come he will be as highly-respected as the great names in the medium. Time is on his side.
Time, or more precisely, time travel, is also the very fulcrum that Your Name pivots on. In its deepest recess, the anime is about memory, yearning and foreshadowing, giving such themes of hope, love and trauma a temporal dimension.
“Treasure the experience. Dreams fade away after you wake up.”
But at its surface, the plot is based on a body swapping mechanism: Taki, a city boy, and Mitsuha, a country girl, both strangers to each other, wake up one morning to find themselves in one another’s body.
Shinkai exploits this mechanism through awkward humour and a sense of adventure as the two characters deal separately with their bodies and sexuality, school, friends and work. The body swapping thing goes on a few times more, and it is to Shinkai’s credit that everything is mapped out so efficiently through quick cutting.
A recurring visual motif—a simple if disconcerting shot of a door that slides head-on towards the audience—is symbolic of the film’s modern sensibility—it is fast-paced, smooth and polished.
The motif is, in my view, also an indirect if intentionally desensitized representation of Japan’s historical trauma in a split-second, with allusions to the atomic bombings of 1945, and the Great Eastern Earthquake of 2011, the latter of which is said to have inspired the apocalyptic overtones that drive the second half of the film.
The sheer beauty of Shinkai’s anime, and the desire for a resolution to the complications of plot and characterisation, may distract you from the film’s itching flaw—it tries to milk too much of its conceptual ideas, and it indulges in one scene too many towards the end.
Still, Your Name is one of the year’s pleasant surprises, a head-scratching sci-fi-fantasy-romance-comedy-adventure that you might want to see again.