One would think there aren’t too many variations of the ‘boy meets girl’ set-up left to explore in cinema, but Your Name manages to find a delightfully innovative twist on a very old theme.
Your Name’s originality and inventiveness would be an enjoyable breath of fresh air in of itself. But this combined with a central romance that is at once sweetly adolescent and philosophically considered, means the film is elevated to something particularly special.
Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is the story of Taki Tachibana (voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki), a schoolboy and part-time waiter living in Tokyo, and Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi), a schoolgirl in the rural town of Itomori who dreams of escaping to the big city. One day, for no discernible reason, they find themselves switched into one another’s bodies. They go back and forth, uncontrollably, gradually learning and then participating in more and more of one another’s lives. Above all this, an impressive and increasingly relevant comet makes its way across the sky.
The film is shot through with innocence of adolescence, as the joys and concerns of teenage life – friends, family, the future – weave their way among more narratively noteworthy going-ons. One of Your Name’s gently effective techniques is to give regular reference to a world which is simply so much larger than its protagonists. The towering skyscrapers of Tokyo, cloud-topped mountains, the thick forest which seems poised at any moment to swallow the rural roads which snake in-between. These are an apt reflection of the way in which the very peculiar relationship developing between Taki and Mitsuh – as they leave each other notes on paper and in their phones during their brief sojourns into one another – rests against a backdrop of much larger questions of love and self-knowledge.
As is every film concerning a first love, this is about the loss of innocence. However, Makoto Shinkai is able to draw upon a rich metaphorical and visual history which doesn’t exist to the same extent in Hollywood to approach the issues with a greater degree of nuance and sentiment than is usually the case in, say Dating The Enemy or Goodbye Charlie. Studio Ghibli is the obvious reference point, but Your Name is clearly far more grounded in a recognisable world than Miyazaki’s elaborate flights of fantasy. As a result its mystical touches – central premise notwithstanding – carry much greater individual interpretive weight.
While almost all Western body-switching films are concerned with a desperate attempt to return to one’s original body, Your Name plays tenderly with ideas of character and selfhood. Once Taki and Mitsuha become used to the body-switching process, the film has great fun blurring our ideas of who the two kids really are – and not in a ‘I’ve been a girl for a bit and now it’s over and I’m back to being a guy who incidentally is a bit nicer to girls’ kind of way. There’s a quiet radicalism to the way Your Name bleeds gender and social expectations, and dissertation-worthy ideas about the location of identity nestled in its folds.
All of this is helped along by superlative visuals and music. Sumptuous images, like a comet’s trail bisecting the moon, are laid against metaphorically rich exultations of banality – one particular motif of a straight-on view of a door sliding shut becomes a kind of punctuation mark throughout the film. It’s animation at its absolute finest, and makes you realise once again that for all of the technical impressiveness of a waving field of grass or crashing wave from Pixar there’s a particular humanity in great animation which trumps hyperrealism every time.
Likewise the soundtrack is engagingly varied without ever jarring, as traditional strings and flutes give way to earnestly anthemic modern rock balladry and then, just when it’s needed, some deft and intelligent uses of silence. As with so much else in the film, it’s a celebration of the unity of difference.
Edgar Lee Masters wrote that ‘to love is to find your own soul’. Your Name is full of that soul. It manages to articulate the ineffable sense of self-completion that love can bring, alongside the peculiar parallel terrors of losing it and losing yourself. It is a romance turned inside out, heart showing, full of beauty. 5/5