“Your Name,” the fifth film for director Matoko Shinkai, is about two high school students who suddenly begin to switch bodies. Based on a book Shinkai had completed a month before the film’s premiere in Japan, the simple concept breathes new life into an almost cliched genre of Japan’s animated film form. So far the film has made more than $328 million in the box office; making it the highest grossing anime movie worldwide since Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away.”
What makes it work is how Shinkai handles the plot with a unique blend of supernatural events, romance, mystery and comedy. The beginning of the film sets up the initial mystery, then immediately supplements it with comedy as the audience realizes which body the boy occupies. This repeated scene, and the bubbly meddling the characters have with each other’s lives, helps clarify both personalities in the first act and keep to the childlike wonder that was initially advertised.
By the middle of the film, the comedy dims and the suspense rises to keep you asking the ever present question: “Will they ever meet?” Unfortunately, the second act is also the film’s lower point as it strikes out rather far with the concept. The simple romantic mystery suddenly becomes convoluted in supernatural drama. Creating too many strings to hold on to, the beauty starts to fade as the viewer is prone to pull away from the original nuance. It’s not necessarily a bad act, but one less thread may have made the pace more even.
Thankfully, Shinkai graciously returns the pacing to that of the first act. As the plot descends back into the tedium of the everyday, the third act shows the best trait of the film — the viewer can still yearn for these characters to be united. From the common commotion to the quiet quintessence, the audience can still pine for them to be together because the anticipation never leaves the heart.
For those who like beautiful visuals, “Your Name” is hard pressed to beat. The animation will adhere the painterly backgrounds to the mind well after leaving the theater. The audio, which perfectly complements the story’s gorgeous visions, is as much of a treat as it is fresh. Listening to the sound of the whispering wind with eyes closed is as much to enjoy as feeling like floating among the clouds with eyes wide open. All of this, including the fantastic chemistry between the two characters, echoes the devotion put into this neatly packaged film.
In a word, it’s mesmerizing, but isn’t altogether perfect. The film never breaks any new ground for the genre, holds to a predictable ending and keeps the relationship one-dimensional. The director’s own reservations upon his success sum it up well.
“For me, it’s incomplete, unbalanced,” Shinkai told The Japan Times last year. “The plot is fine but the film is not at all perfect. Two years was not enough.”
Whether you agree with this conclusion or not, one thing is for sure: this is one movie you can’t miss.