I intend to be very careful with this review.
It is generally my custom to simply warn people of spoilers then go ahead with my review cheerfully guiltless about whatever plot points they happen to pick up in their reading. Hey, I warned you. Or else whatever I do spoil is generally unimportant or early in the story.
“Your Name” is different. A TON of the appeal of the movie is dependent on twists and reveals, and to spoil it could potentially ruin the experience for a first time viewer. Not that there’s nothing more to it, you understand, but to rob somebody of the wonder of watching those scenes for the first time is something I hope to avoid.
Makoto Shinkai, the director of the movie, is sometimes referred to as “The next Miyazaki”. Besides the fact that Miyazaki is in fact still creating films, this would still be premature; one of the things that makes Miyazaki great is the astonishing range of genres he can work in, and not just work, but excel. Adventure films, slice of life children’s films, epics, realistic biopics, straight up unadulterated fairy tales…he has created enduring classics in every genre he has cared to try his hand at. Shintai has a long way to go to fill those shoes. Still, he is young, and after watching “Your Name” even I must admit that he is off to a damn good start, and this coming from somebody who has yet to see his other films.
The premise behind “Your Name” is rife with landmines. A teenage girl named Mitsuha living in the Japanese countryside makes a wish that she will be able to live as a Japanese boy from the city. One day, with no explanation, she finds that she has switched bodies with a teenage boy named Taki, and Taki has switched places with her…and then after a few days of this they switch back. This occurs periodically, with seemingly nothing in particular precipitating the change. Then after that…well…that’s what I don’t want to spoil.
It is simply impossible for me to imagine a western studio tackling a concept like this without kowtowing to pressure from the left and creating some ridiculous politically correct disaster. Come to think of it, I’d imagine a western studio would be too scared of potential backslash to even attempt it. “Your Name” is astonishingly traditional in its take on the roles of the sexes, acknowledging that there are differences and then moving on with the story. It (mercifully) gets its “OMG different genitals!!!!!” jokes out of the way quickly then moves on without dwelling on the idea, outside of one running gag that’s actually pretty amusing. In Mitsuha’s body Taki sets to work on making Mitsuha more social and popular in school, while Mitsuha in Taki’s body helps him relax and become more confident when talking to women, particularly a co-worker at a restaurant he has a crush on.
The story surprised me in ways I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised before, and was utterly engrossing. The romance was touching, of course, as it must be if this movie is to be any good.
The movie is not perfect. Though it’s hard to catch when you’re actually watching it, in retrospect there are a few plot holes that make you scratch your head a bit, and outside of the main two characters, who are wonderfully drawn (in both senses of the word) and immensely likable, nobody in the film is particularly memorable. But these are minor quibbles in what is overall a fantastic film.
And that final scene…well…I’ll only say that it is perhaps the most intense and emotionally exhausting scene I’ve ever watched – and this despite the fact that it was basically just the characters going about their normal, daily lives. And yet when the movie ends you’re practically ready to collapse at the tension of it all!
“Your Name” is a wonderful film, original, brilliantly animated, engrossing, and incredibly superversive. I wish I could tell you about more of it, go into a deeper analysis, but I truly don’t want to rob anyone of experiencing the story for the first time on their own. It is not as good as Miyazaki’s best work, not on the level of his three great masterpieces “Princess Mononoke”, “Spirited Away”, or “The Wind Rises”, but it is better than his lesser work like “Ponyo” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. Makoto Shinkai may not be on the level of Hayao Miyazaki yet, but give him another forty years of work and we’ll see. I know that I’m certainly going to keep my eye out for him from now on.