Before we get started I should warn you that this review contains potential spoilers.
Animation’s latest living master is Japan’s Makoto Shinkai (The Garden of Words), who is frequently (if not quite fairly) compared to the likes of Hayao Miyazaki, likely due to his approach to storytelling and not as much for the content of his films. Shinkais’ latest is an absolute masterpiece called Your Name, based on his novel, which incorporates ideas about time, love, fate, and the many ways we can be connected to others, even those we may never meet. I also love that Shinkai isn’t afraid to make his lead characters smart younger people, who do what they believe it right and not just what is expected of them.
As it begins, Your Name feels like a story of young love, in this case between high schoolers Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi), who lives in a provincial town, and Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), living in Tokyo. One random night, they both wake up in the other person’s body and spend the day seemingly lost in a state of confusion only to wake up the next day back in their own body. This phenomenon happens several times, and when they eventually figure out whose body they’re inhabiting, they start to communicate with without through the use of notes and other clues.
During the course of the film, we see news reports of a comet heading to earth so closely, that it will be huge in the night sky. But when that day finally arrives, the comet splits up and pieces of it come crashing down to earth—one of which lands in Mitsuha’s town, presumably killing her and everyone she knows. The body switching stops, and Taki is intent on traveling to the village, seemingly unaware of what has happened. Without giving too much more away, it’s at this point in the story that Taki realizes the true nature of his communications with Mitsuha, and he recruits his closest friends to help him possibly warn Mitsuha what is to come before it actually happens. To say this film involves bending time doesn’t even really begin to describe it, but it all makes sense in this universe, and it’s a bold and beautiful wonder to behold.
It’s clear that above all else, director Shinkai has carefully mapped out how his trippy timelines and situations are going to play out, and he has a great deal of fun taking us on the ride. As much as the film incorporates very life-and-death moments, Your Name never feel overbearing or too heavy for younger audiences. The visuals, especially when it comes to the comet and its destructive power, are spectacular and so wonderfully detailed as to take one’s breath away. There’s a certain amount of tension to the story, but that mostly involves whether the two leads will ever actually meet (let alone whether Mitsuha gets to live).
But the real splendor of Your Name comes from watching the two leads grow up during their days spent in each other’s skin. For example, Taki’s shyness around women is handled in unexpected ways when Mitsuha is “visiting” him. And through his warnings about the comet, she taps into her resourceful nature to save as many people as she can. As strange as it may sound, this is a fairly traditional love story, with a tinge of the supernatural and a whole lot of disaster movie destruction thrown in to underscore the power of love and the universe. This is simply a fantastic film, animated or not, and missing a chance to see it on the big screen would be a whole other kind of disaster.
The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre, where the 2pm screenings, Friday-Thursday, will be dubbed in English, while all other showtimes will be in Japanese with English subtitles, unless otherwise noted. Your Name is also screening downtown at AMC River East 21.