By Orla Smith.
After a limited run last December, Your Name is returning to UK cinemas in both IMAX and standard formats. After breaking box office records in Japan, it became a rare international success. It’s not hard to see why: Your Name is a melting pot of conflicting elements, all of which fuse together with invigorating energy and soul.
The film may be jarring for some Western audiences who are unfamiliar with the stylings of Japanese anime. Unlike the more classical Studio Ghibli, it has a pop aesthetic. Your Name begins with an opening credits sequence that is more like the titles of a TV show than anything you’ll find in American cinema. Much of the film sets itself to peppy J-pop; it can feel abrasive, but when embraced, these big-hearted musical choices are an expressive representation of the teenage soul.
Two seventeen year olds divide the screen time, but scarcely share it. Mitsuha lives in a quiet mountain town where the closest thing to a café is the pairing of a bench and a vending machine on the side of the road. She dreams of something bigger and easier: “Please make me a handsome Tokyo boy in my next life!” That frustrated cry into the wind gains a lot more significance than Mitsuha ever anticipated.
We’re presented with vignettes of Mitsuha’s life, often preceded by a black screen and the buzzing of an alarm. It’s not until later that it becomes evident that, during our very first encounter with Mitsuha, she wasn’t Mitsuha at all.
Taki is that very thing that Mitsuha wishes to be: a handsome Tokyo boy, who often frequents a real café with his school friends. After a few seemingly amnesiac episodes, both Mitsuha and Taki realise that what they thought were dreams were actually real: every week or two they randomly switch bodies. Initial alarm fades away, and they gradually work out a way for their unpredictable new situation to function: leaving diary entries on each others’ phones and writing on their hands and faces.
Your Name remains a sweet body-swapping comedy for at least its first half.
There’s no ultimate goal attached to their predicament, so Mitsuha and Taki go about each others’ daily lives, trying to navigate their complications. While neither can talk to the other face to face, their connection to one another’s lives becomes stronger and the film sends us into a time-jumping montage which imagines them talking face to face. They scold each other in the messages they leave behind. They talk with the kind of scornful sarcasm that can only be cultivated between old friends.
It’s in this territory that the movie is most comfortable. A more satisfying third act would have been one that went further with the threads set up at the beginning. Instead, the film feels a need to heighten the stakes to an alarming degree, and it loses sight of what it was trying to say in the first place. New rules are added to the initial sci-fi premise that appear to be rooted in nothing other than a need to push the plot in the necessary direction.
It is true that without this sudden shift, the film may not have been able to get to its moving coda. At the very end, Your Name becomes about looking wistfully back on your childhood: to the places you went that you can’t quite remember, and the people you loved whose faces are fading in your memory.
Unfortunately, this emotional gut-punch comes at the expense of exploring more interesting themes.
In its second half, it becomes clear that Your Name is pushing these characters into a romance with each other. This is strange given the dynamics set up earlier which, if explored, could have led to a fascinating exploration of gender. That gendered element is brought to the fore given that this is the story of a boy and a girl taking on each others’ bodies – and their exploration of their new physical forms is given screen time, mostly in the context of comedy. However, with Mitsuha’s romancing of Taki’s female work colleague while in Taki’s body, one thing becomes clear: Taki is falling in love with Mitsuha, but Mitsuha is falling in love with being Taki. It’s baffling that the film decides to leave this unexplored.
In IMAX, Your Name is visually ravishing. The camera often sweeps around its characters as they gaze up at the stars, and we’re left just as astonished as they are. While Your Name is not a clear vision, it is often quite wonderful – and emotionally resonant. Controversially, it failed to earn an Academy Award nomination for best animated feature. While I would count myself as slightly less awed by the film as others are, I wouldn’t hesitate to join the chorus of those claiming it deserved that nomination; this ragged film is more affecting and complex than most commercial animation, even if it has room to be much more of both those things.
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