Thoughts on: Your Name

If you’ve been on Twitter this past weekend then you’ve likely been subjected to two types of people: raving Persona 5 fans and charmed Your Name theatergoers (of which I am both). The latter reached North American shores already a phenomenon as the highest-grossing anime film of all-time worldwide, not to mention the significant hype conjured by those in the community who had already seen it. Needless to say, expectations were high for writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s latest. Was it worth the fuss?

It’s impossible to discuss Your Name without looking at Shinkai’s filmography, most of which has been in service of putting spins on a shared formula and set of themes. His films explore the all-consuming nature of nostalgia, generally through the following arc: the characters grow affectionate for one-another in their youth, grow apart with time and circumstance, and end up dealing with the impact of their unfulfilled emotions as adults. Shinkai juxtaposes the joy of his characters’ younger years with depictions of social isolation, loneliness and depression in adulthood to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings. The conclusion of his love stories rarely end how the characters or audience want, rather having them find solace in coming to terms with their current reality. Frankly, he’s done all of this to the point of exhaustion and while Your Name continues most of these traditions it also does enough different to make its story worth telling.

What makes the Your Name stand out from the outset is that its characters don’t start off as childhood friends or even knowing each other at all. This may seem inconsequential as they end up becoming teenage lovers regardless but what makes this instance particularly interesting is how their affection develops despite their physical distance. To literally exist within another’s skin is the most intimate way you could possibly get to know someone, seeing life from their perspective; it’s a set-up in which the characters can’t hide anything about themselves to the other. Everything from their text messages to the contents of their rooms to the workings of their social lives is put on display. Their efforts to communicate between body swaps and the way they meddle in each other’s lives sells you on their budding feelings for one another by the time the midpoint’s twist rolls around. Shinkai’s ability to pull off this narrative device pays off as it makes the two scenes in the film where the leads are onscreen together extremely impactful.

One of these scenes– the final of the film– breaks from the Shinkai formula in a major way, giving the audience the impression that our leads have or will remember one another and get romantically involved. It’s a release of the emotions built up across the director’s entire filmography. We’ve watched so many of his characters throw away their feelings to achieve a sense of inner peace that this much-needed happy ending was essentially fifteen years in the making. Those who have seen 5 Centimeters Per Second (my personal favorite Shinkai joint) get extra punch out of Your Name‘s final scene as they mirror one another until the latter’s last possible moment. It’s things like this that make Shinkai a master of emotional manipulation, as if he’s the conductor of a grand orchestra reaching its crescendo.

Despite what it does differently, Your Name still feels like a Shinkai film through and through. It holds true to his ongoing dialogue on nostalgia, at one point having Taki literally go to a photo gallery on the subject. The second half of the film sees Taki single-mindedly trying to reconnect with Mitsuha as Shinkai’s characters have done for the one they love so many times in the past. Trains, a Shinkai mainstay, act as a visual metaphor for being swept up in the constant momentum of life, in this case something the characters rebel against by traveling on foot to find each other. The list goes on but the point is this: as enjoyable as Your Name is, it’s the last time I’m willing to give Shinkai a pass on treading the same or similar ground. He’s proven his acumen as a director but a great director also has versatility, range. My hope is that Shinkai’s next film will throw a curveball, exploring a different genre, tone and/or set of themes than we’ve seen from him in the past. Your Name very much feels like a culmination of his career up to this point and thus makes it a perfect opportunity for him to switch gears. If he can successfully do that then I’ll have no qualms calling him one of anime’s great directors, but until then I feel he needs a bit more artistic diversity to justify the title of “the next Miyazaki” (a title I detest anyway on the principle that it reduces the work of an artist to comparison to that of another when we should instead be celebrating these people on their individual merits).

I’d also be remiss to not address the problems I have with the film. For one, while the emotional beats all hit there are major plot holes when you think about the reality of time travel by way of body swapping. Example: you would think that they’d notice the change in date when in the other’s body or realize things about the world that had or hadn’t happened yet in their own time. There’s a lot of convenience baked into the plot as well, things like the restaurant owner being from Mitsuha’s town and Mitsuha’s friends instantly buying into Taki-as-Mitsuha’s doomsaying about the meteor disaster. All of these things are forgivable because, again, the emotional core of the film retains its oomph. Regardless, they break the screenwriting rule that things should not happen just because you as a storyteller need them to in order to advance the plot.

Outside of these gripes, Your Name is an impressive showing by Shinkai, probably coming in as my second favorite thing he’s done. Its faults and similarities to the rest of his filmography stop it from being a true masterpiece but it doesn’t need to be; it’s a great film despite that. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Shinkai as he hopefully transitions into the next phase of his career.

20 thoughts on “Thoughts on: Your Name

  1. I just came back from watching your name., and I agree with a lot of your discussion points. You hit on the one thing I remember from 5 cm per s (I have a horrible memory, so it’s something to revisit)–that the main characters throw away their feelings to achieve something more–and I couldn’t stop thinking about that while watching your name.

    I’m still sorting out my own thoughts on the film, but very much enjoyed it c:

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  2. I haven’t seen the film yet because it hasn’t come to UK cinemas/the Blu-Ray’s aren’t out yet/there’s not torrents in 720p, but I really enjoyed reading this post.

    Beautifully written and really captures your thoughts on the film nicely. You did a great job analysing what makes the film such a sensation in today’s Anime landscape.

    Curious: what’s your favourite Shinkai work? 5cm?

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    1. Yeah, I connected with the MC of 5cm/s’ life arc quite a bit. Despite what I said about emotional release in the piece I’m a sucker for severe cases of the characters not getting what they want but instead what they need, emotionally-challenging endings.

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  3. I also got the chance to see Your Name this past weekend–enjoyed the heck out of it so I’ll likely do up my own experience post shortly.

    I enjoyed the way you compared this romantic setup to his others, in that for the first time, our characters do not start off together per se but end up together in the physical “world.” The film really threw me for a loop, for I was not expecting a dash of timeline chasing at all. It all worked out really well, though, so I’m not complaining!

    Lastly, you mention a hopefully inevitable change of storytelling from the director. I kinda agree with you there. His unique take on loneliness before love like with Your Name and Garden of words never ceases to fascinate me, but I, too, have seen a pattern grow after only viewing 4 of his works. Until I see 5 cm, Your Name will likely take my number one spot right next to Garden. Very beautiful review, I can tell you’re passionate about his stories and films!

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    1. I definitely recommend giving 5cm/s a shot! It gives a lot of context not only to the ending of Your Name but Shinkai’s storytelling as a whole. What fascinates me most about Shinkai is looking at his filmography holistically, something I’m planning to do at a later date actually and only touched on here. Each of his films builds off of what came prior and makes subtly different statements on nostalgia. Definitely want to delve into it further.

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  4. your name IS Makoto Shinkai’s best work by far. There were also pieces in the film where it turned into a music video and it worked out brilliantly! I loved those segments because they displayed the atmosphere of what was happening through sound and animation. I love stuff like that, which is why I professional AMV’s are fun to watch.

    Some moments in your name didn’t hit home like they should have. Like, the side characters took everything as if it were normal and that felt artificial. I am glad it had a happy ending, though and didn’t leave me hanging.

    It was a strong film and I think Shinkai has found his path to greater heights. Here’s to his next work!

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  5. Neromon

    (Spoliers for the movie)

    About the plot holes: remember how in the movie, the first few times they switch bodies and switch back, they think it was a dream? And how after some time goes without switching, they completely forget the experience? The characters are only able to retain hazy memories from the other’s world -just like remembering a dream- so they are never able to remember enough details to realize the 3 year difference ESPECIALLY when the day and month remain the same as only the year changes when they switch.

    Regardless, I thought your piece was well-written and I enjoyed it.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the piece! It’s true they forget their experiences but it still remains that they never realize on-screen that time has shifted, and you’d think that would be an important detail they jot for one another to remember later.

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  7. I think you were right on about the train metaphor and the stories about longing for something from childhood. I do hope he tries something new in whatever he does next.
    But then I’ve also heard comments about Miyazaki’s works being “environmentalism and flight and strong female leads” and whatnot. Although I do think there’s a difference in having recurrent motifs in your works and telling similar stories with them, but I haven’t seen enough of Shinkai to comment

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    1. As I pointed out in the post, it’s not just about recurring motifs, he uses a variation on the same formula to tell his different stories. It can be interesting to see the subtleties in what each work has to say using this framework but there’s a limit and given the number of times he’s done it I’d say we’ve hit it.

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  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this movie! It was interesting to see the perspective of someone who has experience with other works by the film’s maker. Always a fun perspective to see. I appreciate that you mention how equating a person to becoming the next so-and-so takes away their own merits and places their work inconstant comparison to another person. It’s always a huge bummer when that happens because it causes people to miss many unique features about that person’s work and makes it clear that their work is perhaps only considered good because someone else did great stuff like it. I’ve been hearing a great deal of positive reactions to this film. I shall have to watch it some time!

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