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.