By Greg Beck (Hiroshima-ken, 2006-11) for JQ magazine. Greg is a writer, producer, home brewer, and Social Coordinator for JETAA Southern California and Arizona. A former news producer for Tokyo Broadcasting System in New York, he currently works freelance in Los Angeles. For more cinema reviews, follow him on Twitter at @CIRBECK #MovieReview.
Never mind that Your Name has become the highest-grossing Japanese film internationally, anime or otherwise; this creative and beautiful film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimeters Per Second, Children Who Chase Lost Voices) draws on everything reverent in Japanese history and culture, celebrates the modern metropolis that is Tokyo, and tugs at your heartstrings while embracing the silly and universally relatable challenges of the human experience. You do not have to like animated or Japanese films specifically to love Your Name. However, it is rare for any film to capture the Japanese essence and tone as this one has so expertly achieved.
The story focuses on Mitsuha Miyamizu, a high school girl living in a tiny, rural village in the Hida region of Gifu—or as one classmate puts it: “the boonies.” Growing up with her little sister and grandmother at the local shrine, we are introduced to a culturally rich history of weavers who connect their trade to the local Shinto god and traditions. Mitsuha feels understandably cramped by her rural routine and dreams of moving to Tokyo. Suddenly, that is just where she finds herself, inexplicably waking up in the body of our second protagonist, Taki, a boy of the same age, living in a small apartment with his father in Shinjuku.
As the story progresses, we get to enjoy both very different worlds, but there is no denying the village’s gorgeous rural landscapes rich with nature and the intimate, cultural ceremonies that take center stage. The grandmother’s patient lessons on Mitsuha’s family history grant us special access to something sacred, like a backstage pass to Japanese culture. The last film to achieve this feeling, Okuribito (Departures), later won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. Your Name is similar, but surpasses it by making the cord weaving pivotal to understanding the supernatural body swapping, blending epic adventure with sublime heartache.
Now that you know why you might want to see Your Name, here is what I flat-out loved about it:
Japanese rockers Radwimps provide the film’s soundtrack. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, this film may send you zooming to the search bar of wherever you get music these days. The semi-frequent episodic montages driven by electric guitar riffs and romantic, falsetto proclamations of vocalist Yojiro Noda reinforce the story’s progression and perfectly match the moods of high school rebelliousness and star-crossed lovers.
You will laugh your face off. Two high schoolers trading bodies and genders creates scenes that any adult will find hilarious, sweetly innocent, and PG (but might not want elementary school-aged children to see). The comedy extends into an excellent and lovable supporting cast who notice the newfound, unusual effeminate/masculine traits, and in some ways prefer them!
The story is grounded and believable. Despite being rooted in the Freaky Friday body-swap genre, characters behave and react to situations in ways that are—sometimes frustratingly—genuine. The film wastes no time establishing that something supernatural is happening, but the pacing is deliberate and slow when it matters, drawing you in so that when characters cry, you want to cry, and when they are happy, you feel triumphant. Their biggest struggles are also personal: complex relationships extend to the supporting cast, and you can feel them worry about each other and the future. In that sense, they feel profoundly real.
Surprising events, discoveries, and the film’s resolution will keep you engrossed, leave you satisfied, and whet your appetite for a second viewing. I loved the Japanese voice acting and haven’t seen the English dubbed version, but if you’re on the fence, both dubbed and subtitled official trailers for each version are available. Watch them and decide for yourself; just don’t miss your chance to see this one on a big screen.
Your Name opens today in the United States and Canada. For theaters and tickets, visit www.funimationfilms.com/movie/yourname.