If I told you that Your Name, writer-director Makoto Shinkai‘s drama (originally titled Kimi no na wa), was an amazing anime that is sweeping the world thanks to its unconventional storytelling approach, gorgeous visuals, and tear-jerking romance, there’s a good chance you’d only hear one word: anime. The word still carries a stigma today, even though the traditionally Japanese storytelling style has steadily become a part of Western culture over the last few decades. Your Name is poised to be a gateway anime film for a whole new generation.
To be fair, some of the tropes that the anime genre has become known for are at play here: The story centers on two high school characters, the juxtaposition of technology and tradition is a big part of their journey, and the memory of a massively destructive event haunts the collective consciousness. However, these common themes found throughout anime exist in Your Name to serve the story; everything else about it is unique and surprising. This makes for a refreshingly entertaining film that will have you invested in the fate of the charismatic leads as they struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds.
In the broadest sense, Your Name is a story about two high school students, Mitsuha and Taki, who have never met but mysteriously begin to inhabit each other’s bodies at random times, for random lengths of time, and with no memory of these events. So on the surface, it’s an animated body-swapping comedy with romantic and dramatic elements. But it doesn’t take long to realize that there is much, much more going on in Shinkai’s excellent adaptation of his own novel of the same name.
Mitsuha Miyamizu is reserved and hard-working, both as a student in school and at her family’s shrine, where she learns the ways of tradition from her grandmother, alongside her little sister Yotsuha. The demands of tradition and the rather rural stylings of her small town frustrate Mitsuha to the point that she loudly voices her wish to be reborn as a handsome boy in Tokyo, a city full of culture, innovation, and opportunity.
Enter Taki Tachibana, a high school student living in Tokyo who doggedly pursues his interests, whether it’s architecture or the affections of his co-worker, Miki Okudera. However, when Taki wakes up one morning to find himself in the body of Mitsuha–and, yes, after hilariously and rather innocently coming to terms with said new body–he finds himself on a path that is very different from the one he has been planning for all along.
To give too much away about Your Name would be a disservice to audiences as it’s best to go into this movie as cold as possible. It’s much more than a body-swapping comedy; though that aspect is played up for laughs early on, it becomes crucial to the depths of the mutual understanding between Mitsuha and Taki by the story’s end. And neither is Your Name only a traditional romantic story about two star-crossed lovers; those elements are there, as is the legend of the Red String of Fate connecting those destined to be together, but relationships develop slowly over time and are born out of understanding and compassion rather than simply overcoming a one-note conflict.
While Your Name does come with the obvious supernatural element of body-swapping, there’s a much deeper mythology at play that touches on the contrast between technology and tradition in the film. This is what Your Name does exceptionally well: Introduce a familiar concept or trope, and then flip, twist, and invert it in surprising ways that will keep the audience guessing. You may see some of the twists coming, you might even guess the ultimate ending, but Your Name remains an engaging story throughout and will have you emotionally invested in the fate of the fully fleshed out characters.
On that note, Shinkai’s attention to detail and understanding of fans’ obsession with character relationships is top notch. Viewers who keep an eye on supporting characters and their flirtations throughout the film will be rewarded with a rock-solid answer to their relationship by the movie’s end, though the nature of that relationship may or may not please everyone. As for the relationship between the leads, Shinkai knows just how far to push an audience’s patience for the “will they or won’t they” game, and you can tell he’s having fun teasing it along the way. Those slight sins are wholly forgiven since Shinkai also delivers one of the most earnest, intimate, and admirable romances in recent movie history.
And this is all without mentioning the breathtaking visuals on display, from the Tokyo cityscapes, to rural and urban train stations (another hallmark of anime), to lush and impressive natural landscapes, most of which are inspired by real-world locations. The character designs are charming and practical, far from the over-the-top appearances you might expect when hearing the word “anime.” Heightening every emotional beat in the film is the fantastic soundtrack–which is destined to become a playlist in its own right–that occasionally breaks through to become the focus of a scene or sequence. It’s honestly amazing to me that all the disparate parts of this film came together so well to make something this unforgettable; to miss it is inexcusable.
Your Name is a wonderful cinematic experience. You don’t need to be an anime fan to enjoy Your Name, just like you don’t need to understand the historical and cultural significance of kuchikamizake to appreciate its place in the plot (though a familiarity with anime history and Japanese culture certainly helps). At the end of the day, Your Name is a timeless crowd-pleaser that will have you laughing, crying, and loving right along with Mitsuha and Taki for years to come.
Your Name opens in theaters, in limited release, starting Friday, April 7th.