April 19, 2017

Another Take: Japan’s Smash Hit “Your Name” Lives Up to the Hype

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On the date I’m writing this — April 7, 2017 — two animated films were just released in US cinemas. One of them was Smurfs: The Lost Village, the reboot from Sony that’s trying to cover up their last disastrous reboot from 2011, a film that I will have to see some time this weekend.

The other was Your Name. Boy, am I glad I chose to see Your Name today!

The release honestly took me by surprise. Your Name, written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, first hit Japanese theaters last year on August 26 as Kimi no Na wa, and made history by unseating Spirited Away as the highest grossing anime film of all time. It ended up topping the Japanese box office for twelve weeks! You can essentially consider it Japanese Frozen as far as dollars are concerned. Earlier this week, I decided to Google if there was a release in the United States coming up… and got showtimes for Friday! Now that I’ve actually sat through it, let me just say, this movie deserves the hype. Your Name is altogether a fun comedy, an emotional roller coaster, and a showcase of animation’s potential.

Your Name centers around two Japanese teenagers: a girl named Mitsuha and a boy named Taki. The former lives in a small village, trying to balance her dedication to the Shinto family temple with her social life, while her father’s mayoral re-election casts a shadow over the family. The latter lives a hectic life in downtown Tokyo, juggling school and work. The two have never met, but one day… they wake up in each other’s bodies. After bumbling through each other’s lives, they go to sleep and wake up in their own bodies again. Not long after, though, the bizarre phenomenon repeats. They try to make arrangements in order to accommodate for future switches, while at the same time trying to figure out what’s going on, and even begin to befriend each other along the way — although it blossoms into something more.

When you watch the movie, you can see one thing right from the opening screen: the animation is nothing less than gorgeous. The animators and story artists take advantage of the varied settings to show off their skills, and boy do they brag! The pastoral charm of Mitsuha’s home village matches the glimmering skyline of Tokyo, and they both have enough detail to really bring them to life. The character animation looks really good, too. We can read the characters’ emotions so well. I was particularly impressed by a scene where Mitsuha performs a Shinto ritual dance; the motion looked so fluid. Then the comet — a coming comet plays an important role in the film, and when we see it, it looks beautiful. Everything about this movie looks beautiful. They include all these little details that we take for granted in live-action films: lens flares, dynamic camera movements, the animators did everything they could to make this movie look good. They deserve gold medals, every single last one of them.

The writing is just as phenomenal.  Shinkai based Your Name off of his book of the same name, making this a very personal project. It manages to balance comedy with drama very well, making us laugh at some points and sit on the edge of our seats at others. I personally teared up several times. A jaw-dropping twist hits about halfway through, and it’s a twist that actually manages to redefine the story we’re experiencing instead of being mere shock value. I will admit that some elements aren’t immediately apparent at first and caused me some confusion, like how time got communicated with certain scene cuts. However, I was never lost for long, and the story kept me on track. The only big issue I’d take with the writing was a particular joke that got used several times over the course of the movie whenever Taki woke up in Mitshua’s body. That is, a teenage boy waking up in a teenage girl’s body, looking down… and I think you can tell where I’m going with this. I do believe it’s simply a matter of cultural preference though; I was raised in more of a prudent household, plus Japan is generally more liberal with matters like these anyways. There was still plenty of humor that got me laughing, and the dramatic storyline was incredible. Wrap it all up with a wonderful message about love and loss and memory and, well… you have an artful story on the screen.

The individual characters are great as well. Mitsuha and Taki are both interesting and likable characters that we get to see several sides of, so it’s easy to get invested in them and follow their story. It’s also funny watching them “interact.” I use the quotes because they don’t really get to see each other, but instead leave notes detailing do’s and don’t’s for the other in case of a switch, and then leaving a journal afterwards to say what they had done that day. They’re very endearing and sweet to watch. The supporting cast also plays their roles well. They don’t steal the show, but still help us discover more about our main two protagonists through their interactions. It’s a fun cast playing out a great story, so what’s not to like about the writing here?

Japanese rock band Radwimps provided the music for the movie, and they deserve a special nod here, too. They delivered the right energy in the right moments; upbeat and peppy at the funny scenes, minimalist and wistful at emotional ones, breathing additional life into the film.

I am so very very thankful that Your Name managed to make its way across the Pacific. It takes a lovely story and a beautiful message, then wraps it up in some of the best animation I’ve seen in a long time. What really astounds me about the movie, though, is how humble Makoto Shinkai has been about it. He even asked people not to see it, because he feels like he doesn’t deserve the attention and praise, insisting it’s “incomplete” and “unbalanced”. If he thinks this isn’t even his best work… then I look forward to what we can see from him in the future! Your Name only has a limited release in the United States, so if it’s playing near you, I insist you disregard Shinkai and go watch it! Watch it right now! Get it on disc or online as soon as possible. It’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen released in a long while, and I’m so thankful to have gotten to see it.


David Gouldthorpe is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected].