‘Teenage body swap comedy anime’ is generally a series of words that would require me to miss a film at all costs, but Your Name is not a film that sticks to any sort of convention. A hilarious and deeply moving mediation on the difficulty of finding your identity in your formative years that revolves around a compelling cosmic mystery, it centres on city boy Taki (Ryunosoke Kamiki) and country girl Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), who change bodies at random intervals. Enigmatically connected to the arrival of a once-in-a-lifetime comet sighting, both of them initially struggle to remember what happens during the switches, but as they get better as recalling, they each set out on a quest to find the other.
After the retirement of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and the semi-shuttering of Studio Ghibli, Japanese animation needed a new figurehead, and it could hardly do better than Makoto Shinkai. Your Name, easily Shinkai’s highest-profile project to date, clearly connected with Japanese audience, taking over 10 billion yen at the box office before moving west. And we’re so lucky that it did, fully deserving as it is of every bit of that money. I fully admit to struggling with non-Ghibli anime films, but Your Name transcends any trappings of the genre that you may find off-putting for one of the most obviously joyous cinema experiences of the year.
Visually, it’s utterly stunning, focusing more on crisp, geometric space than the more nature-focused work of Ghibli, and making sure that every setting looks both hyper-real and impossibly gorgeous. The comet itself makes fleeting but unforgettable appearances, and as the story raises its stakes and ambitions, so too does Shinkai’s direction, culminating in a jaw-dropping journey through time. For this moment, we leave the realistic animation behind in favour of the fluidity of watercolours, a visual transformation that makes such perfect thematic sense that it elevates what is already a great film into ‘phenomenal’ status.
Kamiki and Kamishiraishi both give great, engaging voice performances, each of them having to play both Taki and Mitsuha, depending on who’s inhabiting whose body at any given time. Shinkai finds a rich vein of comedy each time the body swap occurs, and though none of the jokes are particularly surprising in the context, they’re delivered with such aplomb that their expectedness doesn’t actually matter. Both characters take their lives for granted, and in their wishing for something different, they prove more adept at living one another’s lives than their own, Mitsuha taking particularly well to the task of being Taki.
Securing him a date and a better relationship with his manager/crush Okudera (Masami Nagasawa), she loves his busy city life, and even in a film that involves a mystical celestial occurrence, Shinkai never ignores the general struggles of teenagehood, nor does he understate their importance. All the stakes are genuine, and Your Name builds up so much good will for its characters and the world they inhabit that not only is every fresh escapade exciting, but come the final third, the emotional impact matches up to some of the very best of Ghibli’s output. A powerful new voice in the world of animation, Shinkai stakes his claim with Your Name to the Ghibli title of premiere Japanese cartoonist with immense style.