Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is the Perfect Entry Point to His Emotional Work

Your Name deserves the historic commercial success it’s enjoying — It takes the strongest points from director Makoto Shinkai’s earlier films and focuses them into a palatable, coherent experience that’s filled with human emotion.

High school students Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) mysteriously find themselves swapping bodies with each other, despite living in different parts of Japan and having never met.

A keen eye, familiar with the cultural significance of the film’s early imagery, can suss out a lot of the plot’s trajectory within the first five minutes. But even if you miss those visual cues, you’re likely to be swept up in the sheer beauty of everything else on screen, and the later cues are impossible to miss.

The gorgeously detailed backgrounds in Your Name appear as Tokyo skylines as well as rural Japanese mountainscapes. The natural backgrounds in particular bear a striking resemblance to the beauty found in Shinkai’s Children Who Chase Lost Voices or The Place Promised in Our Early Days, but the emotional path of Your Name is much more similar to the story of Garden of Words, or 5 Centimeters Per Second.

Your Name’s characters are extremely relatable. The two 17-year-old students, one in the boonies and the other a city thoroughbred, are juxtaposed to highlight their strengths and weaknesses as well as the unique charms of their respective communities. Their experiences are filled with humour reflective of their situation, but the grounding in real life scenarios makes the characters’ motivations extremely easy to follow, even when the film’s plot starts to get a little wild.

Thanks to smart foreshadowing, Your Name’s story never feels incredulously bizarre. Integral elements like a broadcast tower or a stockpile of plastic explosives are organically integrated into the existing lives of the characters. It’s not even a surprise when Taki is able to recreate photorealistic sketches from his memory — every previous shot of his school notebooks bears a realistic drawing strewn across the page.

The bodies and faces, as well as the environments of Your Name, breathe with a wondrous expressiveness, too. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s implemented throughout the film effectively, adding weight to both the happy and sad emotional scenes that need it.

This is especially important, as the push and pull of Your Name’s characters is heavily dependent on their perception of each other. The story is extremely coherent thanks to visual parallels drawn between the shifting personalities of its characters. When Taki runs to school, you see his gait shift depending on the scene’s place in the film’s timeline, and Mitsuha’s hairdo flip-flops depending on the stylist that did their handiwork in her morning.

Several of the animation-heavy moments of the film are accompanied by a subtle original soundtrack. It sets the mood of each scene appropriately. Then, during longer montages, original insert songs by alternative Japanese rock band Radwimps colour the movement of the character’s hearts. These songs are anglicized in the film’s dubbed version as well, so their power isn’t lost by watching one version of the film versus the other.

The vocal performances of the entire cast in both the subtitled version and the English dubbed version are nuanced and believable during both the film’s emotional high and low points. There is no ranking one version over the other in this case. Translation quirks are handled excellently and the humour or emotion of any given scene is never lost.

And that’s important, because, between Shinkai’s fascination with sliding-door transitions that punctuate what we see, Your Name’s characters take on a surprising amount of agency in his spin on the red string of fate trope.

Your Name, like other Shinkai films before it, is about characters’ hearts transforming in time, and if a fear of trite or opaque plot-lines dissuaded you from seeing the beauty in his earlier works, this is the greatest entry point there’s ever been.

Grade: A

(Featured Image: Your Name, CoMix Wave Films)

You can read more of Kevin Pennyfeather’s work including weekly episode reviews of streaming anime on KevinPennyfeather.com.

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