Your Name is arguably the most successful anime ever. Although in its native Japan it failed to match the achievement of Spirited Away, worldwide it is the highest grossing anime movie of all time. Its basic premise is that of a body swap, but there is a huge and dramatic twist in the tale, which is key to the movie’s success. It is going to be impossible to discuss the film without talking openly about that twist, so if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you doing here? Go and watch it and then come back. An anime that grosses more than 350 million dollars isn’t going to be a bad one, so you are unlikely to be disappointed.
With that warning out of the way, let’s assume everyone reading this has seen the film and there’s no point bothering with a synopsis. For the first third of Your Name, it’s largely an entertaining entry into the body swap genre. It does the obvious things such as the bodyswappers going all wide-eyed at the discovery of their gender flip, and Taki going straight for the boobs, which becomes a fun running gag when he gets repeatedly discovered in the act by Mitsuha’s little sister. Even this is subverted to become a moment of heightened emotion towards the end of the film, but we’ll get to that. The body swap also does the standard thing of allowing two teenagers who inhabit very different worlds to experience each other’s lives. Taki lives in Tokyo, while Mitsuha is a country girl. Their fascination with, and longing for, each other’s lives will be familiar territory for anime fans, but it is charmingly written, including a scene where Mitsuha’s friends get excited about going to a “café”, which turns out to be a vending machine beside a bench.
Mitsuha and Taki interfering in each other’s lives is also entertaining, especially Mitsuha’s attempts to sort out Taki’s unrequited love with a waitress he works with, which suggests that what women want is for men to connect with their feminine side, something that Taki does with ease of course when his body is actually being inhabited by a teenage girl. But here we start to encounter the more poignant moments of the movie, because Mitsuha’s apparent achievement at bringing Taki and Miki closer together leaves Mitsuha in tears, and she doesn’t quite understand why. She is falling for Taki herself, despite their only communication being by journal entry and amusingly writing instructions and insults on each other’s hands, arms, and occasionally faces.
Things take a dramatic turn when we get to the big twist, something that it is just about possible to figure out if you are paying attention: Mitsuha and Taki are not just body swapping, but they are body swapping through time. Three years separate them, and Mitsuha is dead, killed when a fragment of a comet hits and destroys her town. By the time that becomes apparent, the body swaps have stopped, and in both time periods the teenagers are fighting against hazy memories that are becoming impossible to retain. They cannot even remember each other’s names.
What follows is an amazing story of love and determination. Taki has to achieve what seems to be impossible: to find a way to communicate with a girl across the years that divide them. Their meeting on the crater’s edge is a stunning piece of animation.
Mitsuha’s attempts to evacuate the town are fascinating. First Taki takes the lead while inhabiting her body for one last time, marshalling the talents of Mitsuha’s friends. Note that Mitsuha’s father will not be swayed by what seems like her crazy story, but is perceptive enough to think the unthinkable: it is not his daughter standing in front of him. Importantly, it takes the real Mitsuha to finally persuade her father to take a leap of faith and listen to his daughter. This is one area of the film that could perhaps have done with a little more build-up. It is clear that Mitsuha’s relationship with her father is broken, but beyond one scene of him embarrassing her in public there is a little too much economy of storytelling. Similarly, Mitsuha’s conversation with her grandmother about the impending disaster, the one person who will understand and believe her, feels like little more than a box ticking exercise, included in the film only because the omission would have been noticed. In the end, what feels like it should have been a key moment is dismissed with an off-screen “nobody will believe it”. You also have to squint a bit to make the three-year gap make sense, in light of the use of mobile phones, journals etc, although I do love the cleverness of Mitsuha’s and Taki’s attempts to contact each other failing while they are body swapping, due of course to one phone not yet existing, and the other lying somewhere under an impact crater.
Other than that, the dramatic beats are all present and correct, and the film really packs an emotional punch, especially the long-awaited meeting between Taki and Mitsuha at the end of the movie. There are some clever touches throughout, such as the ribbon that acts as both a literal and metaphorical tie between them, and the way the disaster is foreshadowed by a previous impact being woven into tradition and religion, with a fallen meteorite equated with a deity.
So this is the most successful anime movie ever, but is it the best? It’s a wonderful film, but no, I don’t think it’s the best. I’m not even convinced it’s the best Makoto Shinkai movie. Its success I think lies in its accessibility to a worldwide audience, its emotional impact, and the way all that is packaged up in beautiful animation of the kind that Studio Ghibli fans have come to appreciate. While films such as its nearest rival Spirited Away and Shinkai’s own Journey to Agartha are in my opinion superior in their creativity, they challenge a Western audience to embrace something different a little more. But that’s ok. If Your Name is your starting point, your introduction to anime, that’s a truly wonderful thing. Make it your doorway to another world. RP