Mitsuha Miyamizu (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi), a high school girl from a quiet country town, wakes up one morning with a strange feeling. Like she is missing something. Meanwhile on the other side of Japan in bustling Tokyo, teenager Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki) shares the same sensation. After dealing with respective friends and family freaking out about their weird behaviour the day before, the two teens go to sleep. Only to wake up the next day inhabiting each other's bodies! At first Taki and Mitsuha think this is all some crazy dream, but gradually realize their magical body-swap is actually happening. Before long Mitsuha embraces life as a brash boy in the big city while Taki tries to push past the burden of being a pretty girl with certain filial duties. They also try to coordinate their activities by text message so they don't mess each other's lives. Yet a seemingly inescapable yearning dwells inside boy and girl as they come to suspect they share a greater destiny.
Makoto Shinkai was a cult figure on the independent anime scene ever since his practically homemade debut Voices of a Distant Star (2002). However the global blockbusting success of Kumi ni na wa or Your Name brought him international acclaim as to-date the highest-grossing anime film of all time. Based on Shinkai's own novel (published only a month before the film's premiere) this heart-rending, poetic young adult fantasy drama latches onto a boy-girl body swap conceit that is well worn even in Japan. Cult live action auteur Nobuhiko Obayashi previously delivered a conceptually similar teen fantasy: Tenkôsai a.k.a. I Are You, You Am Me (1982) a.k.a. Exchange Students that is fondly remembered in Japan. Yet with Your Name Shinkai delivers a more nuanced, thought-provoking and multi-layered take on this hitherto cutesy and disposable trope.
Evoking an age-old idea that to truly understand someone one needs to walk a mile in their shoes, the film touches on contemporary alienation along with perhaps the defining theme of twenty-first century art: identity. In the aftermath of the post-Second World War deconstruction of gender, religion, age, sexuality, politics and society a new young generation of men and women, black and white, straight or gay are now collectively wondering who exactly are we? This and other questions haunt Mitsuha and Taki in a magical serio-comic odyssey that also muses on time and loss. Shinkai takes time intruding each protagonist and detailing the lives led in their respective rural and urban environments. Taki has a crush on an older co-worker and ambitions to become an architect that may or may not exceed his actual talent. Mitsuha serves as a shrine maiden at a Shinto temple run by her wise old grandmother between enduring the near-constant berating of her bullish father who happens to be the local mayor.
Over the course of some hilarious incidents Shinkai hits all the familiar beats from the gender-swap story but then rapidly transcends them to embrace more inventive, fertile ground. Just when the viewer thinks they know where things are heading Your Name pulls a mind-bending twist that greatly expands its emotional resonance. While the high school romance and fantasy angle are easily accessible for a western audience the film is rooted in deeply Japanese themes including a Shintoist connection to the Earth and the elements, filial duty, rigidly defined gender roles, coping with natural disaster and the relentless pressure of conformity. A lot of the humour also relies upon specific nuances of the Japanese language. Which makes one wonder how the material will fare in the rumoured Hollywood remake from producer J.J. Abrams.
Ever the perfectionist Makoto Shinkai was quoted as feeling the animation fell short of his ambitions even though the story works like gangbusters. He is far too self-critical. Among its many accomplishments Your Name is a technical marvel with exquisite animation bringing to life an array of beguiling characters with dazzling fluidity. Adding to an overall exhilarating cinematic experience is a pounding pop score from the fantastically named Radwimps. Truly one of the most moving romantic movies you will ever see, whether animated or live action.