Being a critic is a job that changes how you view film. When watching a movie, part of my mind is always thinking–picking out the themes, attempting to predict where the film is going, and considering what in the film works, what doesn’t, and why. Rarely is a movie engrossing enough to completely pull me in and get lost inside. However, new anime film Your Name. is one of the few that have.
Your Name. is the tale of two high schoolers, Mitsuha and Taki. Mitsuha lives in a countryside village of a few thousand people–and hates it. She wants nothing more than to finish school, quit working as a priestess at the local shrine, and move to Tokyo. Taki, on the other hand, is a normal boy going to school in Tokyo and working a part-time job as a waiter.
One day, the two begin having dreams where they live the other’s life–the twist being that it is no dream. Several times each week, the pair switches bodies when they go to sleep.
The first act of the film follows the two as they discover the nature of their situation and try to learn to cope with it. A lot of thought is put into this portion of the movie which makes it as realistic as it is comedic.
From the start, the pair decides not to tell anyone else about their situation. After all, who would believe them? But having no allies means that the two have several problems to overcome. After a switch day, the two return to their lives as if they have a day-long gap in their memories–i.e., they remember nothing from what the other person did while in their body. They decide on using their phones to make virtual diaries to give each other a heads up on everything that’s happened since the last switch–as well as any plans that were made during the body swap which the original body owner will have to deal with.
Thus the two are constantly doing damage control in their own lives–Taki gets grilled by the other employees for putting the moves on their beautiful coworker while Mitsuha is left to puzzle out why the bullies are suddenly afraid of her and why female students are giving her love letters.
The fact is, even with the diaries, they don’t know enough about each other to even attempt to act as the other person would. Each may try to keep under the radar, but each does things without thinking that change the preconceptions of those around them. And as the two connect only through messages, it’s really through each other’s friends that they learn about what kind of person the other is and how they normally act.
One excellent bit is how well the pair’s separate sets of close friends deal with the two’s apparent personality changes and memory loss–i.e., with understanding and acceptance. This is just who their friend is now. And while sometimes he or she may act oddly, the core soul that they know and love remains the same.
After all, both Taki and Mitsuha are normal, good people and would likely befriend the same kinds of people. Moreover, despite the accidental annoyances they cause each other, Taki and Mitsuha are sharing the most intimate of experiences: They are quite literally sharing their lives with each other in a way that even long-time couples cannot. It’s no wonder that they, despite never having met, form such a connection.
About halfway through, the film transitions from a lighthearted comedy focusing on the two’s deepening relationship to a mystery story investigating what their connection is and how it could possibly be interrupted. From this point on, comedy is largely absent from the film and it becomes more dramatic and serious.
This is where the main theme of the film becomes prominent: connection. Taki and Mitsuha share something that goes against how the universe itself works. Reality is constantly correcting itself to make their relationship one that fits in the rational world, altering all evidence to the contrary. Yet, even then, something ties the two together–and it is far more than just their respective happiness that rests upon their rare bond.
Visually, Your Name. is a top tier in terms of animation. The detailed background of both the countryside and Tokyo pales only in comparison to the vibrant color palette used in each. Your Name. is one of those films where even violent destruction is a beauty to behold.
Your Name. is a well-made film from top to bottom. The visuals are stunning, and painstaking thought has clearly been put into the intricacies of the premise–which in turn creates an experience that, while fantastical, is one you can’t help but get caught up in.
Or to put it another way, Your Name. easily ranks among the best anime films to come out this year.
Your Name. was released in Japanese theaters on August 26, 2016. The film has been licensed for release in North America by FUNimation.