Fight for Your Dreams: “Your Name.” and the Winding Path to Now

Is there anything in life more enigmatic than the haphazard paths that lead us into the another’ arms?  Makoto Shinkai’s anime Your Name. (Kimi no na wa) explores these paths by way of a fantastical body-swap comedy.  But, there is a genuine seriousness at the heart of the film that coalesces romance, connectivity, memory, and identity into a cohesive story about time, space, and the hidden strings that surround us all.  Your Name. sports a lavish animation style, energetic soundtrack, and intelligent use of imagery and metaphor, all of which contribute to an absolutely breathtaking experience.   Shinkai’s film amazes constantly, and is right at home alongside other pinnacles of this oft-celebrated style.

Your Name. appears innocent at first.  The story follows a pair of teenagers, Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki).  Mitsuha lives a simple life in the rural village of Itomori, hanging out with her friends, going to school, and participating in spiritual rites with her younger sister at the behest of her grandmother (which she isn’t too stoked about).  Taki lives in Tokyo, works at an Italian restaurant called “Garden of Words” (a reference to Shinkai’s 2013 film), and crushes on an older co-worker.  Both characters have a vibrancy about them, but they struggle with the standard teenage malaise.  When they start swapping bodies on random days, their problems become a little more fantastic.

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The story structure of Your Name. respects the intelligence of its audience.  After a brief preamble, it opens en medias res where an unclear amount of body-swaps have taken place between Mitsuha and Taki.  The film refuses to spoon-feed every specific occurrence to us; sometimes we only hear about body-swapping exploits second-hand, and it is rare that we actually see everything at once.  The characters also appear to forget their exploits after a short time, like waking from a dream.  Montage is used extensively, energized by the rock-heavy soundtrack.  This crafts a turbulent rapid-fire revelation of the experiences of Mitsuha and Taki as they transition from thinking everything is a dream, to realizing they are actually swapping bodies, to enacting rules of engagement and decorum so they won’t ruin each other’s lives.  While it seems like this is going to follow the standard body-swap themes of new perspective and then gaining an new-found appreciation for your own life, Your Name. has fascinating surprises in store.

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It certainly doesn’t hurt that the film is a paragon of gorgeousness.  Shinkai describes the aesthetic of the characters:  “So we had this interesting chemical reaction where we’re looking at characters that were designed in a style that was traditionally anime and a mainstream animation that was applied to it that created a very unique look.”1  The characters are bright and poppy, erupting from the luxurious and expansive backgrounds.  The backgrounds are also a kind of chemistry, combining traditional 2D cel animation and CG.  This has a dynamism to it, and allows the camera to explore freely, whether that means panning through endless mountain ranges and cityscapes, or pivoting around the small confines of a bedroom.  Shinkai was aware of this freedom, and always respected it, stating, “But regardless of the background, I was very cautious of where the camera was at any given moment.”1  This care is obvious; I’ve rarely such attractive zooming, panning, changing of focus, and other “camera movements” in an animated film – and each with its own purpose.

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There’s similar consideration, care, and intention in the film’s score.  The music has an energy about it, and features four original songs by popular Japanese rock group Radwimps.  This is especially true during the more frantic sequences, like opening credits and the montages.  The tempo of the music infuses the action on the screen, and even makes room for some gentle comedy.  The music carries the film along wonderfully even outside of the singles, with the symphonic kind of undertone that reminds of other great scores like Spirited Away or a Disney animated film – it’s just rock music instead of more classical score.

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All of these elements contribute to the majesty of Your Name., but the aspect that raises the film to masterpiece status is how the film handles imagery, symbolism, and metaphor to convey its deeper themes.  This film is loaded with subtext.  The thematic importance of the braided cord that passes between Mitsuha and Taki is fascinating.  Another powerful  symbol can be found in the kuchikamizake sake and how it radically affects the plot.  Even more visual metaphors like the use of craters, sliding doors, and the splitting of the comet are pregnant with meaning.  Repetition is used throughout the film, conveying additional hidden meaning.  There is a great deal going on in the artistry of this film, from the composition of shots to the editing to the dialogue.  Certainly, Your Name. is a film that will reward careful analysis and repeat viewings.  It definitely has more secrets buried in it than I discovered on a first watch.

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Whatever else is hiding under the surface, Your Name. is fundamentally a celebration of the circuitous paths that bring each and every one of us to the here and now.  The film ponders questions of time, space, tragedy, spirituality, and a cosmic kind of inter-connectivity of all things, but does so in the specific lives of Mitsuha and Taki and this bizarre situation/relationship they find themselves participating in.  In showing us such a fantastical version of a burgeoning romance, Shinkai invites the spectator to consider the countless inlets and tributaries in their own journey, and urges them to pursue the intuition of what feels right.  The reason why one is drawn to another may be undefined or ephemeral, but Your Name. charges us all to have the courage to take action.

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Your Name. is now the highest-grossing anime film of all time, a deserved mantle for such a wonderful film.  Practically every aspect is exemplary, from the opulent animation to the uproarious soundtrack to the fantastical story.  The structure of the film, its use of visual motif and metaphor, and the themes that it develops from all these separate pieces leads one to an irrefutable conclusion:  Your Name. is one of the most rewarding anime masterpieces of all time.


1 https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2016-12-20/interview-makoto-shinkai/.110150

7 thoughts on “Fight for Your Dreams: “Your Name.” and the Winding Path to Now

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  1. Great post…I am a enormous anime fan, and I really am waiting for this one. Unfortunately here in Holland anime never makes it to the cinemas here. So I have to wait until it gets released on dvd. I have heard and read so many great things about this one, it is really off the charts 😊 Loved this director’s earlier works…so I already know I am going to enjoy it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it 😀

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      1. Such a wonderful review!! Have you seen 5 Centimeters Per Second? There are parts of Your Name that definitely mirror it, especially when they walk past each other in Tokyo. It’s gorgeous as well. Children Who Chase Lost voices was also a visual treat, the story is more fantastical and seems very Ghibli instead of Shinkai though.

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      2. There are two movies that I highly recommend (but these are about pretty short lasting for only 30 minutes). The first is Voices of a distant star released in 2002. The second is 5 centimeters per second. The latter was for me the better movie: it really looked amazing, and I loved the storyline for it. Hope you will enjoy them 😊

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