Body Switching in Japan…your imagination runs wild
Anime is something I used to follow quite a bit back in my high school and college days before my desire to catch every movie under the sun kicked in around law school. Still I recognize the great films like Ninja Scroll, Akira, and most of Studio Ghibli’s output that truly show the skill of artists and storytellers from Japan. Nonetheless, I have never reviewed an anime film before solely because the stuff coming into the United States just hasn’t grabbed me, until I started hearing buzz from several friends about one particular film that appeared out of nowhere and has now gone on to be the highest grossing anime film of all time. Interest piqued I looked into it and found…it was a body switch story featuring an underage school girl. What’s the phrase? “Oh Japan.”
And yet, against all odds, Your Name makes light of its absurd premise of two high school kids switching places at random and turns it into a funny, witty, intriguing and genuinely touching film. See we start off with Mitsuha, a teenage girl living in the Japanese countryside who makes the curiously specific wish of wanting to be a “handsome boy living in Tokyo.” Because some monkey’s paw got rubbed, lo’ and behold Mitsuha finds herself in the body of Taki, a boy close to Mitsuha’s age going to school in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Taki finds himself inhabiting Mitsuha’s body as well (and constantly taking the opportunity to feel himself [herself?] up). While they initially freak out in amusing ways, the two find themselves in their own bodies whenever they go to sleep; but they also find themselves back in the other’s body at other times.
Much like Freaky Friday, the fun is watching these two stumble and screw up each other’s day in the first 15 minutes film. And as I watched this film, I thought back to Freaky Friday and realized that most body switch films repeat the same joke every 5 seconds (people telling the switchee “you’re not supposed to do that, you’re supposed to do this!”) and usually conclude on the same note to appreciate your own damn life. To my surprise, Your Name completely doesn’t even bother to go down that route. Matter of fact, the jokes of the body switch only encompass the first 20 minutes of the film and that’s it. So what’s the rest of the film about?
You should know by now that if I’m not spoiling anything, it’s because I want you to enjoy it (and I only spoil phenomenally bad films that no one gave a damn to see). So you should be getting a strong hint of where my opinion of this film lies when I say I’m not going to go deeper into the plot because I most certainly will spoil the film. What you need to know is that you’re treated to a very cool science fantasy story that has a surprising amount of charm and heart to it as the movie crafts a great story around two very likable leads.
Mitsuha and Taki develop a very odd relationship with each other even though neither has met the other in the flesh, but they communicate with each other through their phones and notepads to leave any instructions on what to do and what not to do (what a surprise, all the “not to do’s” are broken by each side constantly). Yet the pair share the same stated sensation of forgetting someone they should know, and you quickly find out how each person is trying to grow up in their own ways. Taki’s development doesn’t really come into play until the second half, but you get to know Mitsuha quite well by the time the credits roll. She’s naturally shy in front of people and would rather keep to herself, but Taki’s antics bring her out into the world in a way that changes her for the better. Further, she gets some good ol’ fashioned wish fulfillment in seeing the world outside her small town in such a way that you can feel her excitement.
She also gets a lot of screentime as Taki as she tries to set him up with an older coworker of his, surprisingly giving him a lot of game (even as Taki gives his best effort to sabotage everything). But Taki’s role is expanded significantly later on in the film as he gives one great moment after another ranging from loneliness to seeking out love to making horrifying revelations. His lines are simply perfect and the way his face is drawn to convey such a wide range of emotions is definitely earning of high praise.
Actually, the animation on this film is thoroughly top notch. All of this comes to us courtesy of Makoto Shinkai, who’s quickly earning a name for himself in Japan between this film and his last well-received production, The Garden of Words. His animation style doesn’t rely on the intense melodramatic depictions of Attack on Titan, nor does it even rely on the jaw-dropping visuals you’ve seen from several Miyazaki joints like Castle in the Sky or Spirited Away. Instead, this is an anime that simply uses the medium to tell a story that will likely be deeply appreciated for a worldwide audience thanks to its conservative emotions that still pack a heavy punch. Honestly, this film is not difficult to translate into live action compared to other anime adaptations I’ve seen, but at the same time, I understand why Shinkai wanted to use animation instead of regular actors.
Because only in animation can you demonstrate true skill in depicting happiness, sadness, fear and triumph based on the flick of a pen. And for that alone, I would recommend this film for anyone to check out. But it’s really this killer premise of a story that takes the genre of body switching into surprising directions with a halfway reveal that completely changes how you were viewing everything and now are suddenly able to make sense of what you had seen before.
If I had a complaint (and come on, it’s me), I’d say the film is a little fond of animated musical introductions because there’s about five sequences like this. Now don’t get me wrong, some are pretty cool or badass, but I’m watching a movie and all that those songs do is remind of montages from terrible YA adaptations like the Twilight series (for the record, yes I’ve seen all five of the monstrosities) that serve no purpose but to extend the length of the film. And honestly, this movie’s a bit long in the tooth what with clocking in at 1 hour and 50 minutes. I would have forgiven one song choice in the beginning, but the others were just not needed.
Still my critiques are but mere nitpicks at a damn good film. I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns this film took me down while be completely impressed with the technical skill these artists were able to make this dream a reality. With that, I’m giving this movie a strong…