Your Name is ridiculously, heartbreakingly beautiful. Every frame is filled with flourishes that amaze and delight; a sunbeam refracted in a tear-drop, motes of dust swimming in the morning light, the technicolour trail of a mysterious comet.
It’s the latest film from the hip young gunslinger of Japanese animation, Makoto Shinkai, and it arrives in the UK having already broken records in its home country.
It follows two pubescent teenagers, country-girl Mitsuha and Tokyo urbanite Taki, who both start every day shedding silent tears over a dream they can’t quite remember. Then one day Taki wakes up in Mitsuha’s body, presenting him first with the opportunity to play with his “own” breasts – a running joke – and subsequently to learn what it’s like being a teenage girl. Mitsuha, meanwhile, becomes Taki, giving her the chance to marvel at the big city, where she’s always dreamed of escaping.
Though their memory of the other person is always hazy after they return to normal – they can’t remember each other’s names, for instance – they begin to communicate through scrawled messages, and an unconventional romance looks set to blossom. But what begins as a jaunty high-school rom-com gradually develops a darker, more existential tone, somehow linked to the comet lighting up the night sky.
Thematically, it falls somewhere between Freaky Friday and Donnie Darko, with the body-swap comedy offset by musings on the nature of time, the transience of memory, and the fear of imminent apocalypse (the Fukushima disaster is an oblique reference-point).
The obvious point of comparison for most western audiences will be the Disney-inspired films of Hayao Miyazaki, but Your Name is far more grounded in anime genre tropes – including a cheesy J-pop soundtrack and the slightly uneasy fetishisation of its young female lead – making it feel more “other” than Miyazaki’s universally accessible work.
Both directors, however, share a fascination with the beauty of their homeland, and the picture Shinkai paints of Japan, as both an ancient, pastoral land and a glittering, endless cityscape, is downright magical; it will leave you with an intense desire to book a plane ticket.
Your Name is Shinkai’s fifth feature, but it’s the one that will cement him in the minds of western viewers as the heir to Miyazaki.
First published in City A.M.