THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"YOUR NAME (KIMI NO NA WA)"
Body-switch movies have been around for decades. Freaky Friday executed the concept back in 1976. Since then, we've had Vice Versa, The Change-Up and Like Father, Like Son among numerous others. There hasn't been one as meaningful as Your Name, though. Rather than going for cheap laughs and easy sentimentality, this Japanese animated film – a massive hit in its native land – uses the concept to examine issues of connection and identity. It's a mature, contemplative, and deeply satisfying work.
Mitsuha is a teenage girl from a small mountain town. Taki is a young guy from Tokyo. They wake up in each other's bodies after she makes an off-handed wish to know what it feels like to be a boy. Neither of them understands how or why this is happening. Confounding matters is that they only swap on certain days. Through her journal and his cell phone, they are able to exchange messages back and forth. Each of them makes an impact on the other's life. Mitsuha helps bashful Taki get the attention of a coworker he has a crush on, while he helps her gain some popularity in school.
Time spent in one another's skin draws Mitsuha and Taki close. They wonder if there's a possibility that they could somehow meet. The answer to that question proves complicated and involves a comet that both observe passing overhead.
Early scenes of Your Name are enjoyably comical. The two characters struggle to get comfortable with having to live as the opposite sex on the days they switch. Rather than being broad, the movie tries to explore what would really happen if two young people found themselves in this sort of predicament. (Taki, as most boys probably would, spends an inordinate amount of time fondling his new breasts.) Writer/director Makoto Shinkai grounds the humor in a strong sense of humanity.
Later scenes venture into more emotional territory. Your Name has a very innovative idea at its core: that you couldn't inhabit another person's body without growing profoundly close to them. There's an old cliché about putting yourself in someone's shoes. Taki and Mitsuha literally do that, only to discover an intense emotional investment. Her life becomes his, and vice versa. Watching these characters meld their individual lives into something new and unique is endearing, making you think about the connections you've made with the most important people in your own life and how those connections have changed you for the better.
The last third of the movie has some surprises as the characters struggle to meet up. By this point, it has become clear why they need this to happen. To lose the connection would be to lose parts of themselves. That gives the story a real dramatic thrust. Your Name has a ticking-clock pace during this section that is rooted in genuine human consequences. Everything culminates in a final scene that is elegant in both its simplicity and its meaning.
On top of everything else, Your Name is a treat for the eyes. Every second is visually exquisite, and great care is taken to draw the little details that surround Mitsuha and Taki in their respective worlds (cell phones, personal items, living quarters, etc.). That helps them to come alive. They may be animated, but their day-to-day existences feel very lifelike. Much like the work of renowned Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, the animation here totally envelops you.
Your Name isn't just a terrific animated movie, it's a terrific movie that just happens to be animated. There are no talking animals, no pointlessly rude jokes, and no wacky sidekicks. Just a compelling story filled with relatable characters and told with equal measures of style and grace.
It's a gem.
( 1/2 out of four)
Your Name is rated PG for thematic elements, suggestive content, brief language, and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.
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