Film Review: Your Name

The lives of two strangers intersect when a comet unravels time. Intricately designed and animated anime from Japanese director Makoto Shinkai has become a surprise worldwide hit.
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The beautifully drawn Your Name grossed over $300 million worldwide after opening last year, and has drawn consistent praise from critics. The story of two teens who switch bodies (and genders) during a cosmic event is by turns charming, funny and bewildering. But even at its most baffling, Your Name maintains a visual style that approaches the grandeur of anime masters like Hayao Miyazaki.

Director Makoto Shinkai, whose previous film was the well-regarded short The Garden of Names, based the script for Your Name on his own novel. A majestic comet soars across the sky as the movie opens, followed by a montage packed with information, not all of it clear.

Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) lives in Itomori, a sleepy town by a lake that doesn't even boast a café. The estranged daughter of the mayor, she lives with her grandmother and younger sister. She daydreams of escaping to Tokyo, and feels trapped by her grandmother's insistence on following ancient rituals.

Disturbed by dreams, she is teased by classmates for strange behavior she can't remember. One day, she wakes up as Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), a boy she never met.

Taki lives in Tokyo with his single father. His life is consumed by school, work as a waiter in an Italian restaurant, and sketches he draws of a landscape he's never seen. One day, he wakes up as Mitsuha.

The switches occur unexpectedly but never last long, leading the two to keep diaries and to text to each other on their smartphones. Friends notice a warmer side to Taki thanks to Mitsuha's influence. Meanwhile, he helps her become more assertive.

When Mitsuha's texts suddenly cease, the movie moves to a spiritual plane. It turns out the two weren't just switching bodies, but time as well. The approaching comet, Mitsuha's enactment of forgotten rituals, perhaps some psychic instability leads, or may lead, or has already led to a natural cataclysm. Will the two be able to find a bridge across time? Will they lose their identities?

Shinkai adopts an easygoing tone and pace in Your Name, focusing on day-to-day wonders often overlooked. A spider web glistens with dew, Tokyo train lines intersect like an abstract tapestry, a shrine offers comfort in a storm. The two leads, lonely, tentative and worried about their futures, are instantly recognizable. Mitsuha is an especially appealing role, taking rejection from her father and classmates to heart, but still hoping for a better life.

Your Name gets less persuasive as it goes along, with Shinkai forcing some difficult narrative twists and leaning too heavily on bland J-pop songs to convey emotion. But his sensibility still makes an impact even when his message becomes hazy. Your Name has some of the innocent wonder and acceptance of Studio Ghibli's anime features, matched to the empathy for outcasts found in Shunji Iwai's movies.

FUNimation is releasing Your Name with its original Japanese soundtrack and in an English-dubbed version. The dialogue can be rapid and overlapping, with crucial information appearing on background TVs. This is one case where the dubbed version might be easier to follow.

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