If you’re not familiar with the work of Makoto Shinkai, you are missing out on some of the most moving and beautiful anime around. Shinkai’s work is always stunning to look at, and will always leave viewers with a tear in their eye and a knot in their stomach. His films also tend to have characters forced to overcome distance, whether it’s across time or space, in order to finally be together. From Voices of a Distant Star to 5 Centimetres Per Second, it’s hard not to become immediately attached to his superbly written characters.
His latest film, Your Name., which is still currently screening at select Cineplex locations, is another outstanding example of his work, and it may be his best as well. In what I could only describe as spiritual sci-fi, Your Name. is the story of high school students Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi). Taki lives in Tokyo, while Mitsuha lives in a small mountain town. As a comet comes closer to Earth, Taki and Mitsuha awaken one morning to find themselves in each other’s body. While struggling to figure out what’s going on, they both realize that every time they go to sleep, they will wake up as each other for 1 day. The next day they’ll be back in their own bodies, forced to deal with the repercussions of what the other person had done in their body. They begin to leave notes in their phones for each other, that way they can keep track of what has happened, as well as making rules for each other. It’s not long before Taki and Mitsuha start forming a bond, even though they’ve never actually met. Determined to finally see Mitsuha, Taki heads to her town, only to realize that finding her may prove to be nearly impossible.
At first, Your Name. seems like it’s going to be a rather silly tale of body swapping that will ultimately lead to each character gaining a new understanding of how best to live their life. Taki is rough around the edges, so when Mitsuha takes over his body and starts being more kind and caring, Taki can see how it changes the way people react to him. Taki is able to give Mitsuha a bit more attitude, which helps her deal with the people who look at her differently because she’s the daughter of the mayor. Things certainly begin rather lightly, but when the revelation of the film hits close to the halfway mark, the story takes a very dramatic and moving turn.
It’s here that Your Name. starts to follow the kinds of themes present in Shinkai’s other works, and it’s also where you’ll find yourself unable to turn away from what’s happening. Considering this is an animated film, the fact that you’ll be so wrapped up in what is happening between Taki and Mitsuha will be surprising. Shinkai always manages to make such beautiful relationships that don’t rely on any sort of physical attraction. It’s more natural than anything you’ll see in film, and it’s also more convincing than anything Hollywood may offer. Shinkai also seems to have a way with drawing the emotional moments out, forcing viewers to wait desperately for a conclusion. You’ll want a happy ending so badly, and Shinkai knows how to keep you waiting to see what will happen.
His films aren’t just wonderfully told though, they’re also visually astounding. Animated by CoMix Wave Films, who have worked with Shinkai on a number of his films, Your Name. is almost photo realistic at times. The highly detailed backgrounds are something you don’t always see in anime, and the amount of work put into scenery is incredible. It certainly helps to bring you into that world, as it never feels like you’re watching something that isn’t real. You’ll feel like you’re truly travelled to these places, which is the final piece to the realism that Shinkai creates in his films, even when what may be happening couldn’t be farther from reality.
It’s why I refer to Your Name. as spiritual sci-fi. Shinkai blends elements of sci-fi, like the body swapping, along with Japanese traditions like a red string of fate, to make a magical story. This blend is present in many of his works, and he always manages to work a perfect balance throughout his films. Going in depth on this idea will only ruin the viewing experience of Your Name., so I’ll avoid going into any more details. Just know that if you’re a fan of anime, this is the must see film of the year. It’s not hard to see how this film passed Spirited Away to become the highest grossing anime film in box office history. If that’s not enough to convince you of how amazing this film is, I don’t know what could.