An emotionally complex tale of humanity’s connection to both itself and the environment, Your Name marks Shinkai Makoto’s transformation from critically acclaimed director into social phenomenon. Breaking the box office record for animated films in Japan previously held by Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Your Name is a kind of culmination of Shinkai’s films, carrying many of its predecessors’ ideas and themes (lush background environments, adolescence, time and space) while also gearing them towards a more mainstream audience.
Your Name follows two teenagers who, one day, discover that they’ve been switching bodies without memory of doing so. Part-time waiter Taki is a resident of Tokyo, while shrine daughter Mitsuha lives in the small, rural town of Itomori. As they continue to get a very personal look at each others’ lives, the two find themselves growing closer despite being physically located on opposite sides of Japan.
Shinkai’s previous long film, Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, can be described as an attempt to make something more mainstream, even Miyazaki-esque. However, the film’s emphasis on atmosphere and scenery could not quite support the plodding narrative, leaving Children a significantly flawed work. Your Name, in contrast, ucceeds in tapping into the mainstream not only because of its thematic responses to the events of 3.11, but because he keeps the characters much more front and center compared to his previous works. In most Shinkai films, the backgrounds—especially the clouds—are so brimming with life that the environment becomes a kind of character in itself. With Your Name, however, the backgrounds are regressed just enough that Taki and Mitsuha stand at the forefront, while maintaining their signature luster or its aesthetic and narrative impact. Notably, the film does an excellent job of showing off both the cosmopolitan energy of Tokyo and the splendorous beauty of Itomori.
A few thematic concepts persist throughout the entirety of Your Name. One is “twilight,” written in Japanese in various ways but invariably consisting of the kanji for “who” and “he.” Twilight is viewed as a convergence point. Another is “threads.” According to Mitsuha’s grandmother, when their family weaves, they are copying the behavior of the gods. People can be viewed as threads that are woven, tangle up, break apart, and come together again. Mitsuha is known for the ornately tied ribbon adorning her hair, while Taki’s inability to replicate Mitsuha’s skill acts as one of the visual markers for their body switch. Multiple scenes of train stations in Tokyo draw parallels to threads, as they gather up on tracks, allow people to transfer, and then head out in separate directions. Dragons and their divine place in Japanese folklore also play a prominent role. Taki’s name means “waterfall,” which is associated with dragons, while the comet Tiamat that figures heavily in the narrative also alludes to the mythical creature.
Your Name deftly juggles a variety of elements without feeling overly complex. Its story tugs at the heart but also inspires, rendering it an unforgettable film. It may very well become the defining film of an entire generation.