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A shoo-in for highest-grossing anime film of 2016 and a challenger to some of Studio Ghibli’s finest box-office results, Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) by up-and-coming Japanese animation director Makoto Shinkai is one wild ride of a film. The paradoxical sci-fi fantasy, whose story is engaging enough if finally incomprehensible, should spark an internet war of interpretations from the teen audiences who are its main target. In brief, it tells the story of a Tokyo boy and a schoolgirl from the sticks who begin having unplanned out-of-body experiences — in each other’s body, to be precise — just as a comet is passing over Japan. Their attempts to remember each other’s name when they return to their own bodies and to physically meet up turns into a bittersweet, impossible romance laced with humor and mystical innuendo.
Meanwhile, the looming eco-disaster that energizes the last part of the film revives the lingering trauma of Japan’s 2011 tsunami and earthquake. Shinkai, who also wrote and edited the pic, heaps a lot on the plate of hungry animation fans.
First-rate Japanese anime is a taste that anyone can acquire in the time it takes to watch a film like this, and it should confirm Shinkai’s reputation to genre-lovers around the world, who know his poetry-inspired The Garden of Words. Released in Japan in late August, Your Name has already grossed close to $150 million domestically and won the top animation award at Sitges, as well as being featured at the San Sebastian, Busan, Tokyo and London fests. It has been picked up by FUNimation in the U.S.
But for all its entertaining novelty, it is still many steps behind the magic, penetrating insights and profound humanity of the Japanese anime pantheon lead by Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda. The quest of the film’s odd couple, Taki and Mitsuha, simply doesn’t stir the heart. Perhaps it’s their independence from a family backstory that makes them seem so abstract. And that’s not counting the storyline, which makes little sense.
The beauty of the feature lies in its ability to stir the imagination with eerie, resonant hand-drawn animation, like the opening sequence of streaking missiles penetrating the clouds and falling through the sky like fireworks. These turn out to be fragments of a comet that is passing very close to the Earth, over the Japanese countryside where Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) lives with her grandmother in a charming small town built around a lake. Mitsuha isn’t terribly interested in the local traditions and rituals that pervade the place, and dreams of moving to Tokyo with all a big city can offer.
Taki’s life (Ryunosuke Kamiki) unfolds in Tokyo with his school chums and his after-school job as a waiter. One day, out of the blue, he wakes up in the morning to find himself in Mitsuha’s body. His shock at having breasts, which he can’t stop touching, brings a smile, like his confused attempt to fit in with her school life.
At the same time, Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s male body and dreads going to the bathroom. She finds herself racing to keep up with all the appointments and duties listed on his cellphone. Her feminine side shines through to good effect on a sophisticated older girl Taki has a crush on. Where Taki is awkward and tongue-tied around her, his stand-in Mitsuha is warm and relaxed, winning him a date.
Both of them imagine they are dreaming and will soon wake up, which they do several times in the course of the film. They exchange bodies over and over again, until they finally catch on to the strange, inexplicable switch that is happening.
Given that Mitsuha’s world is old-fashioned and timeless, the viewer’s first hypothesis might be that this is a reincarnation story, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Particularly when it turns out that Mitsuha is living three years in the past compared to Taki, before a disaster destroyed her town and many of its inhabitants. At this point all bets are off, and the story swings into urgent heroic mode as Taki and Mitsuha work across time and space to avert the calamity. As sci-fi readers know, it’s not easy to change the past with future knowledge, but they give it their best shot before the film starts to get lost in multiple endings.
At the same time, the two young people are falling in love with each other, but can’t devise a way to meet, since when they wake up in their own homes and bodies they have no clear memory of the other. The pic’s beautiful final scene in Tokyo poignantly plays on this cosmic paradox and offers some tentative closure.
Teaming with Shinkai is animation director Masashi Ando, who worked on many Studio Ghibli classics. Shinkai’s familiar ultra-realistic backgrounds of buildings and cityscapes could almost pass for photography, were they not always moving around in peculiar ways. Giving the story a contemporary, at times annoyingly conventional beat is the music of Yojiro Noda and his popular J-rock bank Radwimps.
Venue: Tokyo Film Festival (Japan Now)
U.S. Distributor: FUNimation Entertainment
Production companies: A FUNimation Entertainment release of a CoMix Wave Films
Cast: Ryunosuke Kamikim Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yuki, obunaga Shimazaki, Kaito Ishikawa, Kanon Tani, Masaki Terasoma
Director-screenwriter-editor: Makoto Shinkai
Producers: Noritaka Kawaguchi, Genki Kawamura
Animation director: Masashi Ando
Character designer: Masayoshi Tanaka
World sales: Toho Co.
Not rated, 106 minutes
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