Mitsuha and Taki are two total strangers living completely different lives. But when Mitsuha makes a wish to leave her mountain town for the bustling city of Tokyo, they become connected in a bizarre way. She dreams she is a boy living in Tokyo while Taki dreams he is a girl from a rural town he's never been to. What does their newfound connection mean? And how will it bring them together?
Makoto Shinkai’s first feature, Voices of a Distant Star, was about teenagers separated physically by a vast, unbreachable gulf while emotionally their closeness was all but unbearable. It wasn’t new turf for anime, but Shinkai’s fluid animation and gorgeously realistic backgrounds grounded his story’s heart-rending emotional journey for a debut that marked him as one to watch. With Your Name, his fifth feature, he’s delivered a massive box office hit that’s made almost US$ 175 million in Japan since its release three months ago. But the themes of his first feature are still there: two teenagers, separate yet joined, try to find a way back to each other like it’s the most important thing in the world.
Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) is a schoolgirl in a tiny lakeside town in rural Japan. Her life is both boring and confined: her grandmother has her and her younger sister performing rituals (whose meaning was lost centuries ago) at the local temple, while her estranged father is the town mayor, desperate to let voters know he’s a strict parent. After a night at the temple, with a meteor shower overhead, she makes a wish: that in her next life she comes back as a handsome boy in Tokyo. When she next wakes up, everyone is treating her strangely, talking about how oddly she was acting yesterday. Those familiar with body-swap comedies like Freaky Friday can guess where this is heading.
It seems that a few times each week she’s swapping bodies with Toyko teen Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki). At first they both think it’s a dream, and when they return to their own bodies their memories quickly fade, but written notes and text messages soon have them convinced what they’re going through is real. It’s basically a win-win situation: Mitsuha gets to enjoy Tokyo’s cafes and her feminine presence lures an attractive co-worker of Taki’s, while Taki is a lot less inclined to put up with bullies (plus he’s great at sport). With each adding so much to the others’ life, how long can they be happy with just passing each other by?
Opening doors are a repeated motif here and this story constantly opens outwards, adding layer upon layer around the initial light-hearted teen comedy (though Taki’s constant morning gropes of Mitsuha’s chest whenever he wakes in her body remains a constant) until it becomes something much larger and stranger. More poignant too: Mitsuha’s grandmother tells her about kataware doki, the twilight time where day and night meet, and the idea of a brief moment where people who can’t be together can find each other slowly gathers weight until it arrives like a hammer blow.
Your Name is a cluster of films all intertwined – teen comedy, rural drama, and that comet passing by overhead can’t be good either – and Shinkai’s energetic style and vivid backgrounds make it a constant delight to watch. But it’s the romance between his leads that’s the note he decides to go out on, and rightly so. With this story of two people deep in each other’s lives without ever meeting he’s created a perfect way to express the feeling, so sharp in teenagers, where someone fills your heart simply by being there. They’re everything to you, but you have nothing of them; no wonder each of them ends up willing to risk everything for someone that feels like a dream.
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