The highest praise I can give Your Name, an extraordinary Japanese anime from director Makoto Shinkai, is that it will strike a chord with anyone who has ever awoken from an unremembered dream with inexplicable tears in their eyes. Indeed, dreams, metaphysical mysteries and the nature of memory are all important themes in this most achingly beautiful animated film in recent memory.
The film opens with a stunning vista of a meteors breaking off from a comet and falling through clouds towards the earth. A voiceover says “I feel like I’m always searching for someone…” before we’re introduced to high school girl Mitsuha, who lives in the far flung rural town of Itomori. She longs for a more exciting life and pleads, whilst performing Shinto temple duties, to be made a handsome Toyko boy in her next life. Her wish comes true when she appears to awaken in Toyko in the body of Taki. He then appears to awaken in her body. Mitsuha and Taki subsequently discover these inexplicable body swaps occur during dreams, but that they can never recall the other person’s name when they wake up.
To begin with the plot follows romantic comedy tropes, but this is not a love story in the conventional sense. The usual body swap farce ensues, as they navigate the tricky business of using the loo if you’re a girl in a boy’s body, or waking up and finding you have breasts. But after the initial short term problems, they find ways to leave messages on phones, establish ground rules and eventually attempt to make improvements to one another’s lot in life (such as setting them up on potential dates).
The film then takes an unexpected turn into darker, more surreal territory, and the mystery deepens with some truly mind-bending developments. But the metaphysics never overwhelm the very strong emotional current running through the story, a simple, sweet but powerful bond between people. The story reminded me most of La Jetee (which of course inspired Twelve Monkeys), with shades of Donnie Darko, in its exploration of time, space and how endings and beginnings can become indistinguishable. And yet it is also very much its own beast.
In animation terms, this is endlessly gorgeous to look at. Magic hour light bathes many scenes in an ethereal, mystical glow, with falling meteors, cloudscapes, cityscapes, autumnal trees and fields of blowing grass all the working definition of visually captivating. At one point, a hallucinogenic flashback rendered in chalk pastel provides mesmerising stylistic counterpoint to the more realistic depictions of Toyko and the pastoral hues of Itomori. Recurring motifs as simple as a sliding door take on resonant lyricism, and one shot of trains passing one another is heart-stoppingly poignant. Furthermore, there are so many clever juxtapositions (boy/girl, town/country, past/present, day/night, dream/reality) in which the editing plays as big a part as the animation, that this film really does deserve to be mentioned in the same hallowed breath as Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away.
I know some people can’t abide Japanese anime, but when I see a film as stunningly drawn, emotionally arresting and powerfully haunting as this, I simply pity them. In short, I absolutely loved Your Name. Do go and see it.