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Heartfelt body-swapping movie embodies much more

By Sophia Nguyen

Staff Writer

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Makoto Shinkai, director and producer PHOTO CREDIT: Yoshifumi Shimizu

Many have praised Makoto Shinkai, director of “Kimi No Na Wa,” as the successor to Hayao Miyazaki, acclaimed director of “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.” “Kimi No Na Wa” (better known as “Your Name” to international fans) has garnered much attention for surpassing “Spirited Away” as the highest grossing anime film of all time.

The film opens with a pair of teenagers: Mitsuha, an upbeat country girl, and Taki, a fast-paced city boy. The light-hearted gender swapping, highlighted by the characters’ comical natures, illustrates fleeting youth. The story soon shifts into a poignant blend of fate and chance as Taki and Mitsuha flourish.

Shinkai perfectly captures the essence of youth with cartoon-like characters and nostalgic landscapes. The movie is centered around the dilemmas adolescents face with identity and gender. As Mitsuha and Taki switch bodies, they become more empathetic with each other as their standards of femininity and masculinity change.

Shinkai’s perspective on human connection and relationships can be seen through the unpredictable plot. Though human emotions can be fickle, the otherworldly art further emphasizes the realistic characters. The cartoon-like lines separating the viewer and the characters begin to fade as Shinkai’s messages go beyond the screen.

Themes of connection and distance are commonly found in Shinkai’s works. His earlier films used passionate storylines to touch on ideas of loneliness. Whereas his previous works lacked cathartic release for the characters, “Your Name” provides a comedic effect to contrast with the serious issues Taki and Mitsuha deal with. The comical nature of “Your Name” can be compared to films from Studio Ghibli and shows the development of Shinkai’s producing.

Shinkai started off working in a small studio and creating short films. His skill was impressive to viewers considering he produced the majority of previous films on his own. Then he and Masashi Ando created “Your Name,” which not only became the highest grossing income anime film in Japan, but also won three Japanese Academy Prizes and was considered for an Oscar.

Since “Your Name” has surpassed “Spirited Away” in gross income, many believe “Your Name” could be the best anime film of all time. However, Shinkai himself has resisted the idea; According to Agence France-Presse, Shinkai claims “Your Name” is not on the same level as Miyazaki’s works. Shinkai is often compared with Miyazaki due to the similarities between “Your Name” and earlier films from Studio Ghibli. 

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The official poster for “Your Name” exhibits Taki (left) and Mitsuha (right). PHOTO CREDIT: Toho

Miyazaki and Shinkai have unique production methods and stories, but both elicit powerful emotions from the audience. Toshio Suzuki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, was asked about “Your Name” during an interview with Travelers Today. Suzuki said, “The high fall sky that seems like it could be breathed in was especially impressive.”

Although Ghibli films are treasures deeply rooted in my childhood, it is not too far-fetched to claim Shinkai might surpass Miyazaki. The humor and views in “Your Name” are well-suited to present-day society. The film uses supernatural components but retains the same familiar, awkward sincerity commonplace in today’s teenagers.

The director of animation for “Your Name” and former animator of Studio Ghibli, Masashi Ando, evokes the same wistful emotions reminiscent of “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke.” Conversely, the dreamlike but almost hyper-realistic scenery of “Your Name” will transport you to an unknown world. By the end of the story, the story feels as tangible and genuine as everyday life.

The elaborate detail in the scenery, from the pastel skies to the dazzling lights, were based on real locations. The landscapes seem more lifelike in a style unique from Studio Ghibli. Many picturesque scenes rendered in the movie seem just as real to the viewer as the characters do.

In addition, the soundtrack strengthens the emotions of teenage naiveté with an upbeat feel that leaves you on the edge of your seat. The music by the Radwimps, a relatively popular Rock group in Japan, was tailor-made for the movie and “Your Name” would not be the same without unforgettable soundtracks like “Sparkle” and “Zen zen zense.”

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The Radwimps, a popular Japanese rock band, scored “Your Name.” PHOTO CREDIT: Radwimps

The score plays a role in bridging Taki’s and Mitsuha’s worlds. The music allows the audience to experience various emotions and connects the lives of two characters who seem fundamentally different. The Radwimps have used music to link the characters in their troubles and their steadfast relationship.

As we witness Taki and Mitsuha swapping lives, they experience the protagonists’ growth. Taki and Mitsuha are entirely different people but connect with others just the same, even when they have never met each other. 

On the contrary, the parallel plot structure might be too complex for some viewers. As the story moves in between the perspectives of the characters, the details are slowly filled in by each side. The split narrative might cause some confusion for the audience, but it provides juxtaposition for other elements of the story.

International audiences are enthralled by this endearing story of two stubborn teenagers who connect the past and the present. As the protagonists meet, they are destined to connect through the red string of fate, a common and ancient element in Japanese culture.

Despite the themes of fate, the ending and the characters’ fates are still vague. Perhaps intentionally, the future of Taki and Mitsuha is left open-ended. It is up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the holes, which might be as unsatisfying as watching only half of the movie.  

The public’s curiosity about Taki’s and Mitsuha’s future stems from the intense chemistry between them, the main ingredient that captivates people worldwide. Moviegoers will cry, laugh and persist alongside the characters as they become part of the story. “Your Name” has escalated to unbelievable extents.

Globally, “Your Name” has become immensely popular with the public, regardless of the language barrier. The English dubbed version has been released for foreign countries, but the original with subtitles is preferred by people and preserves Shinkai’s original intention.

In the end, I urge everyone to watch this tear-jerking film. Young or old, people everywhere will relate to this mystical yet authentic story that transcends language, which is why I chose to review “Your Name.” Mitsuha’s wise grandmother, Hitoha, summed it up best when she said, “Treasure the experience. Dreams fade away after you wake up.”

Featured photo (at the top of this post): This is an image from the trailer to “Your Name.” PHOTO CREDIT: Toho

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