REVIEW: Your Name
Chances are you’ve probably seen one or two Body Swap Romantic Comedies in your time as a movie watcher. There’s Freaky Friday, Big, Little, 17 Again, 13 Going on 30, Drop Dead Diva, and an ocean of titles that weren't released in the USA. Shout out to Miss Granny. We’ve spun it action/thriller with Face/Off, we’ve spun it action/comedy with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, heck, we’ve even done non-human swaps. Anyone remember The Shaggy D.A.?
Why do I bring this up?
Well today I’m writing about Your Name (as the title of the blog implies) and I thought it important to emphasize how many times this subject matter has been tackled before I make the following statement: Your Name is not original. Not even close.
Mitsuha is the daughter of the mayor in a small Japanese mountain town. She's fairly no-nonsense and lives with her sister and grandmother. When not at school, Mitsuha can be found begrudgingly performing Shinto rituals with her family or dreaming of moving away to Tokyo. Meanwhile, Taki is a high school boy in Tokyo who works part-time in an Italian restaurant and aspires to become an architect. Every night he has a strange dream where he becomes...a high school girl in a small mountain town.
We have seen VERY similar ideas hundreds, literally, hundreds of times throughout film and tv history. It doesn’t twist the genre (unless you count a meteorite existing as sci-fi), make some sort of meta statement with the plot device, or even produce wacky never seen before characters.
It is what it is: a Body Swap Romantic Comedy.
Your Name is not original. Not even close.
And I’ll tell you what… it’s a dang good movie.
With excellent writing and superb presentation Your Name proves that an original premise isn’t required to make a great film.
First things first, let’s talk writing.
Taki and Mitsuha are incredibly endearing. Their personalities are pronounced enough that they feel fully realized but their lives are subtle enough to easily relate to. You watch them embarrassed in front of school friends, scrambling at a first job, slowly learning how to schedule around the bumps in the road, etc. etc. It’s not exactly the most wild conflict to hang a film on, but because the characters are so likeable, it works absolute wonders. These situations are relatable rather than mundane. It’s a fine line but one Your Name walks well. Toss everything in a batter of doomsday body swapping and you get a perfectly balanced tone: crispy whimsical crust and a savory grounded center.
Subplots and minor characters all get their justice as well. Mitsuha’s family has such a depth to them despite clearly being the supporting cast. Their roles aren’t simply dad, grandma, sister. They have personalities. Backstory. Goals. It’s world building of the highest caliber.
Thematically we’re running the whole gamut of humanity here. What makes a person? What does it mean to honor one another? How do we relate to time, memory, spirituality, yadda yadda yadda. None of these questions are answered as much as they are pondered, and if you ask me, that’s all we can really do with most big topics anyway. Kudos to the filmmakers for being brave enough to keep these elements open ended.
Now the presentation.
How I wish I could go back in time and see Your Name in theaters! The visuals are stunning beyond reason. Not because in the typical anime way either. There are no crazy colors, no goopy tears or chibi faces, and the movement is strictly natural. Instead of carrying the story the animation complements it by celebrating the everyday at every turn. An overpass, the small house on the side of a cliff, a midday stroll through the forest, each shot is made to be unapologetically gorgeous because this is a film that emphasizes the beauty of living every single day.
The music crisscrosses between a ton of different genres but unites into something oddly cohesive. There are ethereal melodic piano pieces, full orchestral scores, straight up jazz riffs, and slappy rock montages. Similar to the visuals, it aims to compliment the story telling rather than carry it.
95% of the time this works but there are a few points where things get a little clunky. Those slappy montages really interrupt the flow of the story despite being equal parts fun and plot progressing. Think 500 days of Summer but poorly integrated. It’s one of those things where you really gotta have it in order for the narrative to make sense but it’s just a bit too forced. In the face of all Your Name gets right it feels pretty minor but to not mention it would be dishonest.
I’m not alone in my love for this movie. Your Name held the top box office spot in Japan for THREE (non-consecutive) MONTHS and it was the first Japanese film not directed by Hayao Miyazaki to earn more than 100 million U.S. dollars. American, Japanese, and the internet critics alike have given it rave reviews and there’s currently a western adaptation being created but none other than J.J. Abrams.
Is Your Name ground breaking cinema? No.
Is it my all-time favorite anime feature? No.
But Your Name is a dang good movie.
Do yourself a favor and check it out.