ANIME REVIEW: “Your Name.” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Your Name.”

Writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s runaway hit Your Name. (Kimi No Na Wa) is the year’s number one box office hit in Japan and the sixth-highest grossing film of all time there. Since it opened in August, it’s earned more than ¥19.4 billion (about US $174 million), more than any animated film not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. This imaginative, unconventional film could hardly be more different than the lavish CG features that have dominated American animation this year.

Teen-aged Mitsuha live in rural Japan, north of Tokyo, where her family maintains an important Shinto shrine. She participates in the rituals, plaiting ceremonial chords and performing dances at festivals. But, like Disney’s Belle, she’s bored with her provincial life and longs for the excitement of the big city. Taki is a typical high school student in Tokyo: he hangs out with his friends and is shy around girls. He wants to be an architect and draws very well.

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One morning, Mitsuha and Taki wake up in each other’s bodies. Getting through breakfast with their families and an ordinary day at school without knowing where to find what they need or who anybody is proves a major challenge. And there are more personal issues to deal with: Mitsuha’s little sister asks Taki-Mitsuha why she’s touching her breasts as if they were an alien presence. For Mitsuha-Taki, a trip to boy’s bathroom is an agonizing exercise in embarrassment.

As this weird phenomenon recurs, Mitsuha and Taki begin leaving each other messages, first by writing on their hands, then by texting. They become friends. Mitsuha’s classmates are taken aback by how much more assured and assertive she becomes when Taki is inhabiting her body. When Mitsuha takes charge of Taki, she helps him score a date with a pretty co-worker he nurtures something of a crush on. One of Taki’s pals even confesses Taki seems “almost cute” when Mitsuha’s running the show.

As their friendship deepens and begins to move toward romance, Taki makes a shattering discovery. He and Mitsuha are also linked to the disastrous strike of a magnificent comet named Tiamat (the ancient Mesopotamian goddess of primordial chaos). Can Taki somehow use his knowledge to save the lives of his friend and her family before the comet strikes, even though the disaster occurred three years ago?

Shinkai’s characters move through time, dreams and shifting realities in ways that recall the work of the late Satoshi Kon. Although Taki’s efforts succeed, Shinkai has noted that Mitsuha still loses her home town, as she moves to Tokyo. Taki warns her “even Tokyo may disappear.”

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Your Name. taps into the trauma many Japanese still suffer from the staggering destruction of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 (which Americans refer to as “the Fukushima quake”). The tsunamis produced by the massive temblor obliterated entire towns, just as Tiamat threatens to destroy Mitsuha’s village.

What makes Your Name. such an effective treatment of a natural disaster is the intimate focus of its story. Although it includes great battles, a large part of “The Lord of the Rings” is told on a similarly intimate stage. Much of the story focuses on Frodo and Sam, two seemingly ordinary individuals caught in a struggle that seems beyond their capabilities and comprehension. Mitsuha and Taki are just two teen-agers, using the limited resources they command to try and save innocent villagers from the devastation of the comet strike.

Japanese animators regularly deal with contemporary problems, from the financial meltdown of 2008 to the consequences of the misuse of technology, in ways their American counterparts don’t. A large part of the success of Your Name. can be attributed to the way it has helped its audience cope with the aftermath of a terrible disaster. It would be interesting to see the American artists tackle more serious concerns in some of their films.

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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