Went and saw Your Name, the latest effort from animation auteur Makoto Shinkai. Since it’s a full-blown cultural phenomenon in its native Japan, it’s actually gotten a surprisingly generous U.S. theatrical release—though I, of course, had to show my support for Sunshine Cinema.
Distilled to their most basic components, all of Shinkai’s films revolve around human beings desperately struggling to connect despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Sometimes, the protagonists are literally separated by entire galaxies (Voices of a Distant Star); other times, they simply drift apart as they mature (5 Centimeters Per Second). In this case, the star-crossed lovers are a Tokyo boy and a country girl who inexplicably swap bodies at random intervals. Falling asleep triggers the exchange, and their memories of the experience begin to fade as soon as they wake up; only their friends’ accounts of their bizarre behavior prove that these supernatural occurrences aren’t just a series of hazily-recollected dreams. Initially livid at the situation, the pair eventually finds a way to peacefully coexist, leaving each other notes to establish ground rules and keep a clear record of events. As the line between their lives gradually blurs, however, they become determined to meet face-to-face—only to discover that there’s more than mere distance between them.
I won’t discuss the plot in any more detail, since it takes some pretty wild turns. I will say that, as more and more complications arise, the narrative starts to feel a little convoluted, probably as a consequence of the uncharacteristically long running time (nearly twice the length of 5 Centimeters). Additionally, the overall tone and style are more stereotypically “anime” than the director’s previous films, including some unexpectedly (though admittedly obvious, given the context) lowbrow humor. Even so, at its core, Your Name is unmistakably Shinkai’s work. His characters chase phantoms, reaching (sometimes across years) for something they can’t quite touch or define, their unfulfilled longing succinctly expressed in images as conventionally dramatic as a breathless sprint through the rain… and as subtle and mundane as an empty chair rolling away from a desk. There may well be naysayers who have grown tired of seeing the same themes and storytelling techniques echoed in every one of his movies, but Shinkai has such a powerful voice and unique artistic vision that I’m willing to return—and bawl my eyes out—again and again and again.
[Originally written April 10, 2017.]