Review: Your Name (2016)

Your Name, the smash-hit anime that took the world by storm upon its release late last year, is a film of tender emotions and gorgeous animation. You’d be forgiven for praising the film for its style alone, as the lush backdrops and detailed character animations are second only to Studio Ghibli in terms of beauty. But there’s more to this film than its stunning visuals. Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is also an incisive exploration of empathy.

The film’s conceit plays on classic body swap conventions, which are particularly common in anime. Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) is a high school girl living a quiet life in a small town in Hida prefecture. She’s dissatisfied with her life and longs to experience life in the city, where she can be free of family conventions. Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a brash, but well-meaning, and affluent high school boy living in Tokyo who whiles away his time with his friends and works at an Italian restaurant, where he crushes on his female manager, Miki Okudera (Masami Nagasawa). Both of their lives are perfectly normal, except for the fact that when they go to bed at night, they dream of being each other. Soon enough, it turns out they are not dreaming, but actually living each other’s lives after bed each night.

Shinkai relishes the opportunity to convey the differences between Mitsuha and Taki’s personalities, using them to draw comparisons between essential dichotomies in society: male/female, urban/rural, and rich/poor. Much of this is done with good humour and affection for the character’s eccentricities, making these first 45 minutes a real joy. Parts are broadly silly—for instance, each time Taki wakes up as Mitsuha, Mitsuha’s litter sister discovers him fondling his newfound breasts. Other parts are more tender, as Mitsuha (as Taki) forges a bond with Miki and brings out Taki’s feminine side in the process, allowing this stubborn boy to expand his sense of personhood.

Soon, however, the film’s narrative turns sharply, which broadens the film’s scope and deepens its impact. The twist is the sort of bold storytelling choice that could unravel an entire film, but here, it manages to add layers of insight to the story. It forces the characters (and by extension the viewer) to genuinely consider what it means to experience life as someone else. It shows how observation and empathy expands a person’s own experiences and broadens his or her understanding of life. Also intriguingly, the film subtly reflects on whether a reader or viewer of a story has a moral obligation towards the characters of that story, in the process forcing us to consider the morality of the art we consume and the ways in which we approach it.

That Your Name does all this in addition to supplying the sort of good-natured humour, gentle characterizations, and exciting narrative we expect from anime is remarkable. This is a beautiful film, but it’s also a wise one, which is far more than most YA smashes can ever boast.

8 out of 10

Your Name (2016, Japan)

Written and directed by Makoto Shinkai; starring Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yuko, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Kaito Ishikawa, Kanon Tani.