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Saturday, April 08, 2017

Your Name

With such mediocre recent efforts like The Boss Baby and Smurfs: The Lost Village still fresh in my mind, here is Your Name to remind me of the real power of animation.  This import from Japan (which was the biggest money maker at the box office in its home country last year) is a beautiful, poignant and ultimately powerful story that really sneaks up on you.  At first, the movie seems like kind of a cute body-swapping lark.  But, writer-director Makoto Shinkai (adapting from his own novel) lets his characters and the drama build, until it grows into an ultimately moving and heartfelt experience.

The plot centers on two high school students who live on the opposite sides of Japan, but become connected due to a supernatural event that allows them to share each other's lives.  Mitsuha (voice by Mone Kamishiraishi) is a girl who lives in a quaint little village in the country.  Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a boy living in Tokyo.  The two lead ordinary lives, and in most regular circumstances, would not even know that the other exists.  Until one day, they wake up and find themselves in each other's body.  Taki wakes up in Mitsuha's body, and can't help but fondle his new breasts.  Mitsuha, having lived in a small town all her life, finds herself completely enamored with the city life of Tokyo, and does her best to fit in with Taki's friends and active lifestyle now that she's in his body.  The next day, they wake up in their own bodies, with only vague memories of what happened the day before.  Their friends and family comment on how strange they were acting previously, and the two try to ignore it all, thinking it was just a dream.  However, the strange event of them waking up each other's body keeps on happening, seemingly at random, and seemingly off and on during the week.

As the two try to figure out what is going on, they also become fascinated by the other person that they are inhabiting.  They start leaving messages for each other to discover when they return to their rightful bodies, wanting to learn about each other, and their lives.  They even help each other out.  Whenever Mitsuha is inhabiting Taki's body, she leaves him pointers on how to impress a girl he likes, and helps them get closer.  This goes on for a while, but one day, the body switching suddenly stops.  Taki tries his best to get a hold of Mitsuha or track her down, but he apparently cannot.  Not only that, his memories of her are starting to fade to the point that he cannot remember her name.  From that point on, Your Name stops being your standard and cute body swapping comedy, and becomes something much more.

But even before the story starts to take some unique and interesting directions, we are already drawn in by the artistry of the film, as well as the way that Shinkai has written his two lead characters.  The eye for detail that the artists display here is something to truly admire, to the point that there were many moments sitting in the theater where I wished I could pause the film and study what I was seeing.  From the skyscrapers of Tokyo, to the small homes in the country village, everything has the feel that it was lovingly crafted and designed.  There's an amazing use of color, especially during the scenes where we see a sky and horizon shot in both of the film's main settings.  There's even a certain beauty to the detail in the character's movements, like how they will fidget when they are nervous, or how Taki and Mitsuha's mannerisms and body language will change ever so slightly when the other is inhabiting their body.  This is the kind of film where you completely forget you are looking at hand drawn images, and almost start to admire the characters as a performance.

The main focus behind the story of Your Name is I think finding a connection with someone who you would never expect to.  After all, in just about any circumstance, the two leads would never even know the other existed, let alone meet.  The way that the movie builds their relationship as they are trapped in this bizarre body-swapping event is quite ingenious.  The diary and journal entries that they leave for each other seem natural.  Taki and Misuha come across as real teenagers.  The way they talk, how they react to different situations, and how they ultimately feel about each other after sharing each other's life has a naturalness to it that we don't see often from Hollywood.  Despite its heavy supernatural tone, this is a deeply human story, and one that leads to some surprisingly thought provoking moments near the end.

This movie is the perfect blend of the honest and the fantastic.  It's genuine and heartfelt, but has a real sense of wonder.  It's rare to see such a balance pulled off this well, but Shinkai has done just that.  The movie is getting a small theatrical release in both an English dub, and in its original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles.  Whatever your preference, this is a film worth tracking down as it expands across the US during the coming weeks.  Your Name is a subtle film that ends up being capable of enormous emotional power.

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