ILT’s TurningJapanese# series returns with a look at one of the finest anime releases of the modern era…
Looking back through the history of anime, each of the past three decades has its own definitive picture. The eighties had Akira, the nineties had Ghost in the Shell, and the naughties had Spirited Away; three absolute classics of the medium that each went on to break the global market.
So far this decade, it’s difficult to see past writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s coming-of-age sci-fi comedy-drama, Your Name, as the latest and greatest current example. Released last year to local critical acclaim and financial success (it’s currently number four on Japan’s all time highest-grossing list), the story of Mitsuha and Taki – two ordinary high school students who switch bodies – has gone on to capture hearts worldwide, with its recent North American release adding to its already substantial international plaudits.
As with its definitive older siblings, the first striking aspect is the visuals. Your Name is, quite simply, an outstanding piece of modern animation. Moving easily between the real world and the literal dream-like escapes of our two lead characters, the spectacular balance of scope, lighting and vivid colour hooks us in from the first frame onward. Speaking of frames; not only are none of them wasted, but the intricate detail presented is nothing short of breathtaking. The core themes of time, soul searching and long distance, ultimately lost love are delicately and masterfully interwoven with the multiple transitional shots that juxtapose Mitsuha’s vast, slow-moving rural Itomori and Taki’s chaotic, ever-changing urban sprawl that is mighty Tokyo.
Up close and personal, the quality remains consistent. The writing is strong, witty and emotionally impactful across both Mitsuha and Taki’s forever criss-crossing story arcs. For international audiences, I cannot recommend the Japanese-language version highly enough; without it much of the subtlety stemming from the local humour simply doesn’t translate. It also folds nicely into the style of character animation, which maintains those wonderfully over-the-top, manga-lifted facial expressions and sarcastic reactions synonymous with comedic (and youth-driven) anime productions (think Naruto, Bleach et al.).
Then there’s the story itself. On the surface, a time and space teenage body-swapping flick sounds like a gimmick to avoid at all costs. In this case, however, it’s a worthwhile journey of empathetic discovery; blossoming hand-in-hand with the awkward, always amusing advent of adolescence that, if anything, makes the technical aspects all the more impressive due to just how well they are deliberately and meaningfully tied in.
Running alongside the main premise is the traditional verses modern; old verses new; sleepy verses hectic nature of Japan (and other South East Asian nations born from ancient societies) that has always, and will always fascinate me. Here it lends credence to Mitsuha’s pent up frustration and, in turn, acts as a form of social commentary for the almost-magnetic attraction Japan’s modern day youth feels towards their capital city, all while hanging on (loosely, but I choose to make the connection) to the with-time-comes-impending-doom-that-only-someone/thing-speical-can-stop staple of Japanese animated cinema.
Though Makoto Shinkai’s biggest film to date doesn’t quite break the sort of thematic ground that still blows folks’ minds the first time they watch Akira, he still manages to pull off the nearly impossible task of turning what is, at heart, a teenage comedy-drama anime flick, into a timeless classic. As beautiful to look at as it is emotionally endearing, Your Name is the brightest gleam yet in Shinkai’s rapidly rising shooting star.