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‘Your Name’ is breathtaking showcase of the strength of Japanese cinema

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“I’m always searching for something, for someone”, says Mitsuha, a 17-year-old girl living in the rural town of Itomori, as she longs for a life in a bustling city. “Please make me a handsome Tokyo boy in my next life!”. One day, she gets exactly that.

Makoto Shinkai strikes a masterful balance between breathtaking animation, a gripping storyline, compelling characters, and a stellar soundtrack

Inexplicably, she awakes one morning in the body of Taki – a young man studying and working in Tokyo – and he wakes up in her body. The story unfolds as the pair attempt to navigate each others’ lives with varying degrees of success, all while swapping bodies every couple of days. What initially seems like a charming coming-of-age comedy proves to be more dark and sinister as the threat that lies behind the purple-tinted skies and the danger of a once-in-a-lifetime comet threatens to separate the star-crossed couple forever. In his fifth (and arguably best) animated feature film, Makoto Shinkai strikes a masterful balance between breathtaking animation, a gripping storyline, compelling characters, and a stellar soundtrack to make one of the best films of recent years. 

Released in 2016 and recently screened at Warwick Student Cinema, Your Name is the third highest-grossing anime of all time – and with good reason. The plot itself is loosely based on the Chinese legend of ‘The Red String of Fate’, which says people are tied to their soulmates by an invisible red string. This correlates perfectly with Mistuha and Taki – two star-crossed strangers whose fates are inexplicably intertwined and entangled. The catch? They only get to meet in a timeless, dream-like state in which neither are fully able to exist. 

The characters are believable and charismatic, and their opposing personalities add to the film’s charm and wit. Even though both Taki and Mitsuha are teenagers, and the film deals with coming-of-age topics such as puberty, first love, and heartbreak, Your Name still appeals to vastly different audiences. This is part of what makes it so great – it is the kind of film people will be able to come back to at different stages of their lives and pick up on previously-unnoticed details. 

Shinkai uses his expertise to establish himself as one of Japan’s best animators

However, what makes the film truly stand out are its visuals, with breathtaking, reverie-like pastel-coated scenes serving as the ideal visual medium to accompany an already tear-jerking story. The animation is smooth and has evidently been crafted with a painstaking attention to detail. The visuals easily match those of live-action Hollywood blockbusters – from the way the light catches on Tokyo’s glistening skyscrapers to the way each blade of grass moves in Itomori, Shinkai uses his expertise to establish himself as one of Japan’s best animators, second only perhaps to living legend Hayao Miyazaki. 

It would also be impossible to discuss Your Name without mentioning its soundtrack. Written primarily by popular J-Pop band Radwimps, it not only serves to accompany the film but also firmly holds its ground when listened to on its own. It also pairs perfectly with both the modern and traditional elements of the film’s storyline as it serves to bridge the two, bringing an otherwise traditional tale of fate into the modern age. Your Name is just as much a visual experience as it is a musical one. 

By combining traditional folklore with time travel, charismatic characters, and the threat of natural disaster, Your Name proves how tradition and modernity can combine to make a blissfully refreshing and original tale. In addition to its well-deserved artistic merit, Your Name is at its core, a brilliant film. Entertaining, captivating, and impossible to look away from, it brilliantly showcases the sheer talent of Japan’s film industry and expertly demonstrates that there is more to cinema than just western, Hollywood blockbusters.

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