Anime Review: Your Name (2016)

TL;DR – Body switching, time travel, and a race to save a town from destruction. If there is Makoto Shinkai film to watch, this is it.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Comet Tiamat passes earth causing weather reporters, astronomers, and night gazers to look up at the skies to view this incredible phenomenon. A piece of the comet breaks off and enters the earth’s atmosphere. Instead of burning up, it pierces the clouds like a runaway fireball and looks like it will land somewhere in Japan. This is the opening scene of Your Name and the comet fragment is central to the events that follow.

Mitsuha and Taki are about to experience some existentially weird stuff. Their lives are as opposite as can be even though from the outside they look like normal high schoolers.

For starters, Mitsuha is a girl living in a country town, Itomori, and there is little do. Surrounded by lush mountains and a beautiful lake, Itomori is steeped in Japanese tradition. They have autumn festivals, a Shinto shrine, and Mitsuha performs duties as a shrine maiden by conducting the ritual kuchikamizake (a process of creating sake using one’s own saliva to trigger fermentation).

Taki, on the other hand, is a boy living in the big smoke, Tokyo, and there is plenty to do. In fact, there’s too much to juggle for Taki who tries to keep up with the constant rush that cities exude. From school studies to holding down a part-time job at an Italian restaurant, when Taki does find any spare time, he does sketches and hopes to one day be an architect.

From the get-go, the weird stuff happens when Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body. She thinks she’s dreaming and just goes along living out a day in the life of Taki. Little does she know that her behaviour makes Taki appear like a totally different person and Taki’s school friends and co-workers at the Italian restaurant notice. Likewise, Taki finds himself in Mitsuha’s body and fumbles his way through one of her days. It is only when they return to their bodies and wake up the next day that they slowly come to piece together the passages of time that are unaccounted for. Messages that they write down in each other’s notepads and on their phones confirms that their body switching experiences are real and not a dream.

If that is not existentially weird enough, as they get to know each other, not just physically being in each other’s bodies, which leads to some hilarious biological explorations, but also on an emotional scale, they begin seeing through each other’s eyes and giving each other advice to help provide direction and confidence. This leads to Mitsuha (in Taki’s body) asking Miki (a girl that works at the Italian restaurant) out on a date. Taki has long since had a crush on Miki, but when they finally go out, Taki realises his feelings have changed. He has developed a connection with Mitsuha that runs deeper than swapping bodies. Likewise, Mitsuha comes to admit that she also has feelings for Taki even though she does what she thinks is the ‘right thing’ for him by setting him up on a date with Miki. Describing this (confusingly) in words doesn’t do this sequence of events justice as the film depicts this beautifully leading to Taki trying to call Mitsuha on her phone. However, to his surprise, the phone number has been disconnected.

And then the body swapping stops…

Taki is confused as to why they have suddenly stopped switching bodies and is frustrated that he cannot contact Mitsuha to confess his feelings to her. This is when the existential weird stuff goes up another level.

Taki goes about trying to find where Mitsuha lives. He doesn’t know the name of the town and can only go on the sketches he has made from memory. With the help of Miki and school friend, Tsukasa, he sets out to find the country town.

What he discovers is that the town has been destroyed by the comet fragment. The same comet fragment that broke off from Tiamat three years ago. Yes, not only has Taki and Mitsuha been switching bodies, but they have also been switching time. Taki time travelled backwards to when Mitsuha and the town of Itomori were alive in 2013, and Mitsuha has time travelled forward into Taki’s body in 2016. The moment that Taki no longer swaps bodies with Mitsuha (the moment he tries to call her phone) is the moment that Itomori becomes obliterated by the comet fragment, killing everyone in the town including Mitsuha.

This revelation spurs Taki to try to go back in time again to warn Mitsuha and involves him venturing to the Shinto shrine and consuming the sake that Mitsuha created through the kuchikamizake ritual.

Director Makoto Shinkai wrings out every bit of emotion and by the end you’ll be exhausted, but he does it in such a way that investing in the journey will be worth it. The ending is typical of Shinkai’s films (i.e. plenty of tears) but Your Name is by far the most complex story Shinkai has undertaken compared to previous works. As the viewer, I was most impressed that he did not lose me in the telling. The story is revealed in a way that is coherent if you pay attention, and you don’t need a master’s degree in theoretical physics or knowledge of quantum mechanics to understand what is going on. Another bonus is that Your Name has splashes of humour; something that is often absent in Shinkai’s films.

Beyond brilliant.

10 out of 10

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