The best anime does the impossible. Movies do that all the time, I guess, pitting irresponsibly beautiful men and women against dinosaurs and aliens, but anime does something different. It makes this plain old world feel magical—expansive to the point of exploding with possibility—while making the ethereal appear as normal as white bread.
That’s exactly what Your Name does, the fifth film from auteur Makoto Shinkai. It tells the story of two Japanese high school students that endeavour to meet each other after they discover that their dreams of living the other’s life are real. Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi) lives in a rural village stuck on the path of dedicating her life to the family’s shrine and its traditions despite wishing for a fancy life in Tokyo while Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki) actually does live in Tokyo but suffers through waiting tables and pining over a crush he’s unlikely to get.
This setup sounds like boilerplate body swapping fiction. (There’s even a Wikipedia page that lists them all if you want to check.) But this is part of the impossible that the movie achieves. It’s very little of what you would expect, and even then, the parts that you do expect are surprising in gentle and wistful ways.
A guy and a girl swap bodies. The first thing they do is what? Correct. Now make that infinitely more sweet and less crude than you could possibly think. There’s a lot of beauty in the way Your Name presents this, being subtly but meaningfully progressive in gender and sexual fluidity. And because these are two people that are complete strangers, it has a lot of room to play with regarding what they learn about each other.
It does this while avoiding the biggest trap of “oh, I had no idea you had it this hard.” There’s no Freaky Friday saccharine resolution here. It’s more about how they learn their place in life—humanity, really. As they realize what’s happening and they figure out how to deal with it with little notes left for one another, each one pushes forward in both lives with small strides that end up being huge.
Falling in love, for instance, isn’t just falling in love. It’s falling into someone, sometimes literally tumbling into the idea of another person becoming a necessity. And it’s done with tiny steps toward learning how to be bolder and how to be kinder and how to be something that ends up being in love.
The movie so quickly moves beyond just being about swapping bodies. There are several twists and turns packed into this thing, one of which is shocking in a way you don’t really see in films at all. If anything, it’s most comparable to one of the episode arcs in Life is Strange. It’s achingly gorgeous and simply complex, as if it grabbed the entire breadth of the universe and at the same time stretched it beyond infinity and compressed it down into a tiny little bead.
I’m hesitant to even say more. Every time you think the movie is coming to a close as tears well up and you think the pair have run out of road, they find a new way to blast into new territory. Your eyes, bleeding from the endless deluge of impeccable and stunning hand-drawn animation, are ripped open over and over again until it just…lets go.
It’s the kind of movie that simply sets you adrift when it’s over. It stretches out into something cosmic beyond belief while being deeply, painfully grounded. Who you are, what that means, and its malleability are thrown onto the screen in stark relief. And then it lets your head swim with everything that feels impossible, sending you back out into this plain old world with just a bit more magic.
Final Score: 9 out of 10