Your Name

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Your Name
"This is a lovely, joyful film from writer/director Makoto Shinkai that will, alternately, make you smile and have you perched anxiously on the edge of your seat."

“Treasure the experience. Dreams fade away after you wake up.”

Your Name is probably not a good film to take your grandmother to. At least, not unless she has the wisdom and insight of Hitoha, grandmother to Mitsuha, the young girl whose strange body-swapping experiences are central to it.

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Just because it is cartoon, do not for an instant think it is going to be “easy”, either in the narrative it pursues, which weaves back and forth like the complex braid patterns it celebrates, or the themes it touches upon. This is Japanese anime at its glorious best, beautifully drawn, dazzlingly coloured - an engaging story backed up by a thoroughly absorbing assembly of images that move you effortlessly from the bustle of modern Tokyo, to rural tradition and back again.

Your Name is a tale of two teenagers, Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (voiced by Ryûnosuke Kamiki). Mitsuha lives in the deep countryside with her grandmother (voiced by Etsuko Ichihara) and younger sister Sister Yotsuba (voiced by Kanon Tani). Mitsuha bemoans a life limited to traditional culture and no fun - she is learning, under her grandmother's watchful eye, the ceremonies of the local Shinto Temple. Taki feels something is missing from his life, but cannot put a finger on what it is.

And then, one day, inexplicably, Taki wakes up to find himself in Mitsuha's body; and a day or so later, Mitsuha finds herself taking Taki's place. Hint: this is not a dream.

The first half of the film – discovery, exploration – is played for laughs. Each in his/her turn is shocked, horrified and intrigued by their new body. Each examines him/herself, at least as much as may be permitted within the bounds of of a film clearly aimed at a teen audience: there is a running joke around Taki's obsession with checking out “his” breasts, and Yotsuba's reaction when she finds her sister doing this.

Shocked reaction, too, from Taki's friends as Taki, temporarily inhabited by Mitsuha, initiates conversation using onna kotoba or "women's words". There is no gender distinction in the Japanese language, however, in spoken Japanese some speech is considered softer and more usually associated with women. For Taki to speak in such a way is therefore scandalous.

The film uses this period of calm before the storm to set up some interesting ideas for later - of time and place as the braiding of cords, weaving back and forth; of twilight as a place between one reality and the next, where worlds collide and mingle and the impossible becomes briefly possible.

And then the storm.

I wasn't expecting it. I don't think the audience expected it – even if the film notes do hint at a tragedy that suddenly besets the gentle at-a-distance relationship slowly taking shape between Taki and Mitsuha.

Heartbreaking! I know, I have a reputation for being soft. Still, I would counsel those of you who like happy endings to take a tissue or two with you. Can Taki and Mitsuha overcome the awful fate that awaits them? Do they finally get to meet? Not saying, except to remind you that this has a 12 certificate.

And Mitsuha has a wise grandmother.

The soundtrack, provided by eclectic Japanese band Radwimps is about right for the genre, not outstanding, as the visuals are, but not bad and occasionally flying upward into better than good.

This is a lovely, joyful film from writer/director Makoto Shinkai that will, alternately, make you smile and have you perched anxiously on the edge of your seat.

For those of us in the West currently coming to terms with a rewriting of the rules of gender through the advent of gender fluidity and a broader awareness of transgender issues, this is interesting for the way it does not dwell on such things. Yes, there is some very interesting stuff on social attitudes to masculinity/femininity turning up in the “wrong” body - Taki's female co-worker finds herself drawn to Taki's newly discovered femininity; Mitsuha's father declares she is no longer herself, which is, of course, quite literally true.

Okay, the comet which plays a major role in the action arrives with a plume in pastel blue and purple which ever-so-coincidentally are the colours of the Trans Pride flag. Otherwise, though, the film doesn't labour the point, and seems far more in tune with a Japanese sense that gender is not the abrupt binary that it has been declared to be in so much of western culture.

I was reminded that anime has never previously been in competition at the London Film Festival – and that Your Name will be the first film to break this barrier. I wish it well.

Reviewed on: 21 Sep 2016
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Your Name packshot
Two high school kids who've never met - city boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha - are united through their dreams.
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Director: Makoto Shinkai

Writer: Makoto Shinkai

Starring: Etsuko Ichihara, Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Ryô Narita, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Kanon Tani, Aoi Yuki

Year: 2016

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: Japan

Festivals:

SSFF 2016
London 2016

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