Switching Places: Shinkai’s Film “Your Name” Dazzles the U.S.

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By Hubert Ta

Breaking numerous Japanese box office records and dethroning “Spirited Away” as the highest grossing anime film worldwide at $330 million, “Your Name” or “Kimi no Na wa” has finally come to the U.S. “Your Name” is director Makoto Shinkai’s finest work yet —  a beautifully animated story of comedic errors and youthful bliss, exploring adolescence through articulate artistic craftsmanship, specifically his hand drawn animation style.

Essentially, the plot of “Your Name” boils down to the classic body swap story. Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi, Dub: Stephanie Sheh) is a blunt high school girl in Itomori, a small town in Japan’s countryside. Yearning to escape tradition and her family’s problems, she wishes she could flee to Tokyo. Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki, Dub: Michael Sinterniklaas) is a mild-mannered high school boy in Tokyo that spends his days with his friends working in an Italian restaurant.

One day, Taki wakes up in a vivid dream as Mitsuha and goes through a day in her life, dealing with turbulent family issues, the boredom of Itomori and the strangeness of inhabiting a girl’s body. Meanwhile, Mitsuha encounters a similar situation, waking up in Taki’s body and going about his day, confusing his friends and colleagues through unusual feminine behavior. Both Taki and Mitsuha discover that these odd dreams are actually happening, and they start leaving journals and notes for each other as each makes a mess out of the other’s life. However, the body swaps suddenly stop one day and Taki sets out to find Mitsuha, struggling to remember her name or the town of Itomori.

As Shinkai’s most recent film, “Your Name” has built upon his past works like “The Garden of Words” and “5 Centimeters Per Second” and represents a master showcase of his ability to tell dramatic stories about youth, love, and growing up. Utilizing the science fiction/fantasy story of the body swap (“Vice Versa”, “Freaky Friday”), Shinkai explores a dramedy of teenage rebellion, isolation, young love, and the reality of adulthood through the growth of Mitsuha and Taki.

These themes are further enhanced by the supporting cast of characters who represent different perspectives on the world. Mitsuha’s little sister, Yotsuha, represents innocence and childish aloofness, expressing general derision at her sister’s problems. Hitoha, on the other hand, represents wisdom, tradition, and understanding as Mitsuha’s grandmother, safeguarding both the cultural heritage of Japan and her granddaughters in the modern era’s hustle and bustle. Miki Okudera, a university student and Taki’s crush, embodies a sense of maturity, simultaneously adapting to the world and remaining curious about what to do with her life.

Further adding to the story’s appeal is the localization of the voice acting and music. The film’s dubbing in English is perhaps one of the best in anime, as each character’s voice and emotion is delivered through a diversity of inflections, timbres, and tones. Sadness, embarrassment, anger, annoyance, and many other emotions flow throughout the voice actors’ performances. Jokes specific to Japanese culture are made understandable for American audiences, and the English language and slang sounds natural, not forced. The localization also succeeds in selling the main plot of the body swap, as both Mitsuha and Taki’s voice actors succeed in portraying a masculine identity within a feminine body and vice versa. There are a number of dramatically ironic scenes where the protagonists’ friends are suspicious of Taki and Mitsuha’s strange conduct and voice pitch, resulting in comedic interplay as the protagonists try to fend off accusations of weird behavior.

As for the music, the Radwimps, who recorded both the Japanese soundtrack and the English version, add to the tone and pace of the film and illuminate non-diegetic commentary on the story’s events. In particular, “Zenzenzense” (Previous Previous Previous Life) and “Sup­ākuru” (Sparkle) are standouts, matching their accompanying scenes and providing a strong emotional impact

The finest part of the film is, without a doubt, the animation and art style which create the setting and capture the happiness and despair of the characters. Shinkai’s hand-drawn style embodies an approach similar to Hayao Miyazaki, and the result speaks for itself. Each frame, scene, and shot becomes a painting whose colors and details flow off the screen. Bright and muted color palettes saturate reciprocating scenes, while fine detail is paid to the mis-en-scène, with each protagonist’s room decorated with a host of items attributed to their personality.

Finally, the setting exudes a strong presence in the film, particularly in characterizing Tokyo’s cityscape and rural Itomori. Tokyo, a city constantly in flux with its people living day to day in the hustle and bustle of modern skyscrapers, is a flash of color and motion, with a constant emphasis on diverse buildings and landmarks around town. Itomori, in contrast, is much more serene, where modernity is muted by traditional shrines, festivals and buildings, the small-town ideal presented in full force, and where life moves more slowly in shades of foliage and fauna. The art style is a visual paradise of color and design, fully amplifying the ambiance of each setting.

Shinkai’s “Your Name” shows the best of anime, a blend of storytelling and artistry that transforms the popular body swap story into a mature story about adolescence and innocence lost. For Shinkai, it represents a major step forward for his filmography and repertoire. For film, “Your Name” represents a leap forward for Japanese animation in a post-Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli world.

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