Arts & CultureFilm & TV

Review: “Your Name” is a clumsy supernatural romance with emotional heft

“Your Name,” the latest film from animator and former graphic designer Makoto Shinkai, is already Japan’s fourth highest-grossing film of all time. A supernatural anime romance with surprising emotional resonance, its appeal to audiences of all ages is immediately apparent. The characters are likable, the animation is awe-inspiring and the storyline will stir many who see it.

The plot follows Mitshua (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi), a teenager living in a rural Japanese town, and Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), a similar-aged boy who lives in the heart of Tokyo. Once both are asleep, the two switch places a la “Freaky Friday,” with Taki taking control of Mitshua’s body and vice versa. Both spend a few random days a week trying to make sense of the other’s routine, until the two begin helping each other out via messages on Taki’s phone and Mitshua’s notebook.

The structure that Shinkai creates via this scenario lasts for the film’s entire first half, and is nothing new to moviegoers. Taki and Mitshua are little more than youth drama archetypes. Their day-to-day conflicts don’t extend beyond annoyances at work or the occasional crush. Even as the film fleshes out the surrounding cast and dishes out hilarious moments, little of what occurs seems to really matter.

Luckily, Shinkai adds enough visual flair to keep the film afloat. “Your Name” features consistently gorgeous animation, complete with backgrounds that move and morph with each passing frame. The visual style is distinct, but firmly rooted enough in modern anime that it will satisfy fans of the genre. Shinkai cleverly devises a few sequences built around exciting set pieces, allowing the animators to sprinkle breathtaking variety into their images. This film is one of the most beautiful to hit theaters in years.

Check out the trailer for “Your Name” below:

The film’s energy depends on its beauty until the second half, when the story reveals its first of many twists. Characters’ journeys take wildly unexpected turns involving time travel and a deadly celestial object. The unexpected gear shift opens the narrative to heart-rending, climactic moments. But Shinkai regularly overplays his hand, presenting a series of pop song-assisted climaxes near the film’s conclusion that derail any narrative momentum. Plot points that would be otherwise exciting fall flat in context.

Still, “Your Name” displays a sweetness that overpowers its overwrought tendencies. The relationship between Taki and Mitshua develops convincingly, even though neither character meets the other until the film’s last third. Other Japanese masters of animation like Hayao Miyazaki often ditch character development in favor of heady themes. Shinkai is the opposite, using the existential elements of his film merely as a backdrop for genuine human connection. The result is a touching love story and an uplifting teen movie that transcends the cheesy trappings of its genre.

Even when it tries to do too much, Makoto Shinkai’s latest film is a masterwork of animation that will entertain and move audiences. Its heart and gorgeous hand-drawn images make up for its general narrative incoherence, creating a film that feels at once distinct and emotionally satisfying. For fans of all kinds animation, “Your Name” is a must-watch.

For more reviews and stories, follow Dana on Twitter @AlstonDalston.

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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]