“They twist, tangle, sometimes unravel, break, then connect again….that is time.”
Those of you who think animation cannot go better than the three dimensions offered by Disney-Pixar or the realistic CGI offered by this year’s Jungle Book really ought to take a look at Makoto Shinkai’s films. His previous two films – 5 Centimeters Per Second and Garden of Words – have already shown him to be a true master of hyper-realistic visuals and emotional storytelling, driving many to call him the next Hayao Miyazaki, a title which he has shrugged off in the past. Having seen his latest feature, Your Name, I find myself compelled to deny him his humility, for Your Name is a story of two souls that transcends medium, language and genre, to become my favorite film of the year.
In the rural town of Itomori, high-school girl Mitsuha wakes up to find that something is not quite right. The room she is in seems strange, and so does her hair and body, especially the front of her chest. That’s because the person inside Mitsuha’s body is actually Taki, a high-school boy from Tokyo, whose body and room, at that very moment, the real Mitsuha is waking into. This is the basic premise of Your Name, in which a boy and girl come into each other’s lives – quite literally, and on random days which are brushed off as dreams by both. What enfolds thereafter is a story of each one’s journey in search of the other, whose name they forget the minute they are back in their own bodies. Mitsuha is an heir to the traditions of her family shrine, and Taki is a city boy who spends his free time waiting at tables at the restaurant where his crush works. They are also two people who, without ever having really met each other, start to fall for each other, only to find themselves separated by walls that seem impossible to breach.
The yarn that Shinkai spins for us in this astoundingly gorgeous film is more than one of human love: as Mitsuha’s grandmother tells her, it is about ‘musubi’, which is the thread that connects people through the flow of time. Drawing from the Japanese belief of the red string of fate which brings together those whose destines are intertwined, the director uses this thread to carry the story from beginning to end, and to tell a story stranger than any other. The lives of Mitsuha and Taki have almost nothing in common, and the characters see the body-switching as simply something they need to cope with, until the string reveals itself to each other. This concoction that fuses the mystery of ancient traditions and the awkwardness of modern school life was so captivating in its storytelling that I have to admit I felt I was switching bodies with the characters in the film just as much as they were with each other. Taking flight to fantasy from a setting grounded in reality, Your Name is perfect in every moment that connects their two worlds, extending its thread to our own souls, which are inevitably carried along by its current.
It takes a tender hand to shape a story this poetic, and Shinkai is perhaps the only one, besides Miyazaki, who can tell such delicate stories of urban ennui mixed with a magical surrealism. The film is at its best when balancing the mundane happenings of everyday life and the dreamlike fantasy connecting Mitsuha and Taki, something that reaches the heights of emotional satisfaction at the end. This resonance would not be possible without just the right style of animation, and one cannot ask for better than the hyper-realistic paintings that move between these frames. As I said at the beginning of this review, animators across the world, especially those at Hollywood, ought to take a few pages from the books of Japanese animators, and Shinkai’s work is perhaps the best place to start. It is an unparalleled hyper-realistic style, which carries the magical whimsy of hand-drawn images and which yet somehow seems more real and hits closer to home than 3-D. There is not a single moment that feels unwanted or a single note that jars with the overarching story, and it is this perfect marriage of all its elements that seduces our hearts to lean closer and forget our own reality.
In an age that seems to have tired of all the possible ways of telling a love story, it takes true creative genius to give us something so startling and imaginative. Your Name is testament to the fact that global audiences really ought to look beyond Hollywood for new stories, where powerhouses of art continue to make films that reach out and grab our souls. I think I should stop talking about this film now, as words seem to do no justice to the incredible masterpiece that Shinkai has birthed. When you fall in love with this film (I do not think there is a question of an ‘if’), I urge you to go back and watch his previous works, especially Garden of Words, which is undoubtedly the best-looking animated film of all time in my book, although the story in this present one is way more endearing. And the lover of movies and stories inside me can only wait with baited breath and wide eyes, to see what this brilliant mind creates next.