Spoiler alert: this review reveals a plot twist
Shinkai Makoto’s dreamily emotional anime romance, the highest grossing film in Japan this year at ¥15bn and counting, has unsurprisingly set off a wave of speculation about whether Shinkai is ‘the new Miyazaki’.
Certificate 12A 106m 26s
Director Shinkai Makoto
Miyamizu Mitsuha Kamishiraishi Mone
Tachibana Taki Kamiki Ryunosuke
Natori Sayaka Yuki Aoi
Miyamizu Hitoha Ichihara Etsuko
Miyamizu Yotsuba Tani Kanon
Subtitles and dubbed versions
Both directors do indeed combine ravishing visuals with engrossing storytelling, and their work notably celebrates Japanese landscape and culture. But it’s a comparison that’s particularly unfair to Shinkai. His interest in finding visual romance in sci-fi or today’s Japan, and in the emotional bonds and ordeals of young people, means that he is largely (aside from the Miyazaki-inflected 2011 fantasy Children Who Chase Lost Voices/Journey to Agatha) ploughing a different furrow from Miyazaki’s heroic, fantastical adventures.
Your Name, a body-swap story in which Tokyo boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha find themselves switching lives when they fall asleep, is very much a teen romance. Though he admits the influence of Japanese body-swap classics such as the 12th-century tale Torikaebaya Monogatari and the 1982 high-school comedy Tenkosei, Shinkai’s story uses the switching sensitively to examine teenage identity and isolation. Full of the gulps and emotional highs of teen interaction, the voice work by Kamiki Ryunosuke and Kamishiraishi Mone gives Taki and Mitsuha respectively the depth to mine these issues, even for those of us reliant on the subtitling.
Rather than Freaky Friday hilarity, the switching dramas are all on teen topics, charmingly executed: clumsy dating, high-school embarrassments, even a very Japanese gaffe about using wrongly gendered language.
But as the film progresses, it starts to mix its genre ingredients intriguingly, adding a time-travelling supernatural element and the tense challenge of a natural disaster. The meteor strike that threatens Mitsuha’s sleepy lakeside town Itomori in the film’s second half is obviously a metaphor for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It’s incorporated skilfully into the supernatural side of the narrative, which itself grows from the film’s strong themes of Shinto spirituality (Mitsuha is a ‘miko’, a Shinto priestess). However, the film does experience a kind of plot indigestion late on, as the romantic strand which seeks to reunite Taki and Mitsuha threatens to derail the urgent quest to save Itomori. Overuse of teen-fave Radwimps’ power ballad Sparkle similarly endangers the story’s emotional peaks.
That said, it’s interesting to see how Your Name’s ambitious narrative and visuals advance the theme of yearning couples separated by time or distance, explored in Shinkai’s recent films 5 Centimetres per Second (2007) and the swooningly lovely The Garden of Words (2013). He has retained the vibrant colour palette and fluid movement of the latter, creating ravishing landscapes of verdant countryside or Tokyo’s shimmering skyscrapers. Their juxtaposition with careful, photorealistic close-ups of a door swishing open or a phone screen scrolling give the characters a rich, grounded presence. As the film swings back and forth between mountain shrines and Shinjuku Station, it eloquently and elegantly expresses not only teen confusion but also the tensions between old and new Japan.
Shinkai Makoto’s Your Name, a time-bending teenage body-swap romance, confirms his status as Japanese anime’s big new thing. He talks to Nick Bradshaw about provincial sky-gazing, adolescent heartache and animating Tokyo for posterity.