December 9, 2016 by bck1402
Directed by Makoto Shinkai
Director Makoto Shinkai has built his storytelling ideals on a rather specific theme, from Voices of A Distant Star through 5 Centimetres per Second to The Garden of Words and now Your Name: the interconnectedness between two people, the distance between them be it time and space, and the communication that happens. Having a body swapping conceit between the protagonist here simply amplifies the concept further, especially given the nature of the separation.
The how and why Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) are body swapping is not fully explored, only that it happens at random and might last a full day. At the beginning, both take the experiences as if they are dreaming, having little recollection of a swap having happened, and having to deal with the consequences of the other’s actions and impact in their personal lives, some to hilarious results. Once the realisation happens, they make do with their situation, slowly learning about each other and finding ways to communicate with each other. Shinkai also manages to follow the conventions and rules of this body-swapping adventure, simply because of geography- Taki resides in Tokyo while Mitsuha lives miles away in a small countryside village. I’ve touched on the aspects of a body-swap conceit before, and if you’d like a more philosophical approach, check out the first arc of Kokoro Connect that features a five-way random body swap between three girls and two boys.
There is also a compression of time, so we’re not clear how long this goes on (and it could possible make for an interesting anime series, was there a plan for it given the opening titles?) thanks to some creative editing and gorgeous time lapse animation on display. Certain questions a viewer may have regarding their connection and relationship, often communicated via diary entries in each respective life, are addressed in unique ways thanks to another aspect of the situation- which shall remain quiet here. I’ll just say that they way the rules of that aspect play out are nicely adhered to as well.
While the vocal performances are what you’d expect from an animated feature of this nature, the story and dialogue do much to propel the narrative with great aplomb to having an audience buy into the concept, without falling too much into the broader comedic aspects one may expect. Sure, there is some fan service with Taki constantly fondling Mitsuha’s breasts when he wakes up in her body, but beyond the comedic effect, the drama still stays strong.
As this is from Makoto Shinkai, the visuals are something to behold, be it the idyllic countryside or the bustling urban setting of Tokyo, with the occasional cut to aspects of the scenery. Colours are vibrant and pop off the screen, especially the presence of a red string (a Japanese cultural touchstone). The animation and design complement his fable especially well, giving us an almost magical world where all this happens. The music by RADWIMPS flit between the typical pop songs and beautiful lilting piano melodies that belie a sweet coming of age fable, but never eschewing the dramatic beats either.
While Shinkai is following certain rules to the elements he has in this story, from body-swapping to that other aspect, this also has the most hopeful ending of his films, making the journey from beginning to end more prominent. His characters struggle against the typical melancholy that permeates his films, struggling through their circumstances and challenging fate, and yet, there is throughline in the story. While some might say the ending was expected, given the nature of the film, it also helps to seal the idea and ideals in Shinkai’s films, that connectedness between people and the communication that helps to bridge it.
Rating ****!/2 / 5