Your Name. (2016) – dir. Makoto Shinkai

At the time of this writing, Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. A day for folks to celebrate their romantic love for one another. I, as well as millions of others, are alone. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly bitter. Valentine’s Day is no more of a reminder than any other that I don’t really have anyone around in that sense. Part of this is because of how selective I am, and part of this is how few people I stand out to in general. I haven’t dated anyone seriously in over two years–yikes, I’m just realizing this–and though I meet cool people, things typically don’t work out. Which, in the end, is fine. I’m not about to blame others, and lean on the preposterous notion that my lack of happiness in dating is from a full-blown conspiracy. Things just haven’t clicked. And that’s a bummer. When one sees cool people with objectively  irredeemable or lame partners, dating can be particularly frustrating. But one has to believe, right? That out of 7 billion people, at least one of them is within reach.

I like to think I have a fairly reasonable and optimistic approach for someone who often feels starved for companionship, and if I were a betting man, I’d say Your Name. shares in that basic hope. Makato Shinkai’s high concept fantasy of two teenagers from different parts of Japan, who suddenly find themselves switching in and out of each other’s lives, and who gradually fall in love with one another. Your Name. has a lofty conceit in which the film only tackles with the utmost gusto, but Shinkai never loses sight of the throbbing heart at the center of the film. At the end of the day, Your Name. is cerebral and heartfelt in equal measure: A brainy, ultimately winning melodrama for the ages.

Restless country girl Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) wakes one morning, only to find that she has missed a day. Her friends described how oddly she behaved, that she had been unable to remember her own name. Only to wake up the next morning to realize–in perhaps the single greatest shot in all of cinema, through a POV shot from a man’s crotch–that she is in the body of a fastidious Tokyo boy named Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki). Mitsuha stumbles through Taki’s day, not knowing who his friends are, forgetting his lunch, and showing up late to his server job. As we soon learn through a note left for Mitsuha, asking “Who are you?,” Taki has been living out Mitsuha’s days–we’re clued into Taki inhabiting Mitsuha any time we see Mitsuha fondling her chest.

Taki and Mitsuha, realizing they alternate roughly every other day, work out a system of notes and electronic messages, and are able to make changes for each other that they couldn’t make for themselves. They are as intimate as two souls could be without actually sharing thoughts and impulses in real time. Following a festival celebrating a comet passing Earth after 1,200 years, Taki and Mitsuha stop swtiching places. The film then sticks with Taki as he searches for Mitsuaha, slowly forgetting his experiences with Mitsuha. And as Taki goes looking for Mitsuha, both Taki and the audience receive answers that only lead to more questions.

Before the halfway point, Your Name. pulls a rather bananas twist–one that is semi-arbitrary, but that ultimately works. Like any good left turn, the revelations that complicate their off-kilter premise, Your Name. is theme and character first. Shinkai cares about Taki and Mitsuha, and he cares what happens to them. All of the narrative gymnastics Shinkai attempts–some more successful than others–are in service to explore connections, lost and renewed, the (literal) impact or impression of a single event or person, and how we feel about those whose experiences test what those unions mean to one another. These are curiosities Shinkai explores in his earlier work, particularly his forlorn romance 5 Centimeters Per Second. In many ways, Your Name. is a rebuttal to that story, playing on similar ideas of passionate adolescent love, the ephemeral nature thereof, and the lingering longing for an absentee who was once impossibly close. And because Shinkai goes so deep, we’re with Taki and Mitsuha until the very last, electrifying moment.

Stylistically, Your Name. is a doozy. Shinkai, as the cinematographer, fills every frame so ornately, bringing to life every inch of every bit of world in frame. As the editor, Shinkai does his usual Kon cribbing, with quick cuts and host of visual motifs–shots of sliding doors looking from the center of the track in a way that puts a line down the screen, threads and ropes, a body of water that visually parallels the process of mitosis, etc. Shinkai’s vivid frames, as well as the way he structures and paces the narrative. And particularly in the last leg, when the realities of these characters gradually collide, the cutting becomes much nimbler and daring. Shinkai’s edit is orchestrated like ballet on a high wire, and the breakneck tapestry Shinkai weaves is only elevated by Radwimps’ score–which osculates between sweeping, immaculate orchestrations, to fist-pumping J-pop rock anthems. Your Name. is rapturous and accomplished, taking advantage of animation in a way few films do, and a stronger motivation to push craft than most films ever aspire to.

Is Your Name. wall-to-wall perfect? No. Spend enough time really mulling over the mechanics, and in the most generous case, the film leaves a lot of unanswered questions, specifically as they relate to the mechanics of body switching, spirituality, and sake made from fermented rice and saliva. Moreover, the film stalls somewhat in the second, as we’re left with Taki looking for Mitsuha. By digging so deeply into his own mythology, Shinkai never quite constructs the most logical framework for this story to take place. And for anyone who demands the rules of their movie be crystal clear, Your Name. is a bit of a nightmare.

But to focus on these minor quibbles is to miss the forest through the trees. Shinkai stays true to his characters, who are distinct enough to relate to and empathize with, and gives them enough good nature and exciting craft to buoy what is already a compelling two-hander. This is a triumphant, gripping, tear-inducing gambit whose heart is worn with such naked pride, a paradoxically novel mix of Freaky Friday and La Jetée. And though one could no doubt quibble with the finer points of the film, Your Name. is still so smart, ambitious, and funny, how could a person not fall in love?

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks. I give you at least another 8 months.

Rating – 9.1/10

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