Sunday, April 23, 2017

Your Name

Body swap movies, like the buddy cop genre, have been done so many times the formula is encased in concrete, and usually, that formula focuses on two characters who learn to appreciate what the other goes through and brings them closer, like the mother and daughter in Freaky Friday and the father and son in Vice Versa. It's predictable, but it can be done well.

Your Name (2016), an anime film directed by Makoto Shinkai (and based on his novel of the same name), is a body swap movie, but it plays with the formula and is not so easily predictable. It's less about understanding the other person and more about finding the other person in this chaotic experience we call life.

Our body swappers in this case are a couple of high school students. Mitsuha (Mone Kamihiraishi) lives in the rural town of Itomori where her father is the mayor. Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) lives in Tokyo and works part-time in a restaurant.

This is where I'm supposed to say, "One day, they wake up in each other's bodies," but that would be slightly misleading. Yes, that is what happens, but unlike other body swap movies, the switch is not permanent nor is it explained. It happens randomly, without rhyme or reason, and they just as easily return to their own bodies after experiencing the other's life for the day (the only structure is the switch begins when one wakes up and ends when he or she goes back to sleep at the end of the day).

The obligatory elements of the genre appear here. Of course, Mitsuha and Taki, who have never met and don't know each other, are confused by what happens, and they wreak a fair bit of havoc on each other's life because they don't know where they are or who they're with or what they're supposed to do. So we get scenes of Mitsuha not knowing how to work in the restaurant and being amazed to be in the big city for the first time to the confusion of Taki's friends. Meanwhile, Taki, as Mitsuha, can't resist copping a feel on his newfound boobs, much to the puzzlement of Mitsuha's little sister.

What would it really like to wake up and be another person, even if only for a day? Your Name suggests it's like being a dream. Everything feels different, you don't know anyone but they all know you, and when you find yourself back in your own body, it's difficult remembering exactly where you had been. Was it real? Did it really happen? A feeling that is so familiar and yet so far away and barely glimpsed.

The movie moves into different territory when Taki decides he wants to see Mitsuha. All he has to go on are drawings of her town they made from memory. When he learns the truth of where she is, it's a genuine shock, and I will say no more, but leave that for you to discover yourself.

There are moments of tremendous beauty in Your Name and moments that capture a certain magic. Mitsuha and her sister partake in a religious ceremony to make a special kind of sake, kuchikamizake, as an offering in the family tomb. The ceremony involves elaborate costumes and dance. The journey to the tomb itself, located within a crater and surrounded by water, generates a strong spiritual feeling.

Later, during the town festival, a comet passes overhead and splits into many parts. Without spoiling too much, let me say this a key moment in the plot because we know something about the comet that the other characters don't, so there is a degree of tension and suspense, but it is a strikingly and awe-inspiring streak of color and streams. As frightening and confusing as life can be, it can be wondrous.

When it looks like Mitsuha and Taki will finally meet face-to-face for the first time, the scene occurs during the twilight, which we're told is when spirits come to life and fantastical things become possible, which given the circumstances of the characters at this time, is fitting. They meet on the edge of a crater, overlooking a lake and town. It's a very tender moment, they're so happy to finally meet, and they agree to write their names on each other's hands before they wake up and forget. Taki writes first, but when he passes the pen to Mitsuha, she pops out of existence. Twilight has passed. I almost gasped.

Back in her bed, Mitsuha wakes up and looks at her hand. Taki didn't write his name.

He wrote, "I love you."

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