Your Name is a bodyswap-romance Japanese animated feature, and actually got a release in the UK. Specifically London, where we just so happen to have Darren based. Check out his review.
Western animation is in some ways, a non-cultural affair. While we grow up with such a presence of cartoons and animation in our lives, it is very clear that these are made for children; family movies at best.
Watching outside our western-centric point of view we see another possibility; that the animation has no age boundary. Ghibli has reminded us of this point, that art has no age boundary, no necessity to a limited audience.
I’m not going to pretend that I have a large experience with Asian animation. Beyond Studio Ghibli and the odd anime I watched growing up, I have no real experience with it. This has it’s draw backs but also some positives.
Like this movie I suppose.
Mitushi is an ordinary girl living in a remote town in Japan. But she’s been having strange dreams recently, dreams she can’t quite grasp or remember. Taki, a city boy in Tokyo, is having similar dreams. Whenever they wake up they find that they have switched bodies, each exploring each other’s world. While they try to figure this out and fix their respective lives, by meddling and leaving notes, is something more blossoming?
If you want a quick pithy and almost dismissive summation of this movie, then it’s The Lake House.
Literally. The plot, barring a few tweaks is The Lake House.
But so what? Avatar was Dances with Wolves, The Force Awakens was A New Hope.
Movies rip off story structures all the time and the worst kept secret is that we like that. Audiences scream they want something new but if that was the case then why does Adam Sandler still have a career? Why are there so many Fast and the Furious movies?
This work does add something new to the form: the cultural elements of the setting and the body switching make it feel a lot fresher than it has any right to be. But while I think this is a great boon to the movie it can also be a hindrance to a Western audience. A lot of the subtleties can be lost out, a lot of the symbolism can be misinterpreted or just lost.
For example, there is a scene in a restaurant, a customer manages to get out of paying his check by complaining and for some reason, sneakily takes out a Stanley knife and slashes the skirt of the waitress. Why? To me and, I imagine, many people, this seems just random. But it has a cultural significance that is just lost on me. Same with say, the focus on a girls neck to show how seductive she is or the ubiquity of Taki when he body swaps to Mitushi just continually feeling her breasts. No joke, this is a recurring theme, he wakes up and just continually fondles her until he gets caught. Ha ha, big laugh, roll on snare drum. I’m not saying it’s not funny but god, three times was more than enough. This even occurs during highly emotive scenes ruining the feeling.
I do think it has a lot of charm; the pacing while sometimes very fast, works in its favour and the animation is beautiful but nothing special for the most part. An exception is a wonderful drained out dream sequence that has a peculiar post-modern feel to it.
The characters are fun and the movie does play around with the idea but it doesn’t feel like it’s saying anything. Having your leads swap bodies is an intriguing prospect and there is so much you could do with it but Your Name only makes cursory lip service to it, focussing instead on a blossoming romance that has moments of real charm but no passion to it.
I’ve said it a lot but charm is really the centrepiece in this.
It doesn’t have the raw beauty and feeling of a Ghibli movie, nor the comedy or elasticity of a Tartatovsky. But it oozes a simplicity of feeling, of a simpler life. And while it boils down plot and structure-wise to a trope fest of hilarious proportions, it is still entertaining. I just think that I’m missing something form it, something that more savvy or involved anime watchers will feel.
If you’ve grown up on Code Geass, Dragonball etc and are drowning in Japanese culture (as so many are) then you’ll love it, you’ll get it. You’ve probably already watched it, downloaded the English sub and are writing your fan theories right now.
But for the rest us, it’s a charming work that shows Japan as I think it would like to be seen. Beautiful, romantic but with a conservatism that makes me inch back just a little from its overall message.