your name.

After all this retrospective-ing, it is finally time to discuss Makoto Shinkai's behemoth that put him on the echelon of the people he's been compared to his entire career (Much to his horror and dismay that Miyazaki is going to come down from his tower and disintegrate him). Japan's biggest box office hit of 2016, worldwide crowdpleaser, and worthy of an attempt to sneak in Los Angeles screenings at the end of December to try for the Best Animated Feature Oscar (Didn't make it to nominations, sadly): your name.

So what does it take for a guy who normally has more ponderous, deliberately-paced stuff to fill up theaters around the world including the one in Omaha I was at where I was forced to share an Alamo Drafthouse table with a complete stranger? The answer isn't really that complicated. He just kept to his strengths, minimized his weaknesses, and told a damn good story (based on his own novel) with plenty of carefully plotted points that–thankfully–marketing kept their traps shut about. It might not be his strongest visually (Though everyone who just watched their first Shinkai movie are heavily disagreeing with me) or his deepest emotionally, but it works on a high enough octane on every level that it's easy to forgive.

At the beginning, your name. seems to have a false start with an introduction before slipping into what seems like an anime TV series opening sequence montaging the basic concept next to the credits. Of course, movie credits have had similar types of openings, but this one feels so jarring, like it was meant for television. Did Shinkai just always want to do an anime opening and never had the opportunity? There's an infamous interview with Daily Mail where Shinkai tells everyone to stop watching the movie because it's not that good and they ran out of money to make exactly the movie he wanted to make. I think this is one of the rough corners he's talking about.

Anyhoo, the train gets back on the track immediately with Mitsuha Miyamizu waking to everyone noting how she's returned to normal after a seriously weird day where her hair was apparently a mess, she was playing with her breasts, and she forgot vital details like where her locker and desk were. She goes about her day as normal, though with her absentee father the mayor up for re-election, the rumors of corruption make it harder than usual. She lives and works at a shrine of the small town Itomori and only wishes to be free of country living. In fact, she makes the very specific wish that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo. The very next day, she wakes up as a boy in Tokyo. Specifically, a high school student by the name of Taki who has a workaholic father and job as a server at a fancy restaurant. After a day of bumbling through his life, Mitsuha awakes again and finds out Taki has been taking her place as well, and the two start a relationship and establishing ground rules for their body swapping that may or may not get ignored throughout the course of their supernatural situation.

These misadventures are amusing in of themselves and open the doors for certain possibilities. Mitsuha personally seems to be moving towards the life of a boy once she gets the hang of his intense and busy urban life, even snagging a date with Taki's supervisor Miki that he sort of botches when he's in his own body.  She seems like the better fit for Miki, obviously. It would've been an interesting direction, for sure, but the story decides to take another turn of its own, one thankfully most people have been mum on. It's really what sells the movie and has made it such a word-of-mouth smash, and seriously, the less you know about it, the better you're going to be. I can't tell you, and even the people who hint at it are doing you a disservice.

Much has been made about how gorgeous the movie looks. If I hadn't just spent the past month going through Shinkai's filmography, I might be just as high on them as those praises. However, I'm slightly below everyone else if only because I've seen his visual prowess at the top of his game in the most intimate shots in 5 Centimeters Per Second which showed a mastery creating the exact scene and mood desired, even at the sacrifice of subtlety (The weather at all times in early Shinkai tells you exactly how you should feel). your name. is an exceptionally pretty movie, no doubt, making up most of Shinkai's visual interests. You have celestial events, urban sprawl, a small mountain village full of rustic detail, all combined with dense imagery and slick animation for the most part. This is all him rather than Children Who Chase Lost Voices where he's trying to be someone else and doesn't seem particularly engaged in it at times. The sights run the gamut from an overhead of a Tokyo train station at morning rush to a full-motion Shinto ritual dance. It looks great, but the goal of most of the shots are simply to look great. There are a few times where it effectively creates awe-inspiring moments, mostly at the tail-end of the feature.

Instead of his long-time composer Tenmon, Shinkai instead decides to go with rock band Radwimps handling both the songs and the music. If this entire venture was giving Shinkai's aesthetic a pop sensibility, it works out well. The songs, especially "Zen Zen Zense" during the body swapping montage in the middle, give a hearty boost to the action on screen. They also handle the dramatic score, and if you'd told me Tenmon was still heavily involved, I would believe you. The emotional gut punches are still given are suitable and laudable backing. The only quirk was in my screening of the English dub, where the songs are done in English. Now, the band did the retooling themselves and the English lyrics do tend to match up generally with their original meanings from my meager spot checks (And trusting internet translations), but there is some awkward phrasing and stream of words that just happened to fill out the melody and gave my ears some pause when I caught them in the background ("One last hello, you've opened your eyes. But you won't even look me in the eyes, what's wrong with you?"). Thankfully, it only happened once or twice for me and it shouldn't be too bothersome. FUNimation deserves credit for doing more than treating it like another anime in the factory.

Speaking of the dub, I have fantastic news: It was not directed by Steven Foster. Foster was the person in charge of Shinkai's work when they were licensed by ADV/Sentai Filmworks. These dubs were either unnecessarily rewritten to change the meanings of scenes or filled with flat actor deliveries. Either would've been disastrous handling of a major product that could've sunk a movie that deserved better. The dub we get directed by leads Michael Sinterniklass and Stephanie Sheh is solid. The two main characters do have a generic anime lead quality to them, but that is more in line with Shinkai's vision of having a movie that can be more universally accessed. They do get to have fun when they switch between each other and the nuances in their voices keep who is in whose body straight.

I haven't talked too much about what really makes your name. fly, and that's the writing. It's with zero exaggeration that I say this movie should be taught to show how to foreshadow and intertwine story elements into an individual work. The usual Shinkai trope about two people separated by distance applies, but it's so much more. There's a comet, small-town politics, Shinto religious beliefs with some extra mysticism thrown in, urban verses rural living, some real-life events we won't discuss here for spoiler purposes, and more. Everything has a part to play and there are very few loose ends. It is wonderful to look back on just how expertly the movie played the cards in its hand. Just how the phrase "Magic Hour" alone is used is brilliant. Shinkai's had trouble writing girls and women in the past, either giving them basic traits, or taking them out of the movie entirely when they get older. I won't say he's completely out of the woods since Taki gets significantly more screen time as the movie goes on and Mitsuha's biggest moment happens offscreen, but she is as important piece of fabric to the rest of the movie as anyone else.

Of course, it would be strictly academic if the movie was only good on a structure level. Shinkai has sheepishly noted how well the emotional manipulation is down to literally charting exactly how the audience will feel at certain moments during the film. The thing is: It works. It really REALLY works. The big reveal dropped an anvil on my stomach. The climax did make me tear up plenty for joy and sorrow equally. Even if it's a mechanical rollercoaster ride of emotions, the machinery is hidden exceptionally well. If you really had to get at me to make a complaint, it's that the characters don't have a stirring dramatic moment that wouldn't be the same if it was another character of the same sex in their place.  What I mean is, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time had a particularly headstrong and stubborn lead in Makoto whose most devastating moment is when she lets her stubbornness get the best of her and she's essentially shoving the most important person out of her life and we watch her facade crumble before our eyes as she realizes what she's done and starts bawling. That is an incredibly personalized dramatic moment for a character and the similar moments here are more universal, though there are a couple individualized reactions, one involving a drink that plays a vital role.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a good analogue for this movie. Even as an imperfect crowdpleaser of sorts, it is equal parts fun and sorrow that really knows how to hit the right spotswhen it needs to. I adore both movies (As I've explained, sometimes I like imperfect better than perfect) and I would even put your name. above its predecessor a bit as its problems are at the beginning and less disruptive to the work as a whole. It's not the deepest examination of the soul by Shinkai and it may have turned past more intriguing story ideas on its way to the one it has, but as a blockbuster with big ideas and a good heart, it's a pretty great one I will keep coming back to for its wonderful array of emotions. And Shinkai, on the remote chance you're reading this, don't worry about calling down the thunder of Miyazaki to reveal your flaws to the world. You know Spirited Away, the movie that won the Oscar? I say this as someone who loved it: It had some REALLY crummy integration of 3DCG into its traditional animation. I think you're good on that front.


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