Makoto Shinkai Signs Your Name Across Grim_Noir’s Heart

 

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Title: Your Name (movie)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Script: Makoto Shinkai

Storyboard: Makoto Shinkai

Unit Director: Kenji Imura

Music: RADWIMPS

Original creator: Makoto Shinkai

Character Design: Masayoshi Tanaka

Animation Production: CoMix Wave Films

Published in North America by FUNimation Entertainment

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

Damn you, Makoto Shinkai, for making a grown man cry in a movie theater full of people. Damn you, too, Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, for your aggressively gerrymandered voting system. As much as I enjoyed Zootopia, I now know it was nowhere near the best animated feature of 2016. And damn you, Your Name, for being so good even your creator is afraid his next film cannot live up to you.

The storyline of Your Name revolves around high-schoolers Mitsuha and Taki, who have begun to randomly switch bodies with each other. It all seems to be related to the recent passing of a comet overhead. Country girl and shrine maiden, Mitsuha, wants nothing more than to escape her boring life in small-town Itomori, while Tokyo native, Taki, is too busy to even think about changing anything in his life. Now, randomly, when they fall asleep, they awaken in each other’s bodies. It always feels like a hazy dream and they can’t quite remember the details when they return to their own bodies the next day. But, their friends won’t let them forget how odd they were acting the day before. Gradually, they begin to leave notes for each other, on their bodies, in their notebooks, and especially in their cellphone diaries. They start making changes in each other’s lives; some for the better, some just causing more problems. But while these anime “Freaky Friday” antics are charming and let’s us get to know the characters, there are darker forces at work here…

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To go any farther into any description of the plot would spoil all of the carefully nuanced surprises that writer-director-chief animator Makoto Shinkai has lovingly layered into his script. In fact, you are better off knowing nothing about Your Name before you go to see it. (In fact, go see it right now, don’t wait. It has a very limited theatrical run and you don’t want to miss seeing it on the big screen.)

There is very short list of auteurs/storytellers who I trust to produce a good film every time. Shinkai is towards the top of that list. One of the reasons many of us love anime is because it refuses to follow the schmaltzy tropes of Western storytelling. However, anime has its own set of tropes, and Shinkai doesn’t follow those tropes nor Hollywood’s. He is as close to the definition of “indie” as anyone in the anime industry can get. I could write a Master’s thesis on this flick’s mix of Shinto mysticism and Greek mythological symbolism, yet it is easily accessible. Everything you need to know is explained without feeling like Mister Exposition has walked onto the scene.

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Every character is partially- to fully-realized and they all get a chance to have their own spotlight moment. You care for them instantly and a few felt like people I had actually gone to high school with. Shinkai is usually compared to Hayao Miyazaki, but, as a scriptwriter, he reminds me more of P.T. Anderson.

Shinkai’s skill as an animator is unquestioned and pretty much unmatched. He started out making animations for a videogame company and created his first feature film (Voices of a Distant Star) mostly by himself, with occasional help from his wife and a few friends, so he knows exactly what he wants from his animation team and how to get it. His backgrounds are meticulous and gorgeous. And the expressions on his characters’ faces will break your heart. The phrase “visual feast” gets bandied around far too often, but in the case of Your Name, it is truly like your eyeballs just pushed away from the Thanksgiving dinner table.

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Japanese pop-rock band, Radwimps (their sound is a bit like The Killers meets Fun crossed with Smashing Pumpkins), worked closely with Shinkai to create not just incredibly appropriate (and catchy) soundtrack tunes for Your Name, but to allow the director to move seamlessly though the seasons with montages that have more emotional resonance than you would have any right to expect. Each one is constructed like its own music video; each with its own self-contained mini-storyline. Standouts include “Zenzenzense,” which perfectly encapsulates the themes of the movie, and “Sparkle,” which rises up at a very “now that I know the Truth, what do I do with all these feelings?” moment.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is far from perfect. (Personally, I would have moved the opening credits sequence to the end of the movie.) But, you will leave the theater smiling, wiping away a tear, and trying to catch your breath. And, Hollywood, isn’t that how ALL entertainment should be?

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* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet is a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or “Friend” on Facebook or Good Reads to end his self-delusions.

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