The latest anime film so good it’s found its way to British cinemas is Your Name, from director Makoto Shinkai. It follows two young people, Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) who inexplicably swap bodies at random intervals, but struggle to remember things from the other half of their lives.
The film is another addition to the peculiarly large genre of body swap, following films such as Freak Friday and Shrek the Third. Where Your Name differs is that the characters don’t just swap identities, they swap genders, at a time in their lives when relationships with the opposite sex aren’t always easy.
But while the opening scenes explore this, with Mitsuha’s ease with women even finding Taki a girlfriend, it takes a leftfield turn when Taki realises a comet heading towards the earth is doomed to destroy Mitsuha’s village; in another example of the fear of ecological catastrophe that’s a common them in Japanese cinema. I don’t want to give too much away, but here the film becomes more like Donnie Darko, with unfathomable time loops that abandon traditional narrative structure.
The comet headed towards the earth and some of the accompanying imagery is, strangely, not dissimilar from Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Both films have beautiful visuals, but Trier’s bleak outlook and abrasive characters are replaced by humour and love. The animation is glorious to behold, in particular the detail on the cityscapes, gadgets and weather that looks almost real.
Fundamentally this is a film about opposites. Misuha is from a remote and traditional village. They live in a traditional way, sleeping and eating at ground level and obeying ancient customs. Taki’s family live in the heart of high-rise Tokyo with access to every aspect of modernity. The two characters’ lives could scarcely be more different, yet ultimately both their backgrounds shape their behaviour in essential ways. In the debate about modernity versus tradition the film is clear: the two must work in tandem if we are to survive.
While not as purely escapist as some other examples of the anime genre, and at times more confusing than it needs to be, this is a beautifully animated and compelling story.