Your Name, Japanese director Makoto Shinkai’s latest animated feature, bubbles over with far more mirth than most of Studio Ghibli’s collection but nonetheless, comparisons have been drawn between both, as well as between him and the now retired Hayao Miyazaki. Frustratingly it’s impossible not to enter this film with every Ghibli movie swimming around in your head. Thankfully, already a huge success in its native country, Your Name is bound to supply Shinkai with well-deserved individuality as it looks to achieve huge admiration from Western audiences.
The director’s previous works have demonstrated his interest in seishun eiga (youth drama) and whilst this could indicate lots of teen angst in the same pumping vein as a certain vampire phenomenon, Your Name laughs in the face of such reductionism.
Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) lives with her younger sister and grandmother in the countryside. With aspirations to eventually move on past her singular existence of tradition and conservatism, she wishes for her next life to be as a teen boy in Tokyo. Her daily pressures aren’t particularly based on her sex but this gives us an intelligent and very real insight into perhaps a more general issue that concerns Japanese women. The next thing we see is Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a schoolboy living in the city who has, according to his friends, been acting very strangely. It doesn’t take long to reveal that the two switched places in their dreams. Sorry, what?
Shinkai isn’t afraid to humour his culture. He clearly enjoys taking the mick, and it’s done in such a way as not to cause offence and to translate impeccably to Westerners. Generally Your Name gives good insight into two differing Japanese worlds. The treatment of gender and stereotypes is also refreshingly how it should be. Mitsuha’s friend is exasperated at the assumption that a girl only cuts her hair because of a breakup and a woman’s role is seen as that of a wife in the countryside. We rarely question such things and especially in animation.
Ironically, identity is fundamental here. Just as Shinkai may find it hard to shake off Ghibli comparisons, Mitsuha and Taki are forever discovering who they truly are as people and as part of society; one that is gradually becoming less uniform. The idea of legacy too is interestingly picked at and how family and memories can somehow determine our fate.
Your Name is sure to touch even the coldest of hearts. The connection between the principal characters is almost unbearable at times and especially when events almost don’t go according to plan. This is a very special addition to the LFF’s impressive lineup.
Your Name screens at the BFI London Film Festival 2016
Words by Samuel Sims