Sometimes, it takes an outside perspective to re-evaluate the possibilities of storytelling. Last year, in Japan, Makoto Shinkai’s anime film “Your Name” surpassed the high bar set by 2002’s global smash “Spirited Away” to become the country’s biggest hit of 2016, and the highest-grossing anime film worldwide. A coming-of-age drama that utilizes body swapping to comment on purpose, serendipity and interconnectedness; “Your Name” knows how to tell a seemingly familiar story like you’ve never seen it before.
Mitsuha is a teenage girl raised by her grandmother in the Japanese countryside who is fed up with the monotony of small town life. “Please make me a handsome Tokyo boy in my next life!” she screams in frustration to the stars one night. Taki is a teenage boy in Tokyo juggling school, a part-time job and a budding relationship with a co-worker. The first time he wakes up in Mitsuha’s body and Mitsuha in his, both initially brush it off as an overwhelmingly realistic dream. But as the phenomenon repeats, they discover the unbelievable reason their paths collide.
From the moment the film opens with a breathtaking shot of a star hurtling towards the glittering lights below, Shinkai establishes himself as a worthy successor to Hayao Miyazaki, the man who popularized Japanese anime films for international audiences. Every frame is heart-stopping in its beauty, the kind of lens we wish we could see our lives through. As the voices behind the star-crossed adolescents at the center of the story, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Mone Kamishiraishi are dynamically gripping in their performances, strongest when they convey their character’s reaction to being in the other’s body. The few scenes their characters share are the definition of magical. Both actors’ performances are overwhelmingly moving, carrying so much heart that it threatens to break the fourth wall of the screen. Their joy becomes our joy. Their tears become our tears. The music by Japanese rock band Radwimps elevates each brilliantly written scene to the next level, using a mix of piano, drums, and electric guitar to convey a balance of soaring optimism and heartstring-tugging melancholy.
Though body swapping is one of the most common entries in the plot device playbook, “Your Name” succeeds in circumventing the trope trappings to tell a gorgeously affecting tale about how fate keeps us forever intertwined in the best way.