Body-swapping movies are a genre all their own and this weekend in the U.S. we’re getting an animated body-swapping feature from Japan, “Your Name.” Directed by Makoto Shinkai, “Your Name.” is the story of two high schoolers, Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki), living in different parts of Japan who, randomly, find their consciousness have switched places.
Neither Mitsuha nor Taki know initially that the swap is taking place. They don’t remember it all that well, and their friends and family keep insisting that they had been acting strange. They, like the audience, are confused, but as the movie progresses, the fog lifts. We watch as the two teens learn to leave messages for each other and work out this new status quo.
Of course… it isn’t really a stable state of affairs. The swaps are random and neither Taki nor Mitsuha can avoid making some changes to the other’s life. They can learn to roll with the punches, but it is never easy.
What it is, is beautiful to watch unfold. It isn’t just that the animation looks fantastic, it’s that “Your Name.” is a unique take on the body swapping genre. As the movie progresses, things shift dramatically. Just as Taki, Mitsuha, and those watching find some solid footing, everything is upended. Shinkai, however, makes sure to handle the changes so that, while they are disconcerting, the audience is never left feeling as though they come from nowhere – it is a substantial alteration, but not one out of left field.
I am hesitant to refer to “Your Name.” as a meditation on life, the choices, we make, what it means to be a teenager, the difficulties of growing up, or anything else. It absolutely does look at those things, and more than look, it does offer thoughts about them. It also tosses in more than a smattering of the supernatural (this is a body swapping movie) and a question or two surrounding the notion of destiny. However, it never gets bogged down in these ideas; it never stops to point things out, it just keeps moving forward.
Perhaps more than many body-swapping movies, “Your Name.” is able to ask the audience what they would do in that situation, how they would proceed. It isn’t a deadly serious film, but it is neither simply played for laughs nor to setup to teach an important lesson about how someone else lives. Instead it is just these two people trying to do their best and make it through their lives… or this other person’s life… or both.
It is smart, and it is touching, and it is enjoyable, and even if it isn’t wholly played for laughs, there are certainly many funny moments.
When “Your Name.” does open here on the 7th, it will screen in both Japanese with English subtitles and with an English dub. For the purposes of this review, the movie was watched in Japanese. I am curious to know just how much things might change when the movie is screened in a different language, but can say with certainty that the subtitled version is wonderful.
photo credit: Funimation Films