Is Makoto Shinkai ‘the new Miyazaki’? Comparisons to Studio Ghibli’s animation master accompanied Shinkai’s previous films: lustrous visions such as Voices of a Distant Star (2003) and The Garden of Words (2013), but Shinkai emerges as his own man with this deeply affecting, richly imagined and lushly gorgeous fantasy.
A time-travelling, body-swapping, gender-twisting, disaster-based teen romance, Your Name resembles little else around.
A hit in Japan, Shinkai’s genre-bender begins with a twist on meet-cute clichés between provincial teen-girl Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Tokyo teen-boy Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) – after a teasing opening montage involving comets falling, the pair awake to find themselves inhabiting each other’s bodies.
Once he’s got us on our toes, Shinkai keeps us there. The outer-body premise is well-milked for gentle humour to start – Taki becomes fixated on his newfound breasts – but the playful pitch doesn’t swamp feeling.
Raised in an environment of tradition, Mitsuha pines for city life; Taki, meanwhile, wrestles with the tragicomic inarticulacy of adolescent masculinity. Smartphones are cleverly used to co-ordinate the plot-lines, a co-ordination given a metaphorical parallel in the cords Mitsuha is tasked with meticulously braiding.
The braiding becomes more intricate as the duo wonder why fate linked them and, in a twist on the will they/won’t they cliché, whether a meeting is in the stars. Time loops, tumbling comets, lost towns and themes of eco-disaster mix in the ensuing action, a mash-up of melancholy raptures, mind-warping metaphysics and cosmic cataclysms.
It all sounds like too much to take onboard. But Shinkai holds his material steady. Between style and substance, he knows just what’s needed to keep the plot focused, viewers rapt and emotions engaged.
Working with Ghibli-schooled animation director Masashi Ando (whose credits also include 2015’s senses-stoking Miss Hokusai), Shinkai makes glowing work of his digi-mation vistas: the limpid images glisten as if radiated with emotion. But don’t think about pausing to admire the scenery. Races against time and musical montages usher us breathlessly towards the climax, chivvied along by vibrant songs from Japanese band Radwimps.
Adding more flavours, the end stretch recalls Wong Kar-wai’s rainy-day romanticism in its mix of sliding doors and deferred liaisons. A satisfying conclusion seems like too much to expect from so rich a weave, but Shinkai’s careful weaving of poignancy, plot threads and metaphor delivers one.
For Mitsuha and Taki, the outcome is best experienced, not explained. For animation fanciers new to Shinkai, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.