Where’s Lindsay Lohan when you need her?
by Thom Yee
Did you ever wake up crying and you weren’t sure why? You’ve had a huge swelling of emotions that you could feel like the heat from a roaring fire, and then snap! Just like that, you’re awake; you’ve experienced something of almost unbearable emotional intensity, something deeply draining, something almost alive, but with every second that passes you drift further and further away from whatever it was that made you feel that way. And you forget it. You forget the moments, the details, the places and names, all gradually but surely disappearing with every second that passes. You get up, go to your bathroom, and study yourself in the mirror, the face looking back at you familiar but foreign, and a horrible feeling starts growing in your stomach and your heart, a feeling that tells you that, though it was just a dream, you’ve somehow lost something of infinite value. A feeling so big it makes you want to cry. But you don’t. You have a cat to feed, a humidifier to turn off, and a degrading job to get to, so you wash your face, put your clothes on, eat your cold breakfast, tie up your shoes, step out the door, and try to join the human race. Just like everyone else.
No? Everything’s fine? You’re perfectly centred with the universe, your mind and spirit are in precise alignment, your car starts up with a confident growl, you drive down care-free, perfectly paved streets as the traffic parts at your very arrival, and birds sing a familiar tune of jubilation as you pass? Well good for you then.
Really. Good for you.
Good for yooouuuuu!!!!!!—sorry about that. Just need a second… to…
Okay, let’s start over.
While there is no one known reason for why we dream, with scientists unable to agree even on whether or not dreaming serves a direct, primary function (at least according to the one article I glanced at that was at the top of my google search just now), we do, of course, like to imagine that there are some much less scientific and much more romantic meanings behind our dreams. Perhaps they’re our minds working through our emotional baggage, perhaps they’re our body’s natural response to unclear stimuli, or maybe they represent something of cosmic significance. Maybe they even might mean something specific and important, if only we could understand their message. But even if they did, the fleeting nature of dreams will usually prevent us from finding anything helpful within them. There’s a tragedy in that, that never knowing and being constantly and hopelessly pulled away from ever finding out.
Or maybe it’s not tragic. Maybe it’s all nothing. Maybe everything you’ve just read here is the plodding, meandering, awful consequence of what happens when some weirdo overthinks the movies he’s seen.
Maybe I’ve just wasted your time.
Maybe it’s all a waste of time.
What’s it about?
Mitsuha is a high school girl who’s grown bored of living in the country and has aspirations of moving to Tokyo, while Taki is a high school boy living in Tokyo who works part-time at an Italian restaurant and aspires to become a city planner. The two start having dreams in which they seem to switch places with each other when they fall asleep, an occurrence that seems at first to be nothing more than a few flights of fancy but eventually proves to be true. Rather than fight the situation, the two find ways to make it work, learning more about what it’s like to live in the opposite’s situation and growing close to each other in the process. One day, however, on the night of an historic meteor shower, the body switching stops and the two find that they’re not only no longer linked but completely unable to find each other.
You’ve probably gathered by now that Your Name. has at least something to do with dreams, and, to me at least, the strange, hard-to-capture-or-describe ephemerality of a dream is a lot like the overarching experience of trying to watch anime itself. If you’ve been alive and a nerd for as long as I have (since the mid-‘80s), you’ve probably run across anime as a cultural artifact more than a few times, but unless you were really focused on it, it was probably something a little bit hazy, something that was hard to see, understand, or grasp. Maybe in your youth you’d walk into a comicbook store and wonder aloud at how anyone could afford to buy those neat-looking animated videos that cost $50 a piece, later some of those “Japanimation” tapes came [mildly] down in price and started showing up at HMV, and you may have eventually found a place with a very decent “anime” collection that you could rent from, but it was a rare thing to find or access in its pure, original form. You might even have spoken to an anime fan at a convention who made comments like on how much worse Dragon Ball Z is without the blood or who seemed to know what was really going on with those two new Sailor Scouts who you thought were just cousins, but those “Otaku” were few and far between, and sometimes they seemed to be into Japanese culture so emphatically that it cancelled out any other interests they could have had. Of course, nowadays you can just login to CrunchyRoll and watch brand new anime mere weeks, days, and even only hours after their first Japanese airings (and we never talk to anyone anymore other than through chat apps).
I like to consider myself a bit more of a generalist, Jack-of-all-Trades type when it comes to nerd culture, and to be honest, most of the time that means watching very little anime. Sure, I watch Dragon Ball Super because I’m familiar with the series (and it doesn’t require that much attention) and, like seemingly everyone who knows barely anything about anime, I consider Cowboy Bebop a masterpiece, but that’s about it, and so, perhaps unfairly for movies like Your Name., an anime title often needs to become a big, gigantic hit before someone like me will ever find it. But that’s exactly what Your Name. did, releasing in August of last year in Japan, holding the number one Japanese box office position for nine consecutive weeks, and growing to become the nation’s fourth highest grossing movie of all time (behind only Spirited Away, Titanic, and Frozen). So I guess if you’re looking for only one reason to give Your Name a shot… well, 127.3 million people can’t be wrong, especially not when they’re all so much more efficient, polite, healthy, and good at building robots than we are.
Is it any good?
To watch Your Name. in its entirety is to watch a movie with many layers, but, particularly for its first half, it’s primarily a slice of life in the same vein as many other animated movies and TV shows in Japan (contrary to the violent, nude, and tentacle-oriented assumptions you may have of the form). On that level alone, Your Name. is really quite lovely and affecting, frequently funny without becoming overbearingly comedic, and just sort of comfortable to settle in with. Both Mitsuha and Taki have their own lives and stresses to live and deal with, and while the addition of body (and gender) swapping could easily make those stresses worse, it’s encouraging and even heartwarming to see how the two deal with their shared situation. They can’t always predict when they’ll be in each others’ lives, but they recognize the conditions that trigger the swap and work out systems (mostly through journaling and scheduling apps on their smartphones) so that they can each gain all they can from their shared/swapped experiences. As a subgenre, body swapping movies don’t usually jump headlong into the more bitter or twisted elements that could arise from the situation (when you really think about it [not knowing which parent you’re supposed to side with, having to get used to someone else’s farts]), but they do usually spend a lot of time in their less evolved, low-brow comedy state before delivering their main message, and yet with Your Name., the same type of material is covered, but it never feels like you’re being talked down to. That’s important. It’s what allows Your Name. to speak to more than just a specific, singular audience.
I guess with a plot that could so reasonably fit within the confines of real life, the question of why Your Name. is animated at all might come up, and the truth is Your Name. had to be an animated movie mostly because we all suck. With a body swap movie like Freaky Friday, taking place in real life tends to cause us to expect comedy, but in Japan, the animated form doesn’t dictate anything. Movies, television, cartoons, comicbooks, all are viable mediums for any type of story, and I really feel that the choice of animation for a movie like Your Name. is what allows it to be whatever it wants to be rather than something that has to meet any particular expectations. It’s also a great choice because the movie’s gorgeous, effectively and complementarily combining hand-drawn animation with computer effects to tell a relatively grounded story with extraordinary elements. It’s not the kind of thing that would seem unusual to an anime fan, but it’s hard for me not to lament the lack of this type of work in American productions (where hand-drawn and computer animation is usually either-or).
The greater picture of Your Name. deals more with headier concepts like memory, fate, the passage of time, and how our choices and actions (or lack thereof) can have far more widespread, chaotic, and heartbreaking consequences than we usually intend, and, unfortunately, this is where the movie falls down a bit. Especially if you’re the type to overthink the movies you see, the things that wind up happening as the story broadens and stretches towards something more profound don’t really work, at least not as well as they need to. There are elements of romance, causality, and spirituality in the movie that I didn’t quite buy because they don’t fit precisely fit together. Ultimately, it’s a lack of fit that shouldn’t be actively bothersome, but it is mostly because of how good and moving and atmospheric the rest of Your Name. manages to be. The movie’s other elements add up almost exactly to the types of feelings you’ll most likely be left with after watching it, but if you spend any significant time considering and/or examining the movie’s mechanics, it doesn’t all hold together.
So should I see it?
If you’re at all into any of the things Your Name. appears to be, then it would be impossible for me to say that the movie isn’t worth your time. It’s entertaining, funny, ambitious, and just sort of comforting to watch, and in those ways it’s likely to leave you well beyond satisfied, especially if you see it with someone else, because it practically screams to be talked about. It’s the kind of movie I can see two people really bonding over. But it’s not perfect, and those imperfections might stand out enough to bother you precisely because they contrast so much with what the rest of the movie is doing. For me at least, it ends up going to a place that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and so when (or if) it manages to catch you off guard with where the story ultimately ends up, it’s a little bit more due to a lack of coherence rather than reaching a natural conclusion. It seems like just a few story edits away from perfection.
Thom’s Your Name. (Kimi no Na wa) final score