Saturday, April 15, 2017

YOUR NAME (directed by Makoto Shinkai)

This review may contain spoilers.
Although everything that happens in Your Name is all of a piece, the first and second halves are fairly different in tone, with the first being more light-hearted as it's a story about two teens who seem to meet in the pre-credits (and I think during credits) editing montage and swap bodies - not every day, it would appear, but only a couple or few days in the week - and of course a body-swapping movie (much less one that involves different sexes, which we may have seen somewhere before but not like this), and then the second half reveals to the male lead Taki what has been going on with this strange but totally normal girl Mitsuha from the boondocks: she's been dead for three years, a victim of a cataclysmic event, and it becomes what appears to be a sad - and then urgent as a somewhat-thriller - story of time travel-ish goings on between the present day Taki and the past Mitsuha.

And yet tonally it doesn't feel like it's clashing together, these two sides of lightness and sorta comedy; I found myself laughing quite a bit, mostly through the "HUH!?" reactions from the friends and family of the characters as they wonder what's got into their respective teenagers, and then I found myself caught up in the tragedy of this girl and what happened to her and if she could change what happened.
I don't know if it's possible to talk too much in depth past "I liked it!" or "I didn't" and not spoil something here (aside from speaking in generalities about this as an evolution of the career of the director Shinkai after a number of anime films, this being the one in Japan to usurp Spirited Away at the box office, it's that big a deal). But I think that one of the underlying strengths about a story where it evolves from being a slightly crazy and wacky but also still grounded in some form of reality animated story and then becomes about tragedy on a if not epic than grandiose scale is that it IS about the things it wants to be about.

When Taki finds out the many illustrations he's drawn, in a frenzy like Dreyfuss in Close Encounters as a possessed-by-something-*important* sort of thing, and that he doesn't remember about comets destroying a sea-side town, it devastates him. Did he suppress the memory of it? When did he really meet this girl? Why is he suddenly switching with her now, over the course of three years? The melancholy is underneath, and when it bursts out it's delivered with the kind of emotion I haven't seen in any animated film, Japanese or American or otherwise, in a very long time.

Pfft, that's how Tokyo looks *every* night, c'mon!
And, yeah, it's also a story of teenage love, as one might expect by the (in the dubbed version I saw) pop songs, but there's also a mystical dimension to it, something about it where the filmmaker (adapting his own book) is reaching into the genre of science fiction but digging into a core that is asking us to embrace the unexplainable. What does it mean, for example, that a comet previously a thousand some-odd years before created the crater that makes for the lake of this town? What about that string that somehow connects Mistsuha and Taki in the first place, and yet it creates some disorientating feelings as they do and don't remember their old selves and take on characteristics of the other gender (we don't see as much of Mitsuha being masculine, possibly by design except for a couple of moments, but we do see Taki being more feminine, which is funny but also allows for some space for social commentary - of what I'll leave others to decide). And yet this couple can never really *be* a couple, as they're separated by time and existence itself, and that makes it all the more... romantic.
Along with the romance of the film, and I mean as much as how this director treats the story itself - a key moment late in the film takes place at the "Magic Hour", which, if these two kids had seen Terrence Malick they'd understand a wee bit more initially, but they quickly get the full-blown awe as well as, like life is itself, all too fleeting - as it is with the characters and their unrequited love. And they do love each other, even if they don't fully understand the how or the why of it. There are heady concepts throughout lining the walls of Your Name, but the film is also loaded with good characters who, in the scope of the two places they're at (the city and the small town), bring a realism to what is otherwise a fantastical story. At the same time while I mention the romance here, the tragedy is dealt with enough gravity and sorrow that that his great deal. I didn't expect to become emotional watching Your Name - I wasn't so sure what to expect, only knowing about its box office reputation - but I got swept up with Taki and Mistuha, felt for them deeply, and wanted them, despite all logic, to connect together again, or to simply remember the other's name.
I don't know if the opening and the ending of the film, where Shinkai makes it more montagey than elsewhere (there is another segment, near the closing of the first half, where we also get a montage showing how the boy and girl try to navigate, with difficulty but eventual capability, how to *be* in their flipped selves at school and work and home and so on). It feels like it's out of a different movie, and at the same time I wondered if the movie could have been slightly shorter; at 104 minutes it's not too overlong, but near the end it extends itself to draw out some extra twists and revelations that are like pouring too much whipped cream on the sundae - it's still tasty, but it's overdoing what we should already understand. I won't spoil what eventually comes from how Taki and Mitsuha's efforts to change the course of history as far as the oncoming comet in the past tense.

What I can say is that the ending makes emotional sense if not logically entirely, and I left having felt like I went through a real journey with these characters and the rest of the cast. It's warm and friendly, dark and melancholy, thrilling and strange, though not *too* disturbing as, you know, it's for teenagers after all.
Oh, and it's all so beautifully animated, with many touches once Taki finds the place he's been looking for and goes, on his own, to discover how he can see, at one point, Mitsuha's entire life, and.... wow. Not perfect, but this director is a good new cat to have around in a world where Ghibli seems to be all there is with widely-distrubuted, not ultra-violent anime features.

1 comment:

  1. Another excellent review by Professor Gattanella about a beautiful film. I find his comments helpful and insightful, especially in light that I, as an aging cinephile, am not the targeted demographic. Thank you!