Review: With “Your Name,” Director’s Promise Is Fulfilled.
The long shadow of expectation is a tough place to direct from. M. Night Shyamalan, JJ Abrams, and Thor 3 director Taika Waititi have all been hailed as “the next Spielberg.” While the jury is still out on Waititi, it’s safe to say the first two never managed to live up to their early praise. So when one is compared directly to this generation’s most prolific animator, Hayao Miyazaki, a little skepticism is warranted.
This is where director Makoto Shinkai found himself around a decade ago. Coming off the success of films like The Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second, expectations were set astronomically high. No small irony considering these films were fascinating marriages between teenage rom-coms and some fairly well considered science fiction narratives.
Your Name follows those two films by once again bringing aloof teens together, this time under the glimmering tail of a worrisome comet. The story revolves around a classic pairing: a girl, Mitsuha, who lives in the country and dreams of city life, and a boy, Taki, who lives in the city and dreams of girls.
The two have noticed that their friends and family are treating them different of late. As it turns out, the pair are periodically switching bodies when they sleep and living out the next day as a wild, consequence-free dream.
If this sounds like Freaky Friday, you’re not totally off. The comparison is a severe underestimation, though. As the two grow accustomed to the periodic switches, they work out a system of notes and texts in order to make sure they don’t meddle in each other’s lives too much…which, of course, neither can resist. As the comet grows more prominent, Mitsuha attends a festival in her town and suddenly disappears without a trace. Notes, texts, and all. The mystery pulls Taki into a story that expands well beyond the body switching conceit.
This is certainly Shinkai’s most complete work to date. Shinkai’s scripting is often very tight, but tends to lag or fall off completely in the final third. The pacing of Your Name, especially leading up the conclusion, is steady, well-considered, and ultimately satisfying. While a lot of this film feels like things we’ve seen before, they are played here so successfully that one can’t help but walk away fulfilled.
Of course, that is to say nothing of Shinkai’s standard sumptuous color palette and technically strong animation. Shinkai’s ability to blend traditional pen and ink style animation with computer generated imagery continues to be masterful. In 2017, as in 2004, it feels like he is still showing us the future of animation.
With Your Name we have to confront the reality that Shinkai has fully stepped out of Miyazaki’s shadow. This isn’t a comparison of style or themes or substance; the two continue to differ great there.
Instead we have a body of work the speaks to impact. What I mean by impact is that when you see a Miyazaki or Shinkai film, you have no question that you just watched a Miyazaki or Shinkai film. This ability to project one’s vision so completely is a rare and wonderful trait. We should happily let Shinkai walk out from the long shadow, because with Your Name, he gets to cast his own.