Film Review: ‘Your Name’ Finds Beauty in the Body Switch Trope

Body swapping movies have often been the major plot point in the dopiest of comedies. Leave it to Makoto Shinkai’s latest anime offering to find the beating heart behind the tired premise. “Your Name” is much more “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for teenagers rather than a classier “Freaky Friday.” Two teenagers – a boy in Tokyo and a girl in a small town – switch bodies. Comedy may ensue at the beginning, but much deeper feelings take hold of the film’s later moments.

Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) is the teenage daughter of a local politician living in the small lakeside town of Itomori, Japan. She dreams of leaving her rural town to pursue an ambitious life in Tokyo. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a harried young waiter and student just getting by while pining for his co-worker Miki (Masami Nagasawa). When both teenagers go to sleep, they switch places for the following day. Mitsuha has great fun living a more colorful life in the big city. She even pushes Taki’s relationship forward with Miki. Taki, meanwhile, begins to fall for Mitsuha as they leave notes for each other in their phones. One day, they stop switching bodies. In an effort to finally meet the woman he has grown to love, Taki goes in search of Mitsuha, only to have his memories fade of who she is and where her town is.

This is only the beginning, as the film plays more with time and space as it goes on. In some cases, this is to the detriment of the film, which gets too bogged down in cosmic details. However, as the comet that engenders the body switching comes back, the film kicks in to high gear. There’s quite a bit of energy as the stakes continue to rise. Based on his novel of the same name, Makoto Shinkai hones in on his gift for storytelling. The plot clips along, packing hours of plot into the relatively concise 107-minute running time.

The relationship between Taki and Mitsuha is the heart of the film. It is important for the audience to feel invested in their connection in order to become invested in the final race against time. This is why the film truly succeeds at world building within the first act. It’s not immediately clear why or how this body switch is occurring. However, watching Mitsuha and Taki navigate the initial growing pains of being in a body of a different gender is both funny and enlightening. Their initial frustrations bleed through in the actions they leave for the other person to return to. However, as they write to each other in the notes section of their phones, the relationship that develops is both organic and beautiful. Having this foundation is integral to buying the lengths both of them go through in the final act.

It is easy to see how this film became the top grossing anime film worldwide. There’s a beautiful story that shines through. The film leads with comedy but then pulsates with adventure and tension in the second half. On a more commercial point, the film uses pop music to heighten the already out-of-this-world romance. It’s a crowd-pleasing film that wears its heart on its sleeve and can’t help but up the ante.

“Your Name” might be a lot for certain people. However, it’s this excess of emotion and ambition that makes it endearing and memorable. With the Academy changing its rules for other branches to determine nominations in Animated Feature, this film may face a more uphill battle. However, voters would be well advised to consider this. It’s hard to imagine there being a more audacious animated film to come later in the year.

“Your Name” is now playing in limited release.

GRADE: (★★★½)

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About Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman