As blockbuster movie season begins, we're bombarded with superheroes, blood-lusting extra-terrestrials, CGI pirates, and giant robots. Once in a while, as we dig our way through the pile of big-budget movies, a little gem of a story twinkles with just enough intensity to capture our attention. Your Name. (yes, the period is part of the title) is that shimmer of delight.
A special movie without the CGI, exaggerated color filters, or glamorous actors. Oddly enough, it's not even your typical anime. #YourName weaves a tale of love and compassion through the eyes of two complete strangers living very different lives in Japan. The film's big concept leads to a movie full of thought and heart that is easily understood by those without any experience with anime. Here is why Your Name. is the perfect movie to for everyone who thinks they hate anime.
It's A Contemporary Story
A few movies come to mind as major anime works: Akira, Ninja Scroll, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, and Ghost in the Shell, recently a conversation topic thanks to the live-action version starring Scarlett Johansson. Still, the average moviegoer doesn't know these movies, and is probably unfamiliar with anime. Tell them about animated movies involving futuristic giant robots or sword-wielding warriors, and they might picture a Saturday morning cartoon. This is a shame, because some of these movies are incredible stories.
Your Name. makes anime more approachable. The story takes place in contemporary Japan and involves two teenagers living out their lives. It's only through the traditional background of small-town girl Mitsuha Miyamizu that the slightest of fantasy enters the story. Desperate to trade her boring small town life for the exciting big city of Tokyo, Mitsuha ends up swapping bodies with Taki Tachibana, a boy with his own set of teenage problems.
Essentially, we have a body-swapping story that is very similar to more familiar movies like Vice Versa, Freaky Friday, and 17 Again. Each of these movies focuses on the troubles and hardships of being a teenager. In Your Name., through the main characters of Taki and Mitsuha, we see similar pressures and personal issues that teenagers face on daily basis.
It Has Everyday Heroes
Movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell have super-powered heroes trying solve some sort of epic problem, often opposed by some villain, equal in power, trying to stop them at every corner. Your Name. is different.
Mitsuha and Taki are teenagers just trying to come to grips with their peculiar situation. As they get to know each other they help each other out; Mitsuha teaches Taki how to be gentler and more understanding, and Taki helps Mitsuha stand up to her overbearing father.
The two teenagers cope with their predicament by leaving leaving notes and messages about what is happening so the other is aware when they swap back. As they learn about each other's lives through the random switching of bodies, they start to form a bond. In this bonding experience, they begin to share memories that connect them even closer.
As they become closer, a comet is blazing through the sky. This comet sparks an urgent desire for the two characters to actually connect. But the impending comet turns into an obstacle, as the characters go from teenagers living out their daily lives to saviors. They have to figure out a way to not only save each other from effects of the comet, but other people as well. Makoto Shinkai (the writer and director) does a wonderful job using various themes (memory, identity, and tradition) as barriers to put in front of Taki and Mitsuha.
Even though Mitsuha and Taki have typical teenage crushes and do everything with their phones, this is far from a childish movie. These are driven, well-defined people, and more nuanced than teens in Hollywood movies. These characters respect their elders and culture. As Mitsuha's grandmother is teaching her and her sister to weave bracelets, she explains how the bracelets are part of their traditions. Mitsuha, even though she's heard the story many times, still listens to her grandmother. This tale helps Taki and Mitsuha later on.
The comet reflects Japanese fears of and experience with natural disasters. In 2011, Japan suffered an earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Japan’s Tōhoku region. These events had such a profound affect on Makoto Shinkai that he used the comet to shape Your Name. But it wasn't just the realism of natural disasters that help to create this movie.
The story also speaks to the lack of opportunities in rural Japan. When Mitsuha sighs about being bored in her home town, she is echoing the issues with young people living away from the cities. Japan is facing a crisis because the majority of youngsters are moving to the cities, and not returning to their small towns. There's fear that tradition will disappear along with their small towns.
'Your Name.' Is The Ideal First Step Into Anime
If you don't know anything about anime, or have avoided anime thanks to preconceptions about other movies, start with Your Name. At first glance, this may look like a little coming-of-age movie. In actuality, the focused story reflects greater issues that are going on in the world. Simple themes that turn this movie into wonderful story. A story about two teenagers who learn their role in life as major event causes them to seek action without out super powers or special effects.