Fans of anime need no longer mourn the end of Studio Ghibli. The rightful heir to the great master Hayao Miyazaki has well and truly arrived onto the international stage in the form of Makoto Shinkai.
Shinkai has been wowing Japanese audiences for over a decade now, but nothing on the scale of his latest, Your Name. It’s the highest grossing film of the year in Japan and closing in on the top 10 highest grossers of all time.
Complex, both visually and narratively, it’s a dizzy mixture of on-trend gender identity drama, 90s-style body swapping comedy, time travel, ghost story, romance and disaster epic. It should be a mess, but somehow it all works, and it looks stunning.
The story centres on Mitsuha, a high school girl living in the small town of Itomori, and Taki, a high school boy living in Tokyo. No time is wasted before the two wake up in the other’s body. Naturally, they’re confused at first and have no idea what’s happening. They seem to alternate bodies on a daily basis and, because it affects their memories, they’re not sure if it’s all a dream. The comments and reactions from those around them though confirms the reality of the situation.
For the girl-shy Taki, having Mitsuha take over his body on a regular basis proves useful in helping him get closer to the girl he’s crushing on. Taki doesn’t seem quite so productive when he’s Mitsuha. He can’t help but have an early morning grope of his newfound breasts, which invariably results in him getting caught out by her little sister
Gradually Taki and Mitsuha put the pieces together, and even manage to communicate with each other by leaving messages on their phones. Slowly an attraction forms between them, despite the fact that they haven’t met. In fact, how could they ever meet?
Taki strives to solve this problem and without knowing how, he begins sketching the landscape that turns out to be Mitsuha’s hometown.
Things get pretty twisty from thereon, and my Western sensibilities were occasionally challenged by the logistics of it all. But while the plot continues to thicken, the visuals are correspondingly heightened. Your Name features some celestial scenes that are truly wondrous. The animation is so crisp and detailed.
While Shinkai may not be taking over the Ghibli tradition of hand painted animation, together with animation director Masashi Ando (a former Studio Ghibli creative) the spirit and aesthetics are very much there with the technique of doing all the drawings on tablets and screens. This results in backgrounds that have astounding detail and clarity that can shift in perspective.
While the narrative probably has too much going on for Your Name to make many inroads commercially, there’s so much going on here visually and emotionally to satiate fans of anime, and no doubt recruit a few new ones.
Your Name is currently in limited release, with most cinemas screening both the original Japanese dialogue version with English subtitles and an English dubbed version.
Richard Leathem @dickiegee