This film has been hailed as a masterpiece by many and won dozens of awards around the world. The success of Your Name, as well as the films that came before, has meant that many people refer to Makoto Shinkai as the "New Miyazaki" the mastermind behind films such as Howls Moving Castle and of course Spirited Away. Shinkai has been quick to dismiss those comparisons but in the wake of Your Names success more and more people have been saying it and it's not hard to see why especially when you look at the fact that Your Name is currently the 4th highest grossing film in Japan of all time. The film has even been picked up by J.J Abrams for a live action version.
But with all that said is Your Name really that special to deserve so much attention and is it entertaining and worth watching in the first place?
Your Name follows the lives of Mitsuha and Taki. Mitsuha lives in a small rural community where family and tradition are strong whilst Taki lives in the busy streets of Tokyo. For some unexplainable reason, the two swap bodies and lives on a regular basis. The film primarily follows that simple premise but a nice twist and higher stakes that slowly and gradually reveal themselves during the films second half keep things exciting and entertaining just when they need to be. One of the films best qualities is that the higher stakes are never revealed in trailers or during most synopsis which makes the sudden change in pace and tone very rewarding to experience for the first time.
The writing is a good quality and consistent throughout. You'll quickly become attached to Mitsuha and Taki as it's very clearly demonstrated that they are just ordinary people. In that regard, they are well written but their attitudes and personalities are something you will likely have come across many times before. Likewise, the supporting cast is well written with a few standouts being quite charming but all quickly fall into well-established character archetypes.
Overall the film has a very satisfying beginning, middle and end. The ideas and plot are pretty basic and straightforward but pulled off with enough passion and expertise that it remains engaging. The body swap idea has been done plenty of times before its just that it has never been as charming or magical as this. The twist and raised stakes likewise have been seen and done before but escalate the plot just when it needs it and thankfully don't actually overtake the main narrative instead becoming an integral part of it.
Naturally, one of the films most wonderful aspects is its visuals. Throughout the 102 minute runtime, Your Name is a true visual treat. In particular one of Makoto Shinkai's most defining aspects is his use of light and shadow and it's on great display and ever-present in the story of Your Name from bright sunny days to twilight hours the use of light is often quite breathtaking. Importantly that use of light and shadow is used within the narrative as you can often gauge the emotions and mood of characters from the backgrounds as the lighting and use of weather are used very cleverly to reflect whats happening with and around the main cast.
Another defining aspect of Makoto Shinkai's work is his attention to detail in every scene. Everything present in the film has a real sense of realism to it. Objects and locations are depicted faithfully and that realistic approach keeps the film very grounded and focussed on the real world despite its supernatural body swapping aspect. This loving attention to detail that oozes out of every scene makes it very easy for the viewer to empathize with the main cast.
While the characters themselves look just as great as the scenery their overall design can come across as a little ordinary or cliche and this ran true for all the supporting characters, not just the main cast. It's a minor gripe one that doesn't really affect the enjoyment of the story but that first impression is that you've seen character designs like this a dozen times before.
Of course, the animation holding all the visuals together is slick and high quality. There are for example some really nice subtle (and not so subtle) uses of animation to show how Mitsuha and Taki behave in each other's bodies.
As with all Japanise films, there is the constant battle between dubbed or subtitles? The English dub is serviceable, as is often the case with animated feature films the English voice actors are neither terribly bad but certainly aren't amazing either. You will get the impression that they recorded the entire thing in one big sitting completely devoid of direction or interaction with other voice actors. Now I don't speak Japanise but its worthy of note that Shinkai recorded the lines of the characters to act as a guide for the Japanise voice actors and that the actors got to record together. This is certainly noticeable when watching the subtitled version and I personally enjoy the Japanise audio with English subtitles more so than the dubbed version.
Interestingly even the Japanese songs got an English language version. Which depending on how you're watching the film means you can tailor the experience somewhat to your liking, not having text up on the screen for both dialogue and song lyrics for example. But is the soundtrack any good in the first place? Personally, I'm not a massive fan of the songs with lyrics in either their English or Japanise versions as I often found they didn't match the tone of the film, in fact, they often come across as a little cheesy and corny. The rest of the soundtrack is suitably themed and works well with the film but doesn't feature anything particularly memorable or special. The overall soundtrack gels well with the narrative but certainly is not a major selling point.
Your Name is an enjoyable and heartwarming standalone film that I think most people could watch and enjoy. Its plot and characters are simple and straightforward but the care and attention that has gone into them make the entire thing feel quite special and magical. In what it sets out to do and accomplish it does so wonderfully and in that sense could be considered perfect. Due to those comparisons with Miyazaki, stellar reviews and amazing box office results I would, however, reign in those expectations when watching it for the first time as while it's perfectly enjoyable and well made it doesn't do anything risky or groundbreaking.