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May 8, 2017

‘Your Name’ will defy your expectations

(Toho/IMDb)

When it comes to “Your Name,” hyperbole has not been in short supply. Prior to seeing it, I had heard about it extensively on the internet, where people have had fervent discussions about the film’s hidden meanings, and have endlessly sang its praises since its original Japanese release on Aug. 26, 2016.
Rave reviews abounded, and some went so far as to hail the director of the film, Makoto Shinkai, as the new Hayao Miyazaki. Such praise ensured that by the time I sat down in the theater to watch it, I had high expectations. Usually these expectations would lead to disappointment, as hype-heavy films tend to crumble under the weight of the excitement that builds around their releases, but miraculously, not only did this film meet my fairly high expectations, it exceeded them. In fact, “Your Name” impressed me like few other films have, starting with its art and animation.

The film is breathtakingly beautiful. The vibrant colors and the fluidity of the character and background animations make for a euphoric, awe-inspiring visual experience, particularly any time there were vast, detailed landscapes projected onscreen.

Whether depicting the congested city of Tokyo or the luscious, picturesque Japanese countryside, the film conveys a powerful sense of beauty and grandeur, producing countless beautiful frames.

Honestly, if the characters and narrative had turned out to be underwhelming, the viewing experience would have still proven immensely satisfying. The film was just that visually pleasing.

Thankfully, “Your Name” has the substance to back up its abundance of style in its strong character relationships. The film follows the budding romantic relationship of Taki and Mitsuha. At the start of the film, it is revealed that these two come from very different backgrounds. Taki is a high-schooler living in the heart of Tokyo and Mitsuha is a high-schooler in the small rural village of Itomori.

One morning, they wake up to discover that they’ve switched bodies, and that their paths have intersected. Now this is not an original set up, as there have been films like “Freaky Friday” that also tackle relationships built through body-swapping, but Mitsuha and Taki  and the unique settings they inhabit give the concept a refreshing novelty.

It is genuinely hilarious when Mitsuha, a proper and well-mannered girl, is disturbed upon discovering the ramifications of having a male body while Taki, a more typical teenage boy, acts a little too pleased with his new female anatomy. It’s also touching when, near the end of the film, the two meet each other for the first time face-to-face.

Prior to their meeting, the two are only able to communicate via the disjointed messages that they leave each other on their phones, notebooks and bodies, which allows for the scene where they do finally meet to be overwhelmingly gratifying. I admit that when watching that scene, with Mitsuha looking up at Taki with a wet, tearful smile on her face, my chest tightened and my eyes watered. It was truly a powerful moment.

The film’s soundtrack is achingly beautiful, and heightens and bolsters the emotional impact of many of the film’s scenes. There is a wide range of music in the film (light, upbeat string tracks, punchy, melodic piano pieces and more guitar-heavy, rock-influenced pieces), but the highlights are the tracks performed by Japanese band RADWIMPS.

The voice of the band’s lead singer, Yojiro Noda, bursts with emotion in every song, and at some points has an almost physical impact. “Sparkle,” which appears toward the end of the film, particularly stands out, as its hopeful, longing tone perfectly matches the scene it’s attached to.

“Your Name” is a near-perfect film. It has some minor problems in terms of the originality of its plot, and some particular moments and references will likely not resonate as much with Western audiences, but these problems are massively overshadowed by the film’s strengths. “Your Name”’s often breathtaking art and animation, the well-developed relationship between the two leads, its effective use of humor and its emotionally versatile soundtrack all serve to make it an unforgettable experience. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Timothy Eineberg can be reached at teineberg@umass.edu.

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