Did you ever have a moment when you passed someone on the street and you felt like you knew them? You see each other across a crowded room or on a subway platform and those meaningful looks happen? Most of the time it’s not even attraction. It’s just a “knowing” sensation, like you’ve lived a life together before and you remember the connection, even though you’ve forgotten the details. What if it wasn’t a brain fluke or a flashback to a past life? Maybe you’ve lived each other’s lives and you just can’t remember what happened.
That's idea behind the delightfully weird Your Name, written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. Released in 2016, it was the fourth highest-grossing film of all time in Japan, and the highest-highest-grossing anime and Japanese film. It’s won multiple awards, and we’re getting a live-action remake.
A high school girl named Mitsuha lives in a remote village in Japan and is sick of her provincial life (nod to Belle). Mitsuha dreams of coming back in her next life as a “handsome Tokyo boy.” As it turns out, she's been switching bodies with an actual handsome Tokyo boy named Taki for quite some time. Both of them have been forgetting the switch, but their odd behavior while in each other’s bodies hasn’t gone unnoticed. As they begin to remember, they leave notes to help each other to act "normal" and to give advice on each other's lives. Mitsuha works to help Taki get a date with his co-worker while in his body, and Taki has outbursts that let the shyer Mitsuha finally express her frustration with her life. They fall in love, of course, but that is hardly the end. There is time travel, death and heartbreak. You think you’re watching a simple body switch story that would allow the switchers to better understand someone they don’t, à la Freaky Friday. What you’re actually getting is so much deeper, something you realize once the switching seems to stop. In fact, each act almost feels like a separate film, with the different styles working together to create a genuinely mind-blowing experience by the end.
There is a moment in the film where Mitsuha’s grandmother says she used to switch with someone in dreams, but it's just something that that people forget later in life, and we see that with Mitsuha and Taki. They know they need to remember something, but they can’t. It’s like a longing for something that you don’t quite understand. It’s happened to all of us. We've all had those moments when your friends say you were acting oddly, but you really can’t recall why. The film is like an elaborate way to explain deja vu that ends up as a beautiful love story. It’s satisfying because we as the audience know both sides, and it's frustrating as the characters try to remember (and we're desperate for them to do so). Once the narrative dips into the time travel element, you find yourself so invested in the story that the vague explanations given for these strange events — anything from the fact that Mitsuha is part of a long line of Shinto temple keepers, to magic sake, to a comet, to the stress of teenage years, to willful forgetfulness — all somehow make sense.
In the end, it doesn’t matter why it happened. Maybe we all switch bodies or genders or brains when we’re younger and forget it as we age into adulthood. Maybe it’s the result of the star-crossed love of these two characters. We don't care which explanation is the right one, if any of them are. It’s merely a beautiful way of exploring how we are different, and how we are very much the same.
Outside of the lovely story, the animation here is absolutely gorgeous. From the camera angles on the sake to the almost unicorn/sparkle/fairy dust look of the comet, to the skyline of Tokyo and the fictional town of Itomori, it’s breathtaking. It’s stunning in a way that will remind you of Miyazaki. Even the slightly odd soundtrack from the Japanese rock band Radwimps is perfect. (They’ll grow on you, and you’ll watch the credits while Googling the band.)
Your Name is one of those movies that you’ll find yourself thinking about long after it's over. It will absolutely squish your heart.