Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
SPOILERS at certain sections, but I won't mark my entire review as spoilers. I will give a proper warning before I get to them.
Letterboxd mods: Please implement this feature of marking certain sections as spoilers instead of the entire review. Even Delicious Fruit does it.
The intangibility of human bonds is the topic at hand now, how one can transcend time with a significant other. To be in the perspective of another, embrace another life and live it, literally, in the flesh, and challenge the laws of causality and space without the need of resorting to the overused topic of time-travelling. To pursue one dream and one's own identity. That's what the film is.
Except, it turns out it isn't. A commercial product is not necessarily the enemy of quality filmmaking, quality necessarily being a subjective term; however, this is Shinkai's most commercial product, his most popular and renowned one, and sadly his most superficial and, at times, idiotic. The film opened the possibility for exploring the idea of becoming another person in another body, to experience a life and feel emotions you will never ble able to live for your own. We are unique individuals with a well-defined individuality, and it is this uniqueness that makes that precious, insurmountably valuable. Shinkai opens this concept with a man in a woman's body touching his boobs for comedic effect. Not once. Not twice. Not even thrice. He even plays this dirty card during a dramatic moment for... comedic relief? The girl is not absent from sin as she is seen doing this with male genitalia, again, for comedic effect. If I want Rob Schneider comedy, I'll look for it (I freaking don't).
Your Name represents a thematic remake of the director's astonishing masterpiece, The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004) (up to the point of visually replicating the iconic crater scene in this film), but with a notorious decrease in emotional maturity and psychological exploration. It becomes more an adventure against time where a romance is born, against Shinkai's previously established ideology, very coincidentally. The resolution it gives during the final minutes is also a betrayal against how life goes on (and must go on) in spite of our hopeless insistence of trying to retain improbable relationships. He's a realist, an honest one. Not here. Here, he sells the Disney World fantasy of "happily ever after". This radical change is clearly appealing the sensibilities of a Western audience who receives exactly that fantasy as a satisfactory resolution. It is no surprise that his most mature works receive the least praise and are even cataloged as "boring, self-indulgent and empty narrated monologues". If only directors could achieve that depth of vocabulary and stream of consciousness when it comes to treating their characters...
Not here. This film is a product of popular demand and it paid pretty well in cash but against Shinkai's philosophy of life's unpredictability and the multi-generational complexity of human relationships.
The key scene is the kuchikamizake drinking, were we are taken into a segment that basically represents experimentation in the animation department. It works because it is so radically different. With an unintended nod to Noé's Enter the Void (2009), we become a cell again, forming life, witnessing birth and exploring an entire life and its challenges with a different visual style. It's stunning. It's one of the relevant revelatory moments in cinema, like the imagined, hypothetical flashback Aron Ralston has in Boyle's 127 Hours (2010). It almost convinces you that the film has a deeper agenda than a rom-com with sexual humor and dramatic moments. It's indescribably gorgeous.
Credit where it is due, the second act picks up quite nicely the superficiality of the first act, describing the act of tragedy just as it is, utilizing exceptional animation and editing, and a beautiful score (with a cringe soundtrack I must add), but then stupid script decisions are made, such as:
-Both not being able to remember their respective names even if they lived within each others' bodies and had an astral encounter!
-Both recognizing each other even if they, supposedly, had forgotten about each other, which was also inexplicable
-Him writing "I LOVE YOU" in her hand instead of her name, which is just a cheap and cliched stunt to extract emotions freely from the audience while not helping the plot at all (something that, hilariously, she agrees with when she reads the palm of her hand)
-Related to the previous point, not enough dramatic background is offered to justify that he LOVES her. What are his motivations for such a strong decision? Just a coincidental, sexually-related fantasy perspective?
END OF SPOILERS
It comes as clear what Shinkai used for replacing epistemological discussion: body-swapping and alternate timelines. These topics are immediate attention-grabbers for audiences. Ask Nolan. He loves playing with theories on time and space, even dreams and memory. Those elements make his films almost automatically attractive to try out. That's not bad per se, sure, until you throw out all valuable possibilities out of the window and push the plot forward with Deus-Ex-Machina decisions in the name of romance and suspense.
Characters, on the other hand, are very human. I tremendously loved the story of the grandmother and their journey to the mountain to "cross the underworld" and offer the kuchikamizake as a tribute. The whole journey with Mitsuha carrying her grandmother and speaking about past lives couldn't stop me from thinking of Ballad of Narayama (any version you wish). Subplots like that add a lot of value to character backstories. The film is full of little moments like this, mostly in the second act, which add the depth Shinkai is known for (and unjustifiably maligned).
The greatest deceit this film does is that it tries to convince you that the two characters have a significant and even transcendent connection, when they actually don't. And people believe they do, because of the visuals. What is the correlation there? Zero. However, it seems people are, indeed, falling for what it is supposed to represent, for what it was meant to be, and never achieved to be.
So, this is Makoto's Shinkai worst, even below Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011), so I'll have to favor the "he gave me a kiss out of nowhere and therefore I am willing to risk my life and follow him to the underworld forever amidst a milkshake of random international culture references" flick over the "he probably touched my boobies and I touched his wee wee because we swapped bodies randomly, but we are meant to be together forever even if we inexplicably forget about each other, not necessarily meaning that we will be able to illogically recognize ourselves if we make eye contact ever again" flick.
At least, we have tons and tons of trains again.