Your Name. ★★★★

A gorgeous, exhilarating and thought-provoking drama that, like a lot of my favorite modern anime, effortlessly combines the spectacular and the subtle to give universal meaning to the personal and personal meaning to the universal.

My third exposure to Makoto Shinkai, after The Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second, Your Name. is the work of his that has most immediately and fully connected with me; the former two were visually gorgeous and ambitious, but lacked the substance and depth of character that makes this one much more impactful. I haven't seen his last two feature films, Children Who Chase Lost Voices and The Garden of Words, but it's clear Shinkai has greatly matured as a director, finding his own voice while still being clearly indebted to his greatest influence, Hayao Miyazaki.

Your Name. is sort of Freaky Friday meets The Girl Who Leapt Through Time meets Higurashi When They Cry, mixing the comic body-swapping of the first with the whimsical sci-fi magic of the second and the mystical supernaturalism of the third. It starts abruptly, introducing us to the concept of a boy and girl - he from the city, she from the country - swapping bodies overnight almost immediately. In doing this, it forces us to accept its reality and suspend our disbelief immediately.

Mitsuha Miyamizu wakes from a lucid dream she had from the perspective of a guy, and as she goes along with her day, everyone comments on how weird she acted the day before; she can't remember a thing. She goes along with her day, eventually lamenting out loud that she wishes she were a Tokyo city boy instead. The next day, she wakes up in Taki Tachibana's body. He's a Tokyo city boy. Her wish has been granted, and she now gets to live a day in his life, meeting his friends, working his job, crushing on his colleague.

Then, he wakes up in her body. This has happened before - this time, though, he realizes it's not a dream. Both learn that, a few times a week, seemingly at random, they swap lives. They begin to communicate, leaving notes for each other at what not to do when they're in each others' bodies. They begin interfering with each others' lives. In his body, she asks his work colleague out; he's had a crush on her for a while, but when he's back in his own body for the day of the date, he doesn't know what to do. He can only think about what it's like to be Mitsuha.

Much drama, mystery, adventure, romance, and tragedy ensues. Your Name. explores the value of perspective, of living in someone else's shoes, in the most literal sense. But in allowing its characters to grow in their distinct worlds, it forgoes the cringe-cheese-absurd-iness of the likes of The Cobbler. It is a celebration of the connective power of empathy and understanding, and of the ability of small, seemingly insignificant moments to pull together seemingly distant forces.

Aesthetically, it's as well-animated as you'd expect, and has an unusual and creative sense of pacing - especially in its opening scenes. The first half, which focuses on Mitsuha and Taki living each others' lives and communicating with each other through the messages they leave, is told in an almost extended montage format, with plot points that would usually take minutes to tell skipped through in seconds. Part of me loves this, as it cuts out all the unnecessary waffle and gets the point in a very entertaining and moving way, though another part of me thinks that being a TV series (or a much longer movie) would allow this story to settle into these characters much more comfortably. Nevertheless, it goes along with the whole "life goes by so fast" message, and the "before you know it" tone makes the much more somber, reflective second half of the film pack just that little extra punch. That second half is much slower and more mysterious, and to reveal why would be to spoil a pretty revelatory twist. I'm still not 100% sure if I liked the twist, but it does lead to many very poignant moments.

There are also quite a few musical sequences, including within that first act montage (if memory serves me), where melodic guitar music is used to accentuate a moment of emotion and reflection while the characters ponder. I counted four musical interludes, and admit for me personally they jarringly took away from the experience. This might not be the case for others.

This one has a high chance of growing on me even more with reflection and rewatch. It's definitely not short on ambition and emotional impact, and provokes a lot of thought on living and loving. There were at least two moments where I was like, "whoa, dude, this changes everything."

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