Your Name.

Your Name. ★★★★

"So we don't forget when we wake up, let's write our names on each other." ~ Taki Tachibana

This animated romantic fantasy from Japanese director Makoto Shinkai was released in conjunction with his own 2016 novel by the same name (君の名は - "Kimi no Na wa"). I watched the original language version with English subtitles, featuring Mone Kamishiraishi and Ryûnosuke Kamiki as the voices of the main characters, high school students Mitsuha Miyamizu living rural Gifu Prefecture and Taki Tachibana of urban Tokyo.

The story opens with a meteor shower -- "that day when the stars came falling" -- awaking in both of our characters a longing for something indefinable. Then one fateful morning, Taki awakens in Mitsuha's female body at her home in Itomori, where her adolescent sister Yotsuha (Kanon Tani) is calling her to breakfast. Despite the obvious shock, Taki manages to function pretty well in Mitsuha's body, getting dressed for school, eating with grandmother Hitoha (Etsuko Ichihara) and walking to school with her sister. In fact, her "inner Taki" soon seems to fade away.

We learn that Mitsuha's strict father Toshiki (Masaki Terasoma) is the incumbent mayor of Itomori, running for reelection. Her mother Futaba (Sayaka Ohara) has passed away. She has two good friends: mechanically inclined Katsuhiko "Tessie" Teshigawara (Ryo Narita) and shy Sayaka Natori (Aoi Yūki), who denies her obvious attraction to Tessie. But the friends insist that just the day before, Mitsuha was not herself at all ... like she was possessed or had amnesia and could not remember her own name or the location of her locker at school.

Mitsuha is frustrated by country life, which includes maintaining the rituals of the family-run local shrine, making the ancient alcoholic beverage kuchikamizake for which the town is known, and missing out on all the excitement of city life. She says in her next life, she wants to be incarnated as a handsome Tokyo boy. And with that, the scene changes.

We see Taki waking up in his small Tokyo bedroom and having a shock. He's got all the usual male equipment, but inside is Mitsuha and she's totally unaware of where she is, thinking it's all a dream. After Taki's father (Kazuhiko Inoue) leaves for work, the boy heads off for Jingu High School, and it takes him till noon to find it, just in time for lunch with his friends Tsukasa Fujii (Nobunaga Shimazaki) and Shinta Takagi (Kaito Ishikawa), neither of whom Taki/Mitsuha recognizes.

There's a very funny scene where Mitsuha in Taki's body refers to herself among his friends by a female pronoun for "I" (私 - watashi), which raises eyebrows. So she corrects to a formal pronoun (わたくし - watakushi) and then a young boy's pronoun (僕 - boku) before landing on the appropriately rugged man's term for "I" (俺 - ore). Jokes like this get totally lost in translation, of course, which is why I've pretty much given up on watching dubbed Japanese films. My language skills are not nearly what they were 20 years ago when I lived in Japan, but still sufficient to appreciate many of the nuances in simple exchanges between friends and family members.

Another funny scene is when Taki goes to work as a waiter in a busy restaurant. Mitsuha discovers that being part of the bustling city isn't all fun and games. It's hard work, and he/she catches more than a few curses from the chefs for screwing up orders. But Mitsuha's sewing skills come in handy when coworker Miki Okudera (Masami Nagasawa) tears her skirt, and the waitress discovers she's attracted to Taki's hidden "feminine side."

Using Taki's cell phone and Mitsuha's notebook, the two star-crossed teens are able to discover their relationship (trading places) and exchange information about the switch of consciousness occurring between their bodies. This results in some really funny incidents, like Mitsuha suddenly becoming a star basketball player at school and Taki taking great interest in and photos of cafe-style desserts.

But before we start to believe this is just some fun fantasy, Grandma Hitoha tells a story about 結び - musubi, which commonly means "knot." But in her explanation, the term takes on a spiritual significance found in tying thread, braiding cord, connecting people and even the flow of life. In fact, "knotting" is the nature of time, she says. And what we eat or drink joins our souls in "musubi," just as the rituals of the temple connect people to god, and god connects us all. I had to pause and reflect a bit on that. Kinda heavy, yes?

Mitsuha tries to get Taki hooked up with Miss Okudera; a comet called Tiamat is expected to pass close to the Earth, which we can guess will have consequences for the Taki-Mitsuha connection; Tessie becomes interested in Sayaka; Grandma Hitoha discovers the truth about the Taki-Mitsuha relationship and reveals that consciousness switching is part of a long family tradition; and there's more, much more, including time shifts and the possible denial of all that's come before as just a dream. Perhaps. Or maybe not.

Because this is animation, it may be tempting to let the scenes slip by like flipping through a picture book. But the film offers us an opportunity to reflect and examine some of our most basic beliefs about self and other ... what existentialist philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) referred to as the "I-Thou relationship." I, for one, was impressed by the depth of the story as well as the gorgeous artwork. More work like this please. Mr. Shinkai. Very impressive.

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