By Meghan Ellis
Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) is Japan’s latest darling, seen by many as heralding the new dawn for anime after the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki in 2013. It’s the ninth highest grossing film in Japan ever, the highest ranking non-Ghibli anime, and as of October 24th, it’s beaten Ponyo’s box office earnings in its 9th consecutive week of Shinkai-fever in Japan and beyond.
Coming to cinemas across the UK and Ireland on the 24th November (check the official site for your nearest screening, though it’s nearly sold out already), the film has been scooping up awards around the world and for good reason. Hugely accessible, Your Name follows two typical Japanese teenagers as their lives become inextricably linked through a mystical, once-in-a-millennia event. Country girl Mitsuha and urban Tokyoite Taki soon realise they aren’t just dreaming of another life - they’re switching bodies with one another at random, with charmingly un-Hollywood-like results. Perfect opposites from the body up, it soon becomes obvious to Taki and Mitsuha that there’s something far more mysterious going on than simple magical mischief, and the movie’s plot moves from comedy to wonder.
Your Name is Makoto Shinkai delivering on the promises of over a decade. It’s a production that takes all of his strengths and improves upon them, with the heavenly scenery and cosmic influences he’s known for distilled into a brilliant journey that spans a thousand years and a thousand miles. It’s a love story where the two lovers might never meet. It’s also a fully-digital production that takes all the best parts of the Studio Ghibli aesthetic and remakes them in its own image, from the folkloric undertones to its portrayal of everyday people in extraordinary circumstances.
And it’s beautiful. Never mind those who say that the beauty of animation is gone with the last of the hand-drawn movies; Shinkai’s digital new age takes all the nuances of a celluloid and enhances them in a way only a digital artspace can provide. Everything is larger and more real than in real life, impossible to reproduce by hand but instantly recognisable. For anyone who’s visited Tokyo, Your Name captures it perfectly, from the streaming crowds and silvery buildings to train station rituals and getting that perfect image of your lunch online. Ushering in a very modern take on Japan, the film proves once and for all that a digital drawing can provoke the emotional responses coveted by the very best in animation.
Of course, it’s not all set in the big city: Mitsuha’s sleepy town of Itomori shows a vision of rural Japan influenced by Shinkai’s own countryside upbringing. Based on a variety of places, including his hometown in Nagano and the small town of Hida in Gifu prefecture, the movie is responsible for a whole new set of anime fan pilgrimages because the scenery is so easily distinguishable. And while the denizens of Tokyo are used being the background for countless movies, these small-town residents have been surprised by the influx of fans from Japan and internationally - no doubt while the local tourist boards gleefully find themselves in charge of anime’s newest mecca.
And if that doesn’t prove to you the scale of Your Name (and why you should go watch it), perhaps the expanding viewer demographic will. Originally made by Shinkai for a young audience, word of mouth and its months-long reign at the top of the box office means that people of all ages and inclinations are heading to the cinema, including people who wouldn’t normally choose to watch an animated movie on the big screen if at all. Not since Spirited Away have we seen a film that appeals so easily to the mass market, with many people returning time after time to pick up on more of Shinkai’s carefully-planted surprises throughout the story.
That’s not to say you won’t enjoy it if you’re an avid anime fan. As a long-time admirer of Shinkai, Your Name feels like watching him finally piece together all the individual jewels of his previous works, from the vastness of Voices of a Distant Star (2002) to the verdant world of The Garden of Words (2013). It’s hard not to sound near-fanatical about the film once you’ve seen it, and the surprise references to his other works only sweeten the experience for those of us who’ve followed him for the last decade and more.
Makoto Shinkai is often referred to as ‘the next Miyazaki’, but Your Name hints that he may be on an even grander trajectory. Go watch it on the big screen yourself - it really is worth seeing what all the the genre-defying fuss is about.