First things first, I live in Japan, and this movie was the most popular film of the year here by far. Everyone I know over the age of 10 has seen it. So I am a little overexposed and my contrarian nature won’t let me simply praise Kimi no Na Wa along with everyone else, so I might be nit-picking. Having said that, on with the review!
As someone who went through a brief but incredibly intense anime phase/obsession a couple of years ago, it was impossible for me to stay away from Makoto Shinkai’s most recent offering given the unrelenting hype surrounding it in the western anime community, and Japan itself. Shinkai has long been dubbed “the new (Studio Ghibli’s) Hayao Miyazaki” despite his own protests, and the visuals and stunning cinematography of Kimi no Na Wa certainly live up to that title.
The film is a Fantasy-Romance which follows the lives of two teenagers in Japan, a boy living in Tokyo and a girl living in a rural area, as they intermittently and accidentally swap bodies over what appears to be a few months due to a mostly unexplained magical phenomenon.
Long story short, Kimi no Na Wa is an absolute crowd pleaser and tugs at the heartstrings in all the right places. I was also particularly impressed by the use of comedy in the film, something that was noticeably absent from Shinkai’s previous offerings (see the end of the review). The director’s more notable previous films were much shorter and more serious films, which relied on conveying relatively simple but emotional ideas with images and metaphor rather than exposition. As an artsy douchebag myself, I loved them even if they were depressing and almost humourless films that were unafraid to rip out their audience’s hearts in front of them… In a good way. It’s obvious that Shinkai tried to transplant his visual storytelling techniques from these films as well as their beautiful visuals into Kimi no Na Wa, and did so fairly successfully. Commercially speaking the film is a smash hit, at least in Asia, and is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination in America (Best Animated Picture). It’s great that Shinkai finally found some widespread recognition for his painstaking and visually-focused filmmaking style.
The story itself is a nice slow-burner. What starts out as a cute fantasy romance slowly becomes more dramatic as the characters are gradually given more depth throughout the film. The characters truly feel natural and relateable, which is actually saying something for anime characters. Where the story may lose some of its charm is in its handling of the film’s time travel aspect, which seems to have been placed in for a cheap twist and is only explained within the movie by a couple of throwaway lines from a side character. While I was a little irked by the laziness of the device, it did serve to raise the stakes of the film, and the performances and plot had enough inherent charm that it didn’t take away from my enjoyment too much. The film moves towards an enjoyable if somewhat predictable conclusion that seems like it is trying to trick its viewers into believing there won’t be a happy ending. Spoilers… there is. Kind of.
However it seems that Kimi no Na Wa’s main flaw is that it traded the unique arthouse sensibilities of Shinkai’s earlier films for a more accessible and formulaic plot only lightly sprinkled with his signature melancholy style. Can’t really blame the guy for wanting to make some money though. The extended running time compared to Shinkai’s old films may also have contributed some of the more convoluted and tangential parts of the story. Overall, this is a really enjoyable film that shines an important international spotlight on one of the most promising anime directors in a post-Miyazaki world.
-Those “early Shinkai films” that I gush about in this article are Garden of Words and 5 Centimetres pre Second. I highly recommend checking them out if you have a spare hour sometime and are also an emotional masochist.
-I really did like this movie, I just was super overhyped because of all my Japanese friends telling me how great it was. Of course it didn’t live up to my expectations.
Alternative Plot: A comedic actor puts his name in the Your Wu-Tang Name online name generator, and is so pleased with the result that he decides to embark upon a rap career, earning Grammy nominations for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance in 2015.