Kimi no na wa (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
Here is a picture that takes the silly concept of “Freaky Friday”—two people waking up in one another’s bodies and hilarity ensues—and injects intelligence, creativity, and heart in what could have been stale, predictable material. Halfway through, I was convinced that writer-director Makoto Shinkai, the film based on his own novel, has created a work that will be remembered fondly decades from now because it presents thoughts and emotions that come across as genuine in a situation that requires a leap of imagination.
Notice how “Your Name.” takes its time to firmly establish the first act because the writer-director is aware that exposition and rising action must be as convincing and as enveloping as possible if the audience were to believe the eventual revelations and turn of events. For the most part, it involves day-to-day activities of Taki (voiced by Ryûnosuke Kamiki) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), high school students who live in the busy-buzzing Tokyo and the peaceful village of Itomori, respectively. A few random days a week, the boy wakes up in the girl’s body, vice-versa, and the catch is once they eventually wake up in their own bodies, neither of them remembers what he or she has done during the switch. They believe this phenomenon is triggered by a comet that passes Earth every 1,200 years.
The animation is stunningly beautiful, life-like in the way it showcases every detail. The background is as alive as the foreground and that is exciting, almost begging to be seen multiple times in order for the work to be fully appreciated as a visual experience. For instance, pay attention to how the animation captures femininity when the girl wakes up in the boy’s body. If this were made in America or any other western country, very likely it would have been played only for cheap laughs, simplified, one-dimensional. Perhaps the emphasis would have been on the overall situation rather than a specific experience.
Here, the details are subtle: the angling of the arms relative to the wrists, how a character expresses awkwardness and embarrassment, how clothes are carried, one’s comportment. It’s almost like watching an actual actor performing. Meanwhile, it takes a couple of seconds in between events to show the open sky glittered with stars, the pensive body of water in a bowl of land, birds in search of food, vendors on the streets, trains slithering their way through tracks. Compare this to animation released in the Americas where many of them do not bother to spend even a second to let the material breathe, for the images to sink into our minds. There is poetry here that great animated films possess.
But the film, for me, feels somewhat rushed, almost incomplete. Once a critical information halfway through is revealed, the material becomes more complex, labyrinthine in its ambition especially since it deals with memory, time, and Japanese legends. I felt I needed more time to absorb and understand the intricate details of assumed rules. Perhaps if the film had been thirty minutes or even an hour longer, a steadier rhythm could have paved the way for in-depth understanding of the story’s universe. Still, I enjoyed the fact that I felt the need to catch up to it rather than me waiting when or if the picture would catch up to me.
Expect “Kimi no na wa” to receive a live-action, westernized version some time in the near future, possibly lead by a writer and/or director who does not fully grasp what makes this picture special. No, the story is not what makes the film stand out. I imagine that the subtler details mentioned above would be lost entirely. Details are what makes this story perfectly told through the medium of animation. Turning it into a live-action, ironically, would likely make it less life-like.