Of the many enchantments offered by Your Name, the one most magical was its depth.
Not its emotional depth (which, as a pseudo love-story, is unequivocal), or the depth of its themes (which include the meaning of self, life, death, everything in between). I’m talking about spatial depth; the distance between objects in the frame. Which in the case of this particularly film is kind of strange, because it’s anime – now officially the highest-grossing anime film of all time – and much of the onscreen space is two-dimensional. Matte paintings, essentially, created by digital artists like you.
That sense of depth is a thing I rarely feel in contemporary movies: the sensation of inhabiting a physical place, of understanding my surroundings. All the computer-generated vistas in movies like Kong Skull: Island and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 are beautiful, sure, but despite the level of detail, the vibrant colours, the perfect composition, feel somehow thin, unreal. They lack weight. They feel like they’re built of pixels.
That isn’t the case in Your Name. The cityscapes of Tokyo, the idyllic scenery of a small mountain town, the cafes and restaurants and bedrooms—these feels like places I’ve actually inhabited.
As the story unfolds and our two teenage protagonists begin to work out the rules (both physical and moral) of their random inhabitations of one another’s bodies, this sense of connection is vital. They are learning to navigate unfamiliar spaces. And so are we. It’s a decidedly sensual film; sound, sight, taste, touch—these are the ways Taki and Mitsuha learn about one another (I especially loved the strangely sweet running joke about the boy’s fascination with his/her/their breasts).
I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a poseur when it comes to the world of anime. Anime, to me, feels as much like a genre as it does a medium. The structure of the narrative, the voice performances, the use of music—it’s consistent across all sub-genres, and I’m not sure how much of that is cultural (my congenital Western perspective poorly applied), and how much is actually an example of a work of art exploding beyond the borders of its medium.
Your Name might be the most beautiful animated thing I’ve ever seen. The mechanics of it surely exist at some intersection between traditional 2D animation and the sort of 3-dimensional digital modeling that Pixar does, giving it the overall effect of a meticulously hand-drawn illustration come stunningly to life. There isn’t a physical movement or perspective that feels false. It’s more than just photorealism.
But gorgeous things, in cinema, mean nothing out of context. That’s why Zack Snyder can compose every shot of his films like they’re a Botticelli painting, and the result can still be as inhuman as Batman v Superman. Which is part of why I found Your Name so remarkable; the craft is stupendous, it leaves you reeling, and still, the thing that sticks with you is a teenage girl’s subtle shift in mood and the mystery it suggests.
Perhaps that’s why I was surprised by this film: anime has never seemed to me a genre that trades in this kind of…carefulness. A major plot development hinges on that moment with the teenage girl, and, later, when that development is fully-revealed, its power comes from us having recognized it and been made curious. Most live-action films don’t have this kind of faith in their characters, let alone their audiences. Your Name manages to remain true to its genre conventions while delivering a result that is just as emotionally nuanced as something by, say, Kenneth Lonergan.
And it really does feel like the work of an auteur. Which, if the frequency of Makato Shinkai’s name in the credits is any indication, would seem to be a much larger undertaking in the world of contemporary animation; not only does he have directing, editing, cinematography, and storyboarding credits, he also wrote the screenplay—based on his own novel.
Your Name isn’t constrained by its premise. As the story plays out, it becomes so much more than an exploration of the existential dynamics of inhabiting another person’s body and exerting Free Will upon it. In defiance of most body-swapping comedy conventions, the two kids quickly acclimate to the idea and are able to begin the good work of altering the course of one another’s lives. Where it goes from there is too good to spoil; the questions it seeks to answer are much bigger than you might expect.
And so are the beautiful spaces in which it all takes place. If nothing else, Your Name stands as proof that what happens in the foreground can make even a two-dimensional background image feel infinite.