“Musubi is the old way of calling the local guardian god. This word has profound meaning. Typing thread is Musubi. Connecting people is Musubi. The flow of time is Musubi. These are all the god’s power.[…] Musubi – knotting. That’s time.”
Makoto Shinkai’s (“5 cm per second”, “The Garden of Words”) animated film “Your Name” (Kimi no na wa.), distributed by the prestigious Toho, has been a record-breaking hit, threatened to be surpassed only by the new upcoming Shinkai’s movie. This genre-defying film is simply beautiful and captivating, and its huge success everywhere does not surprise. “Your Name” also introduces a contagious verve of joy that the previous movies did not have and that can almost catch by surprise those more used to the introverted and romantic style and to the troubled characters, so peculiar to the director.
Mitsuha and Taki are two teenagers, living in two very different parts of Japan. Mitsuha and her sister live in the Shinto shrine of a small lakeside village with their grandmother who is also priestess of the shrine. After school Mitsuha and her sister normally help the grandmother with the religious practices and temple duties; the film features beautiful scenes of the kuchikami-sake ritual (rice is chewed and spit by the young girls to the start the fermentation of sake) and the braiding of sacred ropes (kumihimo, symbolising the interweaving of time and space). However, despite appreciating the beauty and the spirituality of the rural set, Mitsuha longs for a life in the big city, Tokyo, and swears that sooner or later she will go and live there.
On the other hand, miles away, Taki lives in that very metropolis, Tokyo, and he too has a normal teenage life; he goes to school, hangs out with friends and has a little side job as a waiter in the Italian restaurant “Il giardino delle parole” (it is the Italian translation of Shinkai’s previous film “The Garden of Words”). All of a sudden, the two start to wake up in the morning with the odd feeling of being one in the other’s body and spend the day living the other person’s life. Understandably, at first the kids are totally puzzled and they both believe they are having particularly vivid dreams. Slowly they realise they are not dreaming at all, but instead they are having a proper body-swap experience. They even concoct a way to communicate with each other leaving text messages on their smartphones whenever the body exchanges occur and they begin to become close, despite their geographical distance.
But while these mysterious exchanges take place, something dark and threatening is approaching inexorably; a comet is expected to pass very close to Japan, and a disturbing feeling of foreboding starts to darken the story. The arrival of the comet with its unexpected consequences introduces a second, very dramatic part of the film and from here the plot moves towards a more supernatural direction, developing in a complex and intriguing way.
The film actually has three, rather distinct segments. The first one is the sunniest and most “pop-style”, introduced by the opening energetic soundtrack by j-pop group RADWIMPS, which immediately establishes a certain tone of the story. This first section of the film is fun and cheerful, the idea of being in someone else’s body generates moments of true comedy. Like Taki who, every time he wakes up in the feminine body, fondles his breast with curiosity and satisfaction and becomes a recurrent “meme” in the film. Moreover Mitsuha, when in the boy’s body, helps him to get a date with the girl he likes, cheekily embarrassing him.
As the experience of the two teenagers becomes more intimate and the two personalities more defined, the tone and the soundtrack of this second part of the film turns more solemn and spiritual. The development and intertwining of the story are not at all predictable: the first change of tone took me off-guard and that it made me freeze, while the film switched rapidly from the romantic comedy genre to science fiction and finally to classic disaster movie.
Shinkai’s animations always have a particular light, but in this film the skies, the clouds and those “aurora borealis” shades are truly spectacular. Shinkai’s skies are in fact his trademark; he has the great gift of creating evocative landscapes of great impact, as can be seen also in his early works, such as “Journey to Agartha”. The highly detailed landscapes, without all the typical CGI shortcuts, have depth and a very fluid movement of perspective. His style does not resemble Miyazaki’s one, but at times it seems that the young director pays homage to the ‘great old man of the anime’ with scenes displaying a great breadth of vision, an undercurrent pantheism, and the conflict between man’s greed and nature’s power, like in the visit to the Shinto sanctuary of the afterlife, located in the center of a barren crater surrounded by woods, where a clear reference to the destructive force of nature and the terrible earthquake of 2011 can be read.
Like in a Kumihimo – a braided cord – Mitsuha and Taki’s destinies twist, tangle, unravel, break, and then connect again. The whole movie is actually like a braid made of conflicting and complementary forces; male and female, old and new, tradition and modernity, man and nature, memory and amnesia. With its playful premise and its inspired conclusion, “Your Name” is a rich and adventurous journey that takes you exactly where it promises.
A similar version of this review was published in Italian here