Thursday, February 23, 2017

NYICFF ’17: Your Name.

It is the second highest grossing domestic film in Japan, second only to a Miyazaki film. In some ways, the teen body-switch Macguffin is comfortably nostalgic, evoking memories of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s I Are You, You Am Me, but it also displays a post-Fukushima sensibility. Perhaps it came along at the perfect zeitgeisty time for Japanese audiences, but it is still more than sufficiently universal to sweep up viewers of any nation in its tragic romance. Anime does not get much more emotionally sophisticated than Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. (trailer here), which screens as the opening spotlight selection of the 2017 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Taki Tachibana is a bit of a mess, but the Tokyo high school student works hard at his part-time job waiting tables. Mitsuha Miyamizu is a very together student, but she would much prefer to live in Tokyo than the provincial Itomori, because she is embarrassed by her overbearing father, the most likely crooked mayor, and the Kuchikamizake rituals (sake brewed from chewed-up and spit-out rice) she is forced to participate in. Even though they are strangers separated by miles, Tachibana and Miyamizu start waking up in each other’s bodies. It happens regularly enough they develop a system leaving notes for each other on their smart phones of what transpired while they were swapped.

Initially, they bicker via voice memos and generally angst out over the ways they disrupt their respective lives, but naturally a strange attraction percolates between them, even though they never met face-to-face. As a result, Tachibana grows alarmed when the switching suddenly stops. In fact, he is so concerned, he sets off to find Miyamizu offline, or whatever the right term might be, only to learn her hometown was destroyed several years prior in a freak comet collision.

At this point, Name takes a turn into Il Mare territory, introducing unexpectedly fantastical, temporal, and spiritual themes. Frankly, Shinkai’s adaptation of his own novel is almost assuredly the most mature and potent movie romance you will see all year—and its anime. Seriously, if you are not carried along by its sweep and earnest pluckiness than you really must be old and mean.

Both Miyamizu and Tachibana are appealing but imperfect teenage characters, who are each surrounded by believably distinctive social circles. Anyone living in the first world, broadly defined, should be able to relate to the body-switchers and their friends. A perfect case in point is Tachibana’s rather endearing crush relationship with Miki Okudera, a college student also working at the restaurant, whom Miyamizu finally asks out, on his behalf.

Arguably, the first act body-switching business is like cinematic comfort food. We have seen it before, but it always seems to work. However, even reasonably committed anime fans are likely to be surprised how original Your Name gets and how deep it goes. The characters, especially the co-leads, are gracefully rendered and many of the visuals are quite striking. Very highly recommended, Your Name. screens this Saturday (2/25) at the SVA Theatre, as the opening spotlight of this year’s NYICFF.