As a narrative, Your Name becomes so chockfull of curveballs that it often feels as if writer-director Makoto Shinkai is making it all up as he goes along. The film, based on Shinkai’s novel of the same name, is a whatsit that draws elements from disparate genres, from the romance to the time-travel yarn, and the boldness of its unpredictable storytelling can be exhilarating in the moment. During the film’s second half, audiences are pelted with a new twist about every 10 minutes or so, each seemingly crazier than the last. But the patience with which Shinkai at first establishes the details of his story’s body-switch premise, as well as the lives of his two main characters, is eventually forsaken in favor of off-kilter plot maneuvers that come to feel desperate. It’s as if he didn’t entirely trust that the ideas and emotions he evokes early on were enough to keep us engaged throughout the film’s entirety.
There’s a delicacy to the way Shinkai initially explores the sense of longing that grips Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), and which becomes increasingly affecting the more viewers get to know the characters. Both Mitsuha and Taki come from completely different worlds: She lives in a countryside village with her sister and grandmother, while he lives in Tokyo with his father. But they’re also tied together by inchoate longings that they both feel within themselves—broadly speaking, desires to flee their current lives and gain different perspectives. That desire is especially acute in Mitsuha’s case, as she yearns to escape her deadening small-town existence and immerse herself in the life of the big city.
Through a series of circumstances that Shinkai gradually reveals throughout Your Name, though, both Mitsuha and Taki discover that they’ve been intermittently switching bodies with each other, and as such living each other’s lives. And through smartphones or other means of communication, they’re able leave each other messages so one of them can pick up where the other left off on the previous day. Thus, Taki goes on a date that Mitsuha arranged while in his body, while Mitsuha has to bear the consequences of Taki’s more assertive outbursts while he’s in her body.
Shinkai has a lot of fun exploring the possibilities of this premise, and how the body-switching works to improve his characters’ lives in measurable ways. By viewing the world through Mitsuha’s perspective, Taki gains a more sensitive side that appeals to a potential love interest at the restaurant at which he works as a waiter. As for Mitsuha, she gets a glimpse of that big-city life she dreams of one day living—though, considering Taki’s own difficulties juggling being a student and making enough money to get by, she’s perhaps also seeing some of the downsides of that kind of lifestyle.
Somehow, a comet is involved in this body switch, in ways that only become apparent after, at some point, Mitsuha and Taki both suddenly stop switching bodies, leading Taki to decide to finally try to meet Mitsuha in person. Thus the many twists and turns of the film’s second half are kicked into furious motion, which won’t be spoiled here, though I can safely say that it all builds to a time-space-continuum-defying confrontation atop a mountain and a climactic action sequence that’s as far a cry from the character-based intimacy of the film’s first half as one can imagine. As brazenly entertaining as Shinkai’s zigzagging storytelling is, one may miss some of the vibrancy that Shinkai was able to summon early on simply by focusing on the more quiet devastations that plague his main characters.
Still, even at its most outrageously bizarre, Your Name is bound together by an ardently romantic core. The film is one of the strangest-ever articulations of déjà vu, as it all builds up to a moment in which two strangers pass by each other on a train and find themselves intensely thinking they’ve met before without quite knowing how, or when, or even why. Déjà vu is often explained as the memory of a dream or even a past life experience, which of course could have been romantic in nature. Shinkai certainly runs with the romantic underpinnings of Mitsuha and Taki’s exchange of bodies, buttressing their feelings with lushly colorful animation: watercolor-like greens, sky blues, and brash neons that work in conversation with the film’s busy narrative to evoke the main characters’ extravagant lust for life. Your Name may in the end be a mess of storytelling, but it’s a passionately beautiful one nonetheless.