The highest grossing anime film of all time is slowly trickling through American theaters in what’s been a fairly quiet release so far. Subtitled foreign films & traditional hand-drawn animation aren’t the usual hallmarks of a domestic box office smash hit in the 2010s, so it mostly makes sense that Your Name. isn’t lighting up megaplex cash registers here the way it did in Japan last year. What’s a little more difficult to speculate is why, exactly, Your Name. did run away with all of Japan’s box office dollars in 2016 (becoming the country’s highest-grossing film of all-time, animated or otherwise), outpacing even the Studio Ghibli films that obviously inspired it. My best guess is that Your Name. resonated with Japanese teenagers in particular. I can say with confidence that the most I ever indulged in repeat viewings of films in the theater was when I was a teen with summer job money to burn and nothing constructive to do with myself besides watching the latest Wes Anderson release three times in a week to escape the New Orleans heat. Your Name. seems perfectly calibrated for this kind of obsessive teen repeat-viewing. From its tale of star-crossed, long distance romantics to its mildly crude sexual humor, bottom of the heart earnestness, supernatural mindfuckery, and pop punk/post-rock soundtrack (provided by the appropriately named Radwimps), Your Name. is the distilled ideal of a teen fantasy film in the 2010s. It’s also the most beautifully animated and strikingly empathetic picture I can remember seeing on the big screen in a long while.
The first thing that struck me about Your Name. was the immensity of its scope. Cities and mountains are framed from above the cloudline as a passing comet is meticulously tracked through the star-filled sky from the upward gaze of teens on the ground. Those teens’ lives take on a similar kind of intricate majesty as the comet in the sky triggers a cosmic event that intimately & inextricably links two total strangers, a boy who enjoys a very modern existence in Tokyo and a girl who practices old world religion with her sister & grandmother in a rural mountainside village. Oddly enough, Your Name. begins its strange, unwieldy journey as a body swap comedy. The Tokyo boy and mountain village girl swap places at erratic intervals, initially mistaking their day-long vacations in each others’ skin as hyper-realistic dreams. As the body swap picture is traditionally a fixture of crude 80s comedies and these are horny teens, those alternating positions do involve a lot of “self”-exploration of each others’ bodies and same-sex attraction/flirtation, but never with a tinge of gay panic humor disrupting its intergender empathy. Gender and identity became decisively fluid the more this pair continue to swap places, as does the nature of time, tradition, and reality itself. Small town angst & romantic desperation, cornerstones of teenage inner life, dominate the early proceedings of Your Name., but several monumental narrative shifts completely disrupt those concerns as the co-protagonists’ stories strive to intertwine in a shared, physical space. Leaving notes on each other’s smart phones & foreheads is one thing, but as our distant teen “radwimps” attempt to share a single space in a more significant way, their story explodes in a much wider array of supernatural phenomena than a mere 80s body swap comedy ever could contain. The film’s scope is near-boundless in its thematic & visual explorations of an intangible cosmic event I’ve never seen depicted onscreen before.
Your Name. more than justifies its choice of medium, accomplishing large, supernatural feats that could only be pulled off in animated cinema. The film almost operates like Persona in reverse, where two jumbled identities slowly detangle and then have to desperately search for common ground. This philosophical crisis of identity, punctuated onscreen with blatant questions like “Who are you?,” are matched by an ambition in animation that reaches far beyond the linear & the literal. One sequence in particular makes use of color pencil sketches in a way that wholly distorts the border between reality & fantasy, surpassing even the heights of The Tale of Princess Kaguya in its adeptly loose grip on the certainty of basic human existence. The film’s visual palette obviously pulls heavily from the work of all-time-great Hayao Miyazaki, an influence that becomes very much apparent in its opening frames of gorgeous mountainside landscapes seen from a birds’ eye view. As much as it focuses on Nature, however, Miyazaki’s work isn’t typically as obsessed with the immensity of the cosmos as Your Name., so the film immediately has an in on finding new perspectives to apply that animation style to. It also seems intent on updating Miyazaki’s obsession with natural landscapes to accommodate a newfound wonder in modernity. Tokyo skyscrapers are flanked by birds & sunshine, reflecting the same simple majesty a Miyazaki picture would typically reserve for a forrest or the miracle of flight. This visual clash of tradition & modern innovation perfectly echoes the sentiment of Your Name.‘s narrative as well, where boomboxes & smartphones are incorporated into ancient religious ritual and time is just as fluid as identity & the state of the human body.
I don’t mean to be at all dismissive or reductive when I refer to Your Name. as a teen picture. The supernatural narrative & delicate thematic nuance of the film are handled in a much more richly complex, rewarding way than they’d be in most modern R-rated, live-action “adult” dramas. Still, I got a sense watching the film that it was specifically, expertly designed to resonate with the earnestness of teenage sentiment. The immensity of the story’s ambition and the intricacy of its visual craft leave me with no doubt, even as a thirty year old dinosaur, that the film will remain one of the best domestic releases we see all of 2017. I just also have to admit that I’m admiring it from the outside looking in. Your Name. wasn’t made for me; it was made for teens. And if I were still that age, running around with my heart on my sleeve & my identity still wildly fluctuating on an almost day to day basis, I’d certainly be one of those kids out there who have paid to see it repeatedly play out on the big screen while it’s still an option. It’s more than just a teen movie; it’s the perfect teen movie for this exact moment in time.