There’s a ton of pressure on the best of today’s contemporary filmmakers to earn esteem as “The Next ____.” J.J. Abrams was “The Next Spielberg” for a hot second; Quentin Tarantino was even called “The Next Scorsese” before quickly becoming the filmmaker that Joe Carnahan or Guy Ritchie got compared to a decade later. Ever since the retirement announcement of Hayao Miyazaki (which, incidentally, has since been repealed), the anime community has been clamoring for “The Next Miyazaki.” Many think they’ve found him in Matoko Shinkai, based on his breakout film Your Name. But I promise you this: Shinkai is his own thing entirely.
Your Name has become the highest grossing Japanese film of all time, beating out Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Despite their shared popularity, the two films and filmmakers couldn’t be more different. Miyazaki’s all about tradition and nostalgia, while Shinkai’s Your Name feels about as modern and immediate as any film I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s got an energy and a depth of emotion that I truly wasn’t expecting, and it completely illustrates the heightened urgency of youth and wearing your heart on your sleeve, all in the guise of a fantastical comedy.
Shinkai based the film on his own novel of the same name, which follows two teenagers from completely different backgrounds–Taki, a boy, is an only child who lives in Tokyo city proper, while Mitsuha is a girl living in a rural part of Japan with her grandmother, little sister, and father who’s running for mayor. These two people would go on having nothing to do with each other were it not for a strange occurrence that makes them wake up in each other’s bodies a few times a week. At first, they each think their experiences are just strange dreams they can’t quite remember, but their friends and family take note of how weird they’re acting and soon Taki and Mitsuha have to accept that something very bizarre is going on.
Complicating matters all the more is that they can’t fully remember what they do when they’re in the other’s body, so they leave notes for each other on their own hands and faces, or on cell phones. Each time they wake up, they have the memory of swapping, but still don’t really know who the other is. Still, from getting to see how a completely different person lives by literally getting to drive their body around, they begin to develop feelings for each other, but it soon becomes clear that distance and memory are the least of their worries and the forces keeping them apart appear insurmountable.
Body swap movies are a very well-worn subgenre, and even male/female swaps have been around in films since the ’30s. Shinkai doesn’t belabor the obvious comedy of waking up to discover you’re not only a different person but a different person of the opposite sex. Unsurprisingly, the first thing Taki does in Mitsuha’s body is marvel at having breasts; this kind of thing happens a few times, but it’s more for comedic beats. The movie gets so much deeper as Mitsuha in Taki’s body tries to help score him a date with the boss he has a crush on, and how Taki in Mitsuha’s body helps her stand up to her domineering father. They get to learn so much about each other without ever remembering who the other is or where they are once they swap back.
The movie goes in directions I didn’t expect and wouldn’t dare spoil, because the unfolding of the story and the true nature of their connection is what makes the whole movie work beyond the gimmick. It’s amazing how I could become so invested in a relationship between two people who’ve never met and can’t even really talk to each other, but I truly was. Your Name is possibly one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen, and it strikes a vein of feeling that even Miyazaki’s never been able to hit.
This is truly one of the best anime I’ve seen in a good long while, and it completely deserves the success it’s received. Makoto Shinkai has written and directed a few other movies and shorts, but this will certainly go down as the movie that forced the world to see what a talent he is. I fully expect people to call younger filmmakers “The Next Shinkai” one of these days.
Your Name hits limited release on April 7. I highly recommend you go see it. In fact, don’t miss it.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s the writer of Anime Files as well as Studio Ghibli retrospectives Miyazaki Masterclass, Takahata Textbook, and Ghibli Bits. Follow him on Twitter!