Your Name. ★★★½

'Your Name' is a fun and intriguing piece of work but not one I understand the hype for. The film is filled with beautiful ideas but it is thoroughly flawed, messy and often downright lame in it's execution.

To clarify my general position on anime, I'm almost a fan. I say almost with good reason. I've always loved animation and truly believe it's an overlooked genre that's reached new heights in recent years. In my opinion, the greatest animated films ever made come from Japan and these would include the works of Studio Ghibli along with other classics like 'Akira' and 'Ghost in the Shell'. I would say Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki are my 2 favourite animators and amongst my all-time top 10 directors. My all-time favourite film is an anime. However, there's a line. I've never been a fan of anime cartoons or anime shows which people often try to get me to watch. Quirky characters, high school romances and bizarre fantasy which is bizarre for the sake of being bizarre are not aspects I appreciate and a fair amount of anime shows I'm shown seem to contain at least one of these things. I will acknowledge that I could merely have had bad luck and maybe the taste of my friends has meant I've been shown anime I don't like and I'm missing out on the ones that would appeal to me but I can only talk about what I've seen. So, why this rambling long paragraph? Well, when I say that to me 'Your Name' sits in an awkward spot between the anime films I most respect and love and the televisual cartoon anime that I don't like, I want you understand that the film is good but very frustrating.

To start positively, there is some absolutely superb sequences. One in particular was so beautiful rendered and emotionally resonant that it's one of my favourite scenes of the year. There's also the enjoyment factor as the film is constantly fun and charming. The audience I was in were laughing and smiling all the way through and I think I was too. The body-swapping scenario leads to plenty of legitimate laughs and the characters are defined well enough to make it almost always obvious who is in whose body. If there's a character problem, it's that aside from our two protagonists, the majority of supporting characters are very broad, generic and poorly developed. 

Overall, the movie goes through various ups and downs in quality. The body-swapping idea begins interestingly as the mystery of what's going-on and the slow realisation is funny, charming and engaging. Once the body-swapping is well established, the movie then settles into a rather dull story about their respective high school issues. At this point, I thought the movie would be pretty lifeless and generic but then events in the film's second half change all that and the film becomes thoroughly more engaging, more thought-provoking, more heartfelt and more beautiful than before. The second half also contains loads of plot holes but I didn't mind them personally because I just went along with the incredibly ridiculous (yet often improving) story. As much as I like the film's latter half, I do personally think that the final 10 minutes suck. I like what they were going for, but the emotional and thematic peak has already being reached, the plot was over and the epilogue is essentially just an overlong, predictable section that includes too many internal references and ends in a very lame final line.

Ultimately, the body-swapping aspect is never investigated thematically and it's not what makes the film worthwhile. What it means to be in someone else's body is not something 'Your Name' every really touches upon because the film wants to tell another kind of story. It wants romance, comedy and an action-packed finale and whilst I like how all of these were done, it does come at the expense of substance. At the very least though, the film does get some depth out through it's character moments and latter half developments.

So, the story's messy, the substance mixed but the film enjoyable. How about the style? Unfortunately, also mixed. The animation is in many places absolutely gorgeous and the film shines in it's photo-realist details and beautiful landscapes. My biggest fault with the animation is that the people all seem pretty generic and undetailed compared to the beauty and realism surrounding them (I understand this is a problem in a fair few anime but I just noticed it particularly during this film). Also, there's plenty of times where characters are required to cry and I don't think the tears are done well at all (but this is a trivial complaint). Another weird and trivial problem I had was the opening titles which had some song playing over various clips and images from the film and just felt like the lame opening to some cartoon show and not for a major film, but this complaint is probably just me being petty. My bigger problem however is the use of music. At various points, Japanese pop/rock songs play over the film and not once are they used appropriately. I can forgive their use over the opening titles and the credits but during montages and other key events, they are badly used. They don't enhance the emotion, often don't match the visuals and are used over dialogue. The points where the songs reach a climax should match with something on-screen but they never do. It's just tacked on for no discernible reason. All of these sequences would have been better with an instrumental piece. Now, to be fair, the vast majority of the film doesn't rely on them but they are grating and very annoying every single time they are used. To me, they all sounded the same and didn't coherently work with the animation. Now, I do not speak Japanese, and maybe the lyrics work very well with the film but the few times they were subtitled in my screening, they seemed either irrelevant or connected only on a superficial, shallow level. I understand that the soundtrack is super popular in Japan (it was made by a popular Japanese music group) and has been often cited as a reason the film earned over $150 million domestically but in the context of the film, it just felt like incredibly tacky commercialism and never artistically merited.

One thing I would like to address is the hype and attention this film has received. As I write, this film stands in Letterboxd's top 20 of 2016 and two of my favourite critics have called it the 'best animated film of 2016'. This is ridiculous. 2016 has been a strong year for animation and I can name at least 8 animated films I've seen in a cinema in 2016 that I preferred and 5 of them were Japanese (if we ignore UK re-releases, I've seen 5 better films). I've also seen more then one website refer to the director, Makoto Shinkai, as the next Hayao Miyazaki in posts about 'Your Name'. Unfortunately, the only film I've seen by Shinkai is 'Your Name' but on the basis of this film alone, that is a ridiculous comparison. Miyazaki would not be as tacky in his use of music nor be as thematically inert. My least favourite Miyazaki movie is still superior to 'Your Name' or, at the very least, of similar quality. Yet, audiences seem to love 'Your Name' as it's one of the highest grossing anime ever and currently has a score of 8.8/10 on IMDb; even in my screening, people clapped when the end credits came up. So I'm seemingly in the minority for not thinking this is a masterpiece that matches the greatest of anime but compared to films like 'Akira', 'Princess Mononoke' and 'Spirited Away', I just feel like 'Your Name' is nowhere near them in terms of quality. It's a good film but incredibly over-rated.

To conclude this probably overlong review, 'Your Name' is a solid, enjoyable and consistently funny film with some brilliant twists and turns and good emotional resonance but it's hampered by tacky stylistic choices, various lame and predictable aspects and lots of minor faults that are trivial individually but overall detract.

2016 Ranked

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