Friday, December 29, 2017

Extreme Correspondence

Nothing brings two people together like swapping bodies now and then. 2016's Your Name (君の名は) is a visually stunning and very sweet romantic comedy anime film about two cute teenagers who meet in a very strange way.

Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) live in a small rural town and Tokyo, respectively. They're total strangers until one morning each is surprised to wake up in the other's body. They're both teenagers, and Taki's a boy while Mitsuha's a girl, so there's plenty of little funny moments that made it no surprise when I learned director Makoto Shinkai took inspiration from the great gender swapping series Ranma 1/2.

The two slowly get to know each other through notes and diary entries. Taki's work life improves after Mitsuha stitches a tear in a beautiful coworker's skirt and Mitsuha gets some attention at school when she suddenly becomes a more aggressive basketball player.

In a lot of ways, the movie is more typical of anime than westerners who are used only to Hayao Miyazaki films might expect so the film's success with western critics has been somewhat surprising. The contemporary Japanese setting is realistic if beautifully idealised and the teenage romance features some of the stock behaviour normally seen in shonen series, like girls who respond with over the top anger at the suggestion that they might actually be attracted to boys and boys who are too shy to confess their feelings. At the same time, the supernatural romantic comedy angle of the film would be familiar to many fans of 90s and early 00s American and British films like Serendipity or Groundhog Day.

That's not something you should ever write on your face, by the way.

It stands as a sterling example for genres. Its backgrounds are intensely detailed and the animation is fluid and creative in its expressiveness. The plot unfolds with great instinct and even the many musical montages aren't tedious--they mostly help the viewer to relish the moments of tension.

The disconnect between the protagonists becomes somewhat reminiscent of the difference in age between the protagonists of Shintai's previous film, The Garden of Words, but Your Name goes for a much more impassioned tone. These two characters are each desperate to make each other happy and you root for them. It's a very satisfying film.

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