After fully establishing its premise, in which village girl Mitshua occasionally and involuntarily swaps bodies with a Tokyo boy named Taki,, the animated feature Your Name provides some warm and comic character moments. While indulging in the city life she’s dreamed about, Mitshua helps Taki garner attention from his crush by imbuing him with a sensitivity the hot-headed boy normally lacks. Likewise, Taki helps Mitshua stand up against the bullies her mock the usually meek girl. Through diary entries the duo leave each other on their phones and notebooks, the two teens, separated by distance and gender and cultures, find themselves dependent on one another.
All of this happens in the span of about five minutes, mostly told in pop-music montage. In fact, montages are director Makoto Shinkai’s favored storytelling device, the way he moves the plot along and sets up the movie’s many other premises, involving the end of the body switching, time travel, a destructive meteor, and a five year time jump. It’s a lot of story, inelegantly crammed into 107 minutes.
Your Name is a bona fide blockbuster, out grossing all of other anime, having just surpassed the Miyazaki classic Spirited Away, and a favorite among critics worldwide – it currently has an average rating of 4.1 stars on Letterboxed. Clearly I’m the outlier here, but I have a hard time seeing a moving story under the film’s adherence to plot and reliance on montage and voice over. Look, I’ve been a teenage boy like Taki, and I understand too well their tendency toward inappropriate exploration, but I still struggled to connect with a movie that skips over most character moments, but lingers not once, not twice, not three times, but four times to show him playing with the breasts of the body he gets to inhabit.
Which isn’t to say that nothing on-screen is of value. Shinkai places fluidly animated figures in front of detailed backgrounds, saturating it all with colors to match the story’s emotional intensity. A particularly remarkable scene occurs when the film stops for a moment to watch Mitshua and her sister perform a ritual at a village shrine. Shinkai lets his virtual camera trail just behind Mitshua’s hand motions, as if it were tethered to her wrists, highlighting the grace of her movements.
And the film does feature one very effective montage, organized not around a pop song, but the image of a hairband the characters share. The band not only visually recalls a comet shooting across the sky, but also the loom Mithsua’s grandmother uses while telling ancestral legends. More than any other part of the movie, the image succinctly illustrates the movie’s theme about entanglement and interdependence.
Were all the montages as powerful as that, then I would have likely loved Your Name. But it was an exception, soon forgotten as the film rushes to its next plot beat, brushing over what could have been something moving and humane.