Movie Review: Kimi no Na wa

Makoto Shinkai’s 君の名は。 (“Your Name.”) is a funny, sweet, and pretty movie. Nearly every friend who had seen it recommended it, and it’s apparently the highest-grossing anime movie ever (surpassing Spirited Away). And it’s showing in US theaters for a week. Of course I was going to go see it.

Fully no-spoiler verdict? It’s pretty good, but either you’ll like the characters and the style or you won’t. I don’t exactly know who I’d recommend it to—it’s not a deep, life-changing movie, but at the same time I did find myself rooting for the characters by the end, and I know some of my friends found it very moving.

[I’ll try to keep spoilers minor for the rest of this, but I have to spoil the main premise just to be able to talk about the movie at all. You’ve probably seen it by accident in posts and headlines by now, though.]

I went into this movie wanting to like it, and so I was able to laugh at the early jokes, play with trying to understand the Japanese, appreciate the scenery. I already knew the initial conceit, and it’s likely most viewers do at this point, but I suspect the movie would be even better—if more initially confusing—if I hadn’t. We would have been figuring things out along with Mitsuha.

Something that was omitted was Mitsuha and Taki—the two main characters—trying to contact each other, once they realize they are, well, swapping bodies. I feel like that would be one of the first things I would do in this situation, around the time they set up the ground rules—even just a single line about them trying and failing would have made sense. Of course, they also had to manage not to notice the year, so whatever. Some suspension of disbelief required…in a body-swap story.

Another funny thing is that body-swapping seems surprisingly mundane—once they both worked out what was going on, it became a story of communication and completely separate daily lives. In retrospect I like this, the focus on two people trying to live the same life together (twice over). But this also might touch on why I wasn’t blown away by the movie: besides the twist (yes, there’s a twist) everything that happens is pretty much what I’d expect. I don’t mean this negatively; it’s a good exploration of the premise, and a fun one. But not a surprising one.

One thing I noticed was that the story ends up focusing more on Taki than on Mitsuha. That’s kind of inevitable given the setup (and even more so once you find out the twist), but it still made me a little disappointed. I feel like there are a lot of stories about a boy actively searching for a girl and fewer about a girl actively searching for a boy. Mitsuha does get the primary focus at the beginning of the movie, so she’s not completely shut out, but being part of the premise isn’t quite as good.

One of the friends I was with has seen Shinkai’s other movies, and said they’re all in the same vein: a sense of missed connections, and of a boy searching for a girl. So maybe he’s got a theme. But Kimi no Na wa was pretty and well-done, so I suppose I’m okay with him continuing to refine his work in this way.

The music is perfectly good, with J-rock numbers used in transitions. The art is often very pretty, sometimes unexpectedly—my favorite moment turned out to be a shot of a rainy sidewalk near the end of the movie. (As the review I linked near the top noted, it has some Miyazaki-style appreciation of the countryside, while also showing modern life in Tokyo.) And the artists and voice actors are clearly having a lot of fun putting masculine attributes on Mitsuha and feminine attributes on Taki.

My semi-spoilery recommendation isn’t really any different than the one I wrote above. The movie is an exploration of the body-swap conceit, and then layers a stakes-raising twist on top. I thought it was funny, pretty, and touching. If that sounds good to you, go for it.

(But go quickly; if you’re reading this when initially posted, the movie’s only in US theaters until Thursday. A very short run for such a successful movie internationally.)

(some idle related thoughts)

Our group listed off a few more “body-swap” stories after the showing, including Your and My Secret (also known as My Barbaric Girlfriend) and Kokoro Connect.1 I’ll throw in Hopscotch, a (Western) sci-fi story about a world where everyone can swap bodies at will.

One thing I was particularly amused by was Mitsuha learning to talk like a boy. Apart from general linguistic interest in the idea of gender-correlated vocabulary, this had a personal connection for me: my own limited Japanese actually has a feminine slant, which likely comes from 7 out of 8 of my Japanese teachers being women. (It probably doesn’t help that most of the friends I speak Japanese with are also women…not to mention the protagonists of many of the shows I’ve watched.) I was trying to work on this a little during the last few months (I was taking classes again, but have stopped again for now), but it actually kind of amuses me. I’ll try to be careful if I go to Japan, though.

(I can’t imagine naturally using “ore” instead of “watashi”. It just feels arrogant on me.)

I appreciate that Taki didn’t try to save Mitsuha, or even just Mitsuha’s family. He did the right thing and tried to save the whole village, even though there was much less chance of success. It didn’t even occur to him to take the selfish way out.

It’d be interesting to compare Kimi no Na Wa to trans narratives, or even stories like El Goonish Shive.2 But perhaps “contrast” is a better word: I don’t remember reading any mainstream body-swap stories with a trans character, though I’m sure they exist. (It could be interesting with a character who already knows they are trans, as well as one who discovers it afterwards.) The themes do come up more in gender-transformation-only stories like Ranma ½, but the only ones of those I’ve ever seen are cis characters slowly becoming comfortable in their new reality. I suspect I would be this way, but after learning more about how different people experience gender differently I don’t think that would be universally true.

(I have not actually read a large number of body-swap or gender-swap stories, so maybe all of these comments are out of place.)

I’m a writer, so I’ll link to two of my own pieces that are vaguely related to this whole concept: “Hey, Allison” and “my mouth is slightly faster than my brain”. Oh, and there’s always Murakami Haruki’s “On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning”. (Don’t worry, it’s not one of his surreal ones.)

And, not that anyone cares, but I don’t like “Your Name” as the translation of 君の名は. I would have gone with “Your Name Is.” to give a similar unfinished feeling. Oh well.

  1. Friend: “You say ‘body-swap’ anime as if that’s some kind of genre.”
    Several people: “It is!” ↩︎

  2. Unfortunately, it’s a long way into the comic before you get to the actual part that really addresses this, and the first sections are kind of cringy (and the author admits it). But transgender transformations show up pretty early. ↩︎