I’ve been going to “arthouse” theaters for a little over ten years now and there’s one thing that’s remained a constant about these theaters since the beginning: the audiences at them are very old. There are some young people who will show up to them occasionally, myself included, but I would bet that the median audience age at some of these theaters is sixty or over. However, recently I went to one of these theaters to see an anime film called Your Name and was taken aback by what I saw: the crowd that had assembled to see the movie was the youngest set of faces I’d ever seen at that theater. There were a couple of the “traditional” arthouse audiences members I’d normally expect to see at a place like this peppered in but most of the people there seemed to be college, maybe even high school aged or at least in their twenties. At the age of 29 I may well have actually been in in the elder third of audience members at that theater for the first time in my life. It was also a pretty large crowd in general. These kind of theaters do fill up some times, usually when movies that are getting Oscar buzz make their local debut, but in general I expect Sunday afternoon screenings at these places to be half filled at most but this place was close to sold out. It was heartening. Of course a big part of this may be that, outside of its foreignness Your Name is not really an “arthouse film” at all. In its native Japan it’s actually a huge blockbuster. It’s made nearly $200 million dollars in that country alone making it the fourth highest grossing movie of all time in that country and it’s also done big business in China and South Korea. Apparently that buzz reached across the pacific and generated a crowd to see the film now that it’s available in the United States.
Your Name appears to be set in present day Japan and concerns a pair of teenagers named Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki) who live far away from each other and seemingly have no connections to one another until one day they mysteriously begin to switch bodies ala Freaky Friday. It’s not terribly clear why this is happening but seems to be connected to a comet that’s visible in the sky while all this is going on. Mitsuha is a girl living in a remote little town called Itomori while Taki is a guy living in Tokyo so Mitsuha is thrilled to experience all the fun things in Taki’s life while Taki comes to be charmed by Mitsuha’s town and its quaint ways. The two are not in this state permanently and seem to do these body switches only a couple of times a week and when they return to their own bodies their out of body experiences feel hazy, more like dreams they’ve woken from rather than clearly remembered experiences and the two leave notes for one another and set certain boundaries that the other shouldn’t be crossing. This goes on for a little while and the film seems like a pretty pleasant little low stakes comedy but there is something else going on here and when it emerges it makes this experience all the more deep for both people involved.
Unlike other famous anime films like Akira or Princess Mononoke this is not a film that “needs” to be animated given its subject matter. There’s obviously a fantasy element in its concept but it’s set in mundane contemporary locales and doesn’t have any monsters or anything but I also doubt that a live action version of this script would have made one third of a billion dollars. I think one of the biggest advantages of the animated format here is that it makes the body swap concept a bit more organic than it would in a conventional film. In live action films like Big and Freaky Friday these high concepts get gimmicky fast and turn into these actors’ showcases and the whole thing becomes about the performers acting strangely and nothing else. Your Name isn’t devoid of the kind of gags that this scenario would invite but they don’t overpower it and the film does organically “get over” the basic strangeness of the situation and move on past the obvious jokes. Additionally, the animated format helps to get past a few narrative conceits that are required to get past a few inconsistencies that occur in the second half. I can’t get into too much more detail on this but there are a couple of aspects to this that would definitely be considered plot holes if you’re not able to accept that the time these two spend in each other’s bodies are experienced almost like dreams and the fact that the film has the extra layer of unreality that animation provides makes this work a little better.
There is a bit more going on here than initially meets the eye and there is a twist in the second half that does raise the stakes to the movie a little and take it in a bit of a different direction than it initially seems and this shift is pretty well handled but I won’t go into any further details. Overall I did find this to be a fairly charming and entertaining movie, at least when taken in a certain spirit. The movie is about teenagers, and to a certain extent it’s also made for them and you do need to put yourself into a bit of a “young adult” mentality in order to fully enjoy it. People should not go into it expecting it to be the next Ghost in the Shell or something, but its relative lightness is also a big part of its appeal. Anime is generally known to be made for something of a niche audience, but Your Name isn’t. It’s more accessible to general audiences than the sci-fi/fantasy fare that anime is usually associated with in the west, but at the same time it’s a bigger and more notable film than the more tranquil “Josei” anime that often have trouble finding broader audiences. That, I think, is a big part of why it’s managed to find such a wide audience. The other part is that it’s just such a well-made and enjoyable piece of work with a nice blend of comedy and pathos.