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Your Name

Year: 2016
Production Co: Amuse
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Cast: Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryunosuke Kamiki

Rarely do you see a movie where the story and the visuals are such distinct elements. They're more so in Your Name than in most films where both the sights and sounds and the plot are there to support, enable and bolster the other.

The visuals are certainly aesthetically pleasant and beautiful, on a par with the most lived-in landscapes we've seen from Studio Ghibli, but the way the movie presents them might contain the most beautiful animation I've ever seen.

And I don't mean beautiful in the sense that the pictures look good, even though they do. I mean the artistry that's gone into every cel (probably every pixel) in every frame has been so lovingly laboured over. There's a scene depicting the fast-motion sunrise over Tokyo, the kind of thing we've seen a million times in live action when the sun rises over a city and the light and shadows arc across the landscape with an epic flourish.

But here's the difference. Plenty of other examples of animation you've seen have an active foreground plate against a fixed matte plate in the background – everyone from Looney Toons right up to and including Studio Ghibli have used the technique.

But here, the shadow and light plays upon every single surface in concert, the sides of buildings, trees and anything else they hit. I don't imagine a movie made in 2016 was hand animated, but so much work has gone into making every sequence and every picture so alive.

There's so much movement and interplay in the light you've never seen in animation before simply because it's too much work and 'good enough' is usually good enough, and you can imagine writer/director Makoto Shinkai and his team had a mandate that after the distinct design inherent to animation was done, they'd pull out all stops to situate it in a living, breathing world in every frame.

And on top of that, it contains hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck aesthetic beauty as well, especially in scenes of the comet arcing across the sky, the point of view wheeling around the characters as they watch it.

But despite the critical praise heaped on the film, the story was less satisfying for me, particularly in the first half. It's a beautiful premise (which I won't spoil), but it just didn't explain itself properly enough and I found myself struggling to catch up.

We meet a teenage girl, Mitsuha, waking up in shock and fascination for some reason, fondling her own breasts like she didn't know she had them. Her little sister catches her, taunts her about it and gleefully informs her she's late for school.

Mitsuha lives in a small town in northern Japan with her sister and grandmother, bored out of her mind with smalltown life but still adhering to the life of religious ceremony her grandmother insists the girls take part in. The only thing distracting Mitsuha from the vagaries of friends and school is the comet glittering in the sky as it nears Earth, which everyone's talking about.

Later on we meet Taki, a boy in high school who lives in Tokyo who's similarly dreaming of a different life even though he lives in the bustle of the big city. We find out in short order that Mitsuha and Taki have apparently been spontaneously switching bodies, and here's where it fell down a little bit for me because I couldn't figure out when each character was the other, feeling like the movie expected me keep up better than I did.

It turns out it's started as soon as we meet them both, hence why Taki – suddenly finding himself in the body of a teenage girl, is feeling Mitsuha up when he awakens in her body. Their friends make various references to them not being themselves in previous days, obviously because it turns out they were occupying each other's lives and missed out on what was happening in their own.

Mitsuha and Taki soon realise they can leave each other messages that affect what each other does by writing in diaries, leaving notes on their mobiles or even writing in pen on their bodies for the other to find. As fascinated with each other as they are clueless about what's going on, they attempt to make positive changes for each other, Mitsuha setting Taki up with a date with a co-worker while she occupies his body, sure it will be good for him.

And then the contact abruptly stops. In another plot turn I found a bit indistinct and which could have been handled a bit more clearly, there's some memory effect from their body-swapping where they start to forget everything about the other person and what they're facing, even their names – referenced in the simple but evocative title.

But when Taki asks his friends to travel north by train to try and find the girl he shared a mystical link with, it reveals the sci-fi concept behind the story – it's all to do with a fragment that split off from the comet the whole world was watching and the destruction it wreaked on a small town when it plummeted to Earth (which we've already seen in the transcendent opening sequence of a glowing rock falling gently through clouds, the behaviour of the light gorgeously realised).

It prompts the third act race that both characters hope will bring them together and which means their lives, those of their friends and families and the fate of an entire lakeside town hangs in the balance while Mitsuha and Taki try to rediscover and cement their connection.

There are obvious parallels with The Lake House, the Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock sci fi love story I never felt got its due, so it's a beautiful idea for a romantic drama. But even if the execution of the story leaves you scrambling in its wake a few times like it did for me, it's worth watching for the animation alone, Shinkai and his crew showing everyone in in the game what's possible.

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