Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) (2016) Review

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Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) (2016)

~Review by Grawlix (October 2018)

I don’t watch anime as much as I used to. This has more to do with a lack of time than of interest; there are only so many hours in a day, after all. But occasionally there’s a development that can’t be ignored. My awareness of Kimi no Na wa was something that built gradually, like a groundswell. There were occasional mentions online, and I watched the trailer at one point. But then the bombshell: that Kimi no Na wa beat Miyazaki’s Spirited Away as the highest grossing movie in Japanese box office history. As of this writing, there seems to be a little confusion on this point. Most of the sources I’ve checked have it sitting at number four (below Spirited Away, Titanic, and Frozen) but clearly it was kind of a big deal, and the suggestion that it could even approach the greatness of Studio Ghibli’s masterwork necessitated I take a look.

Notwithstanding the fact that I’d seen the trailer a year or so before screening, I went into the movie fairly blind and I’d suggest that’s the best way to see it. So, I’ll say right here: It’s good. You should watch it. The story concerns two teenagers, a boy from Tokyo and a girl from out in the sticks who find themselves swapping bodies every few days. Hijinks ensue. He helps her be more assertive and she helps him romance a coworker. The plot proceeds about how you’d expect for the first half hour or so, but then the movie takes a turn and things (as the kids say) get real. This much can be gleaned from the trailers and is all I’ll say about the story in the interest of avoiding spoilers.    

There were two main issues that marred my enjoyment of Kimi no Na wa. One is the soundtrack, specifically the vocal tracks contributed by the band, RADWIMPS. Almost every one of the movie’s many emotional waypoints is accompanied by an upbeat pop song complete with story-relevant lyrics. Now, as it happens, I speak some Japanese. I’m not fluent by any stretch, but I know enough to know that the dialog subtitles were pretty spot on. But translating song lyrics is a tricky thing. It’s easy enough to get the meaning accurate, but preserving the cadence and flow, particularly for something that’s supposed accompany a poignant scene, is another matter. The fact that I didn’t feel particularly moved as the song played made me wonder if something fundamental wasn’t lost in translation.

But more to the point, whenever another song started, it seemed like the movie was punting on its emotive content. I’m a firm believer in the importance of a movie’s soundtrack; the best scores can take the impact of a scene to a whole different level and there’s nothing quite like listening to a piece of music after it’s been emotionally charged in this way. But, too often, it seems like Kimi no Na wa is relying on the songs to carry more than their fair share of the sentimental load rather than simply enhancing the on-screen action. This is unfortunate, because a lot of the time, the on-screen action seemed perfectly capable of handling this on its own, but it’s almost as if the movie didn’t trust itself to pull it off without the added oomph of a lyrical pop ballad.

Enlisting a pop music artist to provide a significant portion of a film’s soundtrack without turning the whole movie into an extended music video can be a delicate balance to maintain. Queen famously provided all the music to Flash Gordon and, to a lesser extent, Highlander, and Prince contributed multiple songs to Batman (‘89) but these were campy action movies that didn’t rely too much on the emotional subtleties of their scenes. Reading that some story points in Kimi no Na wa were changed to better compliment the music written by the band makes me wonder if the production would have been better served by a more traditional instrumental film score. But, then again, maybe it’s just a cultural thing.

Which brings me to the second potential issue with Kimi no Na wa, which is that a lot of the plot in the second half of the movie hinges on some cultural assumptions with which foreign viewers might not be totally familiar. Now, granted, by the time you’ve gotten this far into the movie you’ve already suspended enough disbelief to accept the whole body-swapping business, but this is different. Rather than being an overt, extraordinary phenomenon, this is more of a ground-level mysticism that the movie just assumes its viewers accept to some degree (Sort of like how Feng Shui or acupuncture is treated in China). These sort of disconnects are inevitable when watching foreign films (I’m sure foreign viewers feel the same about Hollywood movies) but in a story that’s so heavily dependent on its relatability to universal human emotions and situations, the plot conveniences that these low-level magical bits engender end up being a bit more jarring than they need to.

Kimi no Na wa is a good movie, but I can’t really call it great, and I’m honestly a bit stumped at the stratospheric heights of its success; Even if it didn’t dethrone Spirited Away, it’s clearly gotten to within shouting distance of doing so. Spirited Away is also steeped in Japanese culture and superstition, probably more so than Kimi no Na wa, honestly, but was smart enough to set itself in a kind of Asian flavored Neverwhere (as Ghibli is wont to do) in which any kind of oddness could be easily accepted. Kimi no Na wa is set in the real world, more or less, and even though it sets up some paranormal antics early on, I ultimately felt that it went to the supernatural-explanation-well a little too often.

But maybe this is just what it feels like to be out of the loop. Don’t get me wrong, the movie has flaws, but they are by no means fatal. Most of humor is genuinely touching, the quieter character moments ring true, and the emotional turns can be powerful. I laughed, I cried, I felt genuine tension. Kimi no Na wa takes some shortcuts where I wish it hadn’t, and I’d stop short of naming it among the top films of all time, but it is an excellent viewing experience and well worth your time.

Final Score: A-

Beautifully animated and emotionally resonant, Kimi no Na wa is a very good film that gets in its own way a bit too much to be truly great.


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