Review by: Hatta B. Sasono
Makoto Shinkai’s newest animated feature film “Kimi No Na Wa”, also known as it’s translated title “your name” premiered on the August, 26th in Japan, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching it in the BFI Film Festival screening of it in October, 2016, where Shinkai himself attended the screening, and most likely again at a screening at a Showcase cinema nearby to where I live.
Because it might just be my favourite movie of all time.
And I’ve seen a lot of movies. Good movies, great movies, excellent movies, masterpieces. Of course, I’ve seen bad movies too, but that’s kept in tight moderation due to my dad’s professional occupation as a movie critic. Digressions aside, I’ve seen a lot, and in my subjective, personal opinion that you don’t have to agree with, this movie is the best thing that I have ever seen so far.
So, since this will be a very positive review of the movie, let’s get the bad out of the way first. Nothing. Okay, let’s move on to the good.
There is a high level of beauty and quality that is to be expected out of a Makoto Shinkai movie, due to precedents set by his previous works, such as 5 Centimeters per Second and Garden of Words, both of which are very high quality works which occupy similar themes of romance and are worth watching in their own right. Shinkai’s works occupy an animation standard of hyper realistic, yet incredibly beautiful backgrounds shown through atmospheric lighting, meticulous detail and immensely high quality animation, which creates a signature feel to his works that is unique to him. In the case of this movie however, the adventures of our characters felt grander and more epic in comparison to the other two I’ve mentioned, yet it also felt more grounded due to being more plot driven, which makes it a much more immersive and compelling experience for me.
Speaking of plot, the story of this movie has more twists and turns than a washing machine set to maximum then put inside another washing machine set to maximum. Plot twists can be a good or a bad thing. In most cases, a bad plot twist is usually used purely to derive shock value from the audience, which is just cheap and might just destroy your narrative along the way. None of that in this movie. I was caught completely off guard a multitude of times, and yet after the twists happen, it all felt natural. In the end, it all felt thoroughly sincere and genuine, and served only to bury me deeper into its complex storyline.
The characters, specifically our main two protagonists are admittedly quite archetypal of the genre, from their personalities to their character designs, and the romance genre is one that we haven’t seen a shortage of as of late in anime. However, in this case, I don’t take that as a negative thing that subtracts from the experience. This is because these two are explored quite extensively both as individuals, not just as each other’s love interest, encapsulated in the subplots that pops in and out seamlessly from the main story.
Coming back to the topic of visuals, animation quality tends to be underappreciated in the anime industry. Even with the praise Studio Ufotable gets for its impeccable implementations of top quality CG and Kyoto Animation’s increasing recognition in its mastering of the art of subtlety and visual storytelling, there are still many of those who live and die by the quality of the narrative aspects of the cinematic work they watch. “Anyone can make high-quality animation if they have enough money, but it takes talent to write a great story”. Ever heard anything along those lines? It used to be what I live by. And I have missed out on so much.
Once you understand that animators in Japan do back-breaking work with high amounts of stress and pressure, and get paid very low amounts in comparison to their colleagues in the production or direction divisions, what with most of them being freelancers, you would also understand that the animators that create animation with quality this high is doing god’s work and deserves more praise and recognition, or at least appreciation.
Lastly, the themes of young, high school romance is something that a lot of us among anime fans have seen too much of and are quite sick of, because the genre at this point practically consists of mass-produced, cheap, low-quality quick-cash-grabbers. Now forget all of that, because this one is nothing like that. Romance in anime, when executed well, create the most heart-warming, compelling and captivating stories I’ve experienced, and the explanation as to why is lost to even me. And you bet this was executed well. The very idea of “romanticism” was created for this movie. The breath-taking visuals depicting scenes of tender and satisfying character moments on a backdrop of impossibly realistic dream-world landscapes with even some undertones of high-end metaphysical sci-fi that borders on fantasy achieves a certain magical quality that makes even Studio Ghibli jealous.
Overall, this movie didn’t really present any ideas or themes that were completely original or revolutionary in any way, neither did it explore them in the most incredibly creative way. But it didn’t need to, because all of these ideas that might have even seem tired, boring or clichéd in retrospect is executed so damn beautifully and masterfully that it stays unbelievably captivating throughout its duration. I found that the notion of taking my eyes away from the screen impossible, because it didn’t exist to me as I was tangled in this epic odyssey of romance.
This was perhaps possible only through the magical combination of Shinkai’s impossibly gorgeous aesthetics, excellent use of both the soundtrack and theme songs and its diegetic sounds, and themes of young romance and minute fantasy-esque sci-fi flavours that was executed in such a way that got me hysterical every time something mildly remarkable happens. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this strongly towards a piece of fiction in my life. All of this might sound very audacious and pretentious, but remember these are just my completely biased and subjective opinions, and that I look forward to the day when I find a new favourite movie, whenever that will be.