HOLLYWOOD—Makoto Shinkai is one of the great living anime directors. His visually stunning films have earned him comparisons to the legendary Hayao Miyazaki (although he humbly insists he is not on his level). Anime Fans in America are finally getting access to “Your Name,” Shinkai’s new film that is a smash hit in Japan.
The plot follows Taki (voice of Ryunosuke Kamiki), a teenage boy from Tokyo, and Mitsuha (voice of Mone Kamishiraishi), a teenage girl from the small mountain town of Itomori. The two protagonists find themselves being frequently transported into the other’s body. The plot develops into something of a time traveling love story the further we get in.
What attracts one to a Shinkai film is inevitably the animation. Shinkai, despite his protests, is most definitely a new Miyazaki. In “Your Name” every shot is a feast for the eyes. Dazzling images are replete throughout. The gorgeous color as a meteor streaks across the sky is illustrative of the films visual delights.
Shinkai’s films have a unique look. They invoke both the beauty of the best traditional animes like “Howl’s Moving Castle” with the distinct flavor of top of the line video game graphics. Unlike Ghibli’s typical idealization of the rural Shinkai finds beauty in both the countryside and urban environments. The fact that he can make downtown Tokyo as splendid as an idyllic village by a lake shows the ability to see the beauty inherent thing in line with any great painter. When the film examines the minutia of a space (food, a cigarette, water on the leaves) is when it’s at the height of its visual power. I cannot say it’s quite as visually sumptuous his stunning “The Garden of Words,” but it has to rank among the most beautiful films I have ever seen.
If only his abilities as a storyteller were progressing as rapidly as his skills as an animator. In my opinion, his plots have grown weaker as time goes on, and this might be one of his most simplistic stories. Underneath the somewhat hard to follow time and space body switching plot, it is actually an unassuming, predictable, cathartic love story that goes for the easy resolutions. It’s not unlike some of Disney’s lazier ventures. You aren’t really surprised how any of this turns out. It doesn’t make you think.
Even in “The Garden of Words” and “5 Centimeters per Second,” we were given harder, more mature plotlines. “The Garden of Words” was a bit sappy at the end, but it still didn’t give the audience the easy out. This isn’t to say the script is terrible. It’s entertaining and often quite hilarious, but if only Shinkai would take himself more seriously. I had a good time watching “Your Name,” but I long for the day when Shinkai the writer meets Shinkai the animator. When that day comes we are in for one incredible anime.