Makoto Shinkai’s body-swap anime shows how habit and happenstance refine desire.
In the rare moments during Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name when my mind wandered a bit, it kept coming back to the old internet meme “Still a better love story than Twilight.” Though the phrase was usually employed sarcastically on the ol’ interwebz, it was true in the best sense of Your Name, which effortlessly captures the purity and passion of adolescent love in a way Stephenie Meyer’s dark fantasy saga could only hope to. I left the theater feeling as if I had just woken from a beautiful, indescribable dream, desperately fighting to keep it from fading from memory.
Currently in surprisingly wide release—at least for a subtitled anime film without any giant robots in it—Your Name is a magical-realist tearjerker in which a pair of teenagers who have never met find themselves randomly swapping bodies, Freaky Friday–style. Each night, Taki, a boy from Tokyo, and Metsuha, a girl from a rural village, go to bed not knowing in which body they’ll wake up come morning.
The film makes no attempt to explain the phenomenon, allowing it to exist on the thin line between the concrete and the ephemeral. Instead, it concerns itself primarily with how its characters adjust to their new reality. It’s also unambiguously a love story—one so pure and innocent in tone that even when a rare double entendre strays into the dialog, you wonder if it was put there intentionally.
Like Meyer’s Twilight series, which made teenage female desire palatable to the masses by translating it into vampiric bloodlust, Your Name uses its central conceit as a metaphor for the emotional yearnings and bodily insecurities inherent to adolescence. In other words, it’s a coming-of-age story, and …