Kimi No Na Wa. – Review
While this is a movie that tries its best to base its supernatural elements on Shintoism, you probably shouldn’t spend too much time about whether the mechanics of the supernatural make sense in this movie. Also, instead, how about you just enjoy the view!
Kimi no Na wa. : Look, destiny can be a real bitch sometimes, you know? There’s a person out there who you’re meant to be with! ‘Great!’, you might say, ‘Spares me the hassle of dating!’. But here’s the catch: This person lives hundreds of miles away. And destiny can’t just, like, write on your bedroom-wall “Hey, dumdum, your true love is over there!”. No, gotta make it complicated!
Enter Mitsuha and Taki. The former lives in the countryside and the latter lives in Tokyo. Occasionally, they bodyswap. Well, I guess, everybody needs a hobby. Anyway, they’re meant for each other.
I mean, it’s better than the plot to Serendipity (the movie from 2001 that turns the concept of ‘meet-cute’ into a whole movie for whatever reason), right?
Another anime banging the drum of traditionalism while it bases its supernatural elements on them.
Kimi no Na Wa has enjoyed huge success at the box-office. And there’s been talk that the movie got snubbed at the Oscar-nominations. It’s easy to see why. After all, it’s another Makoto Shinkai project that dazzles (as usual) with its specific style of storytelling and grandiose animation. As beautiful as the movie is, the story is just as accessible. And weaving together a tale of romance connected to a supernatural event, it’s certainly a stirring tale. But the movie pretty much lost me during its third act.
One impediment to the movie’s ability to connect with its audience is Makoto Shinkai himself. In terms of themes: fated love separated by some sort of plot-device, be it supernatural or mundane, deep longing and the struggle to find happiness in life. Nothing this movie’s doing story-wise would be unfamiliar to anyone who knows Makoto Shinkai’s work. In that way, Makoto Shinkai is quite the auteur-director/writer as all his projects are uniquely “his”. At this point, it’s hard to miss his involvement in a project because of how distinctive and well-known his style has become.
So why’s his particular style an impediment when, for example, David Lynch’s weirdness or Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli-projects have equally shown a pattern of familiar themes and story-beats in their works? In my opinion, it’s a matter of depth. What Makoto Shinkai’s works usually care about is usually ALL they care about. The familiar trappings of his movies aren’t the stepping-stone to something else. Compare 5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised In Our Early Days or Voices Of A Distant Star with this movie for example. The similarities aren’t just present, they’re blindingly obvious. And it isn’t like getting through his filmography offers you different takes on what they share in terms of themes and story-beats.
And this is how the movie lost me: It’s pretty much done in the second act. You see, as the synopsis already tells you: There’s a guy called Taki in Tokyo and there’s a girl called Mitsuha in the countryside. Occasionally they swap bodies. And there’s a montage-sequence showing you how the two deal with this curious phenomenon. This is the movie at its best, though. Relying on the solid characterization of the cast, you basically watch these two people trying to improve each other’s lives which are a nice symbolic sign of how they are meant to be together. The movie could’ve spent way more time on them trying to hide the fact that they’re body-swapping while using their individual strengths for each other’s benefit. And over the course of that, they slowly fall in love with each other.
Naturally, in the second half the plot starts to kick in and thanks to a slight plottwist, things get far more complicated than first imagined. It’s the kind of plottwist that not only is there to surprise the audience but to artificially complicate and prolong the narrative. All the intrigue, drama and tension of that third and fourth act only exists because of this one wrench that has been thrown into the proceedings of the narrative. I don’t want to spoil what the twist is, although personally, I saw it coming. And the reason for that is, of course, my familiarity with Makoto Shinkai’s work, of course. So, the plottwist isn’t working for me and then the movie basically spends something like 40 minutes resolving the problems caused by this plottwist.
Things get even more tedious as the story has this rather lengthy epilogue that builds up to a predictable ending. And this is how I really know that the movie has lost me: The final moment of the movie, the emotional moment everything in the movie has led up to – and it left me cold. Now, since it’s a very popular movie, I assume a lot of people feel very differently about this but the ending bored me more than anything else. I pretty much wished the movie had ended a couple minutes earlier.
This shouldn’t be taken, though, as a recommendation not to see this movie. Visually the movie IS stunning. Not only is there a great attention to detail in the visuals but the best way to describe the art and animation in this movie is “beautiful”. And the movie equally portrays the countryside and Tokyo as simply breathtaking places of beauty. There are a lot of wide shots in the movie which focus on the scenery and both Tokyo as well as the countryside become these bright places that feel alive.
I think if you haven’t seen any of Makoto Shinkai’s work this is a great introduction to his style. For those who are familiar with his works, you’ll either love it or be disappointed because he’s simply doing his “usual shtick” here. While it looks great, the story has some fun moments but mostly gets burdened by plot-shenanigans in the second half while the actual story isn’t complicated enough to warrant that baggage. Therefore the ending feels less like a cathartic victory and more like a belabored, circumspect way to get to a conclusion the series could’ve easily reached a little less than an hour before without the plot-twist.
- Seriously, I don’t even want to think about how much sense the developments in the second half make (*cough* plot-convenient amnesia *cough*). Thematically and story-wise, they make (kinda) sense and that’s enough. And believe me, it isn’t a positive when I don’t even want to think about it.
- To add my 2 cents to the Oscar-snub-discussion. I mean, the animation-category normally goes for the mainstream-pick anyway, so if you watch a lot of movies, you usually have seen all the nominees. Here we go: Kubo and the Two Strings: From guys who made the (also great) Coraline-movie, this is a great movie about the value of storytelling and a boy’s relationship with his parents. Personally my favorite in that category. Moana: A nice Disney-movie, although the middle dragged a little bit (and I liked this movie more than Frozen, I have to say). But the music is great (that Dwayne-Johnson-song ^^ ) and if you have the chance listen to the outtake of the song “More”. It’s a more Lin-Manuel Miranda-esque version of Moana’s main-song “How Far I’ll Go”. My Life As A Courgette: Well animated, touching story. That’s it. I mean, it isn’t bad. I just don’t see how it warrants this much attention. Red Turtle: A visual spectacle for sure (!) but can’t say this one stayed with me for long. Zootopia: It’s a fun allegory about racism but also another movie that after since it came out I need to be reminded of to remember it.
- Should this movie be in that category? Hmm… Considering how broad the categories of consideration are for this category usually, probably. But, as you can see from my rating alone, I wouldn’t put it into the same category as, say, Princess Mononoke, Paprika from Satoshi Kon or Mamoru Hasada’s work (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, The Boy And The Beast), for example. Despite its stunning visuals, there’s just too much in this movie that feels overly familiar (in part because it’s Makoto Shinkai repeating himself kinda) and the overall story isn’t particularly transcendent. This movie’s a romance in all the ways you think it would be. Now in an awards-show that has more distinct categories in terms of animation, this movie should get some awards for its visual presentation.
- Another great thing about this movie: Somehow it’s one of the few animes that seems to get technology. The way the characters are using their phones and how this helps them navigate each other’s lives… It’s very basic but just look at all the animes in this season that supposedly happen in the present: Do you feel like they fully understand how today’s technology influences our daily lives? Sometimes I really wonder what the writers’ room for those shows looks like. Are these all 50+-grandpas who may know how to write an anime but have no idea how to write a 21st-century-teenager?