I fist learned of Makoto Shinkai through his short film Voices of a Distant Star, which he animated himself on his personal computer and came out 15 years ago. It’s the story of a young female mech pilot sending text messages to the boy she likes, but as she travels farther and farther from Earth the messages take longer and longer to reach Earth; it is what you would call a “sad story.” It’s got that hard sci-fi knack for being a single idea executed simply. It blows out teenage longing into a real separation and distance, while remaining relatable. It’s good and more importantly it shows promise.
It’s also not something I’d recommend because it’s more good for what it is, a thing basically made by one dude. It’s really more of a good portfolio piece then a good piece of entertainment.
I haven’t really kept up with his career, but looking over his filmography of features with actual staffs and production I’d say the themes and sensibilities he established early carried through. He seems to have made some more sad stories.
Everything that’s good about Voices of a Distant Star (and I assume most of his other work) is present in his latest movie Your Name, but there’s also so much more.
Your Name gives the audience and characters room to breathe and have fun. Sadness, longing, and loneliness are parts of this story but this story isn’t just about those things. We’re allowed to see these characters get to know each other, and how their relationship develops, and how they change each other; even though our two leads haven’t even really met.
The simple layout for the story is that a boy (Taki). who lives in the city and a girl (Mitsuha),who lives in a small country town, wake up in each others bodies repeatedly. The process is compared to dreaming, and when they wake up in their own body they have trouble fully remembering what happened when they were the other person. It happens so frequently (several times a week) that they develop a system of guidelines and keep journals to inform the other of what they did in their body.
The key to these early parts is how funny the movie is and how likeable the characters are. The film sucks you into their situation and gets you to care about them before it drops the plot bomb on you and them. Body swapping is not a new idea, particularly in anime, but Makoto Shinkai uses it as a very effective tool for establishing these characters and the mundanity of their lives, both to each other and the audience all while setting up the real plot.
To talk about this movie anymore in depth I’m going to need to talk about that plot a bit so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to go in completely fresh, consider this a strong recommendation. And if you’re still on the fence this’ll just be a soft midpoint spoiler that ‘ll let you know where the movie goes and not a complete point by point rundown of the events of the film.