Over the ages, as many different stories have been written, certain tropes for whole plots have begun to emerge. For instance, there is the “Deal with the Devil” plot, which always centers around an individual making a corrupt bargain with a malevolent force, often with a terrible price paid. Another is the “Going Native” plot, which follows an individual finding themselves among a different culture, then siding with that culture and fighting against that which they once were. The focus for this review, though, is a trope I will call the “Body Swappers” plot. This trope is centered around two or more people finding themselves in each other’s bodies, usually through some mystical force or advanced science. Generally, these sorts of stories involve the participants gaining a greater understanding and respect for each other. Now, while these sorts of plots may be familiar, what gives them their spark is in how they are used and executed. For instance, the “Body Swappers” plot is the basic idea at play in the novel Your Name., which has now been adapted into an anime film by director Makoto Shinkai. Under his direction, the film is a lovely romance that uses the “Body Swappers” plot to develop its characters and cast a light on the changes on Japan.
Taki is a teenage boy living in Tokyo who deals with the constant hustle and bustle as he juggles school and work. Mitsuha is a teenage girl living in a small rural town, bored with her country life and frustrated with her politician father. One morning, a surprise greets them both: they awaken in the other’s body. It seems be to random as to whenever they wake up in the other’s body, and once they return to their own, the memories of their experiences begin to fade away like a dream. Stuck in this rather odd situation, the two try to maneuver through it the best that they can. They leave notes for the other to communicate and advise them on how to act. They try to help the other out as they navigate the hurdles and challenges. The more that they learn of each other, though, the more that they begin to fall in love with each other. Eventually, they seek a way to get past these barriers and finally meet each other face to face…before they potentially forget each other and lose this tender connection.
This new project by Makoto Shinkai is a delightful little movie. The animation is gorgeous, capturing a realistic aesthetic that is balanced by the magical components of the story. Whether it is the modern buildings of Tokyo or the lush forest near Mitsuha’s small town, the quality of detail in the animation is great. The quality of that animation also extends to the actions of the characters. It is not just the strong voice acting that goes to show whenever one person is in the other’s body. The swap is also demonstrated through the little gestures and movements of Taki and Mitsuha. For instance, Mitsuha tends to carry herself with a more careful and submissive air, while Taki can be more proactive and prone to reacting to any slights against him. The body language they sport, even as they try to maintain the other’s normal life, help to reveal just who is in possession of a body at any time. Of course, it is not just the quality of the animation that makes this such a good film. It is also in the story and writing, which offers a fresh feel to a familiar plot trope.
Most of the time, whenever a “Body Swappers” plot is used, it is generally to show two characters coming to learn more about the other and having a greater respect for them. In this case, the film takes this familiar plot and uses it as an inspired approach for a romance. As both Taki and Mitsuha live through days in each other’s lives, they see the worlds they live in and fall for each other in the process. Along with that, they also grow more as individuals thanks to the experiences that they share. Taki begins to see more value in having a cooler head and not just instinctively reacting, while Mitsuha begins to develop more of a spine and stand up for herself. This body swap does not just take advantage of examining the differences between these two characters, though. It also casts a light on the changes in Japan. While Taki spends his days in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Mitsuha’s small town lacks a lot of those modern features while holding on to older traditions. In fact, Mitsuha and her sister perform rituals at a local shrine, led by her grandmother who seeks to preserve these parts of the past. These two perspectives serve as a nice way to showcase these two sides of Japan: the ancient cultures and traditions that have been a part of the nation throughout the ages, and the technological landscape that has grown in recent years.
Through the years, many familiar forms of plots have grown and developed. By using the familiar “Body Swappers” plot and applying it to a love story, Your Name. breathes new life by using it to explore self-growth through a shared experience.