Review: Your Name


Have you ever considered that when you gaze into the sky and focus on one particular star you are sharing that particular sight with hundreds or perhaps thousands of others in distant lands who just happen to be looking at that exact same spot at that exact same time? Sometimes a little perspective brings the world closer. But what if you were to share more than just a vision and what if it somehow binds your lives together? Makoto Shinkai’s exceptional animated film Your Name explores just that.

So I went into this film with ringing endorsements all about. Makoto Shinkai has been hailed as the new Hayao Miyazaki the mastermind behind such greats as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke; so naturally I was very intrigued to see what he is all about. You know what? I think they might be onto something!

Your Name tells the tale of two Japanese teenagers who, after strange circumstances one twilight evening under the gaze of a great glowing meteor passing by the Earth, become completely intertwined in each others lives, literally!

The first protagonist we meet is Mitsuha a high school girl living in the beautiful but uneventful lakeside town of Itomuri. Fed up with the small town politics and having to follow her family shrines dull ancient traditions. She longs for a life of more excitement and wants to move to Tokyo in a different life, so much so that she even proclaims that ‘I wish I was a boy in Tokyo!’

Well sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for! The next thing she knows she is waking up in the body of Taki a rough and ready, and forever late, high-school boy living in the bustling crowds of Tokyo. She simply dismisses it as a dream and enjoys the ride, all the while worrying that she won’t wake up. Meanwhile Taki’s friends wonder why he has suddenly become so feminine.

Meanwhile, Taki wakes up in Itomuri in the body of Mitsuha. He doesn’t waste too much time settling in; I mean what do you think a teenage boy would do in a girls body an notices he has some new ‘features’. He soon discovers the beauty of Itomuri and a tranquillity rarely seen in his native Tokyo.

Taki and Mitsuha dip in and out of each others lives and bodies and pretty soon they realise that they are not simply dreaming. They begin to understand their predicament and use some creative tools to communicate and begin to make the most of the situation. What follows is a journey to understand each others souls and overtime their bond becomes deeper and things get ever stranger.

The animation in this film is magnificent, there is seamless blend of reality and the fantastical. There is almost a dream like undertone to the scenery, Itomuri and Tokyo both have their own unique and strange magnificence that really moves and comes to life with some flowing free-hand animation and a very vibrant colour palette. On top of this the characters themselves are draw with such a delicacy that all the complexities and subtleties of human emotion real comes out of the screen.

Above all else Shinkai explores that deep foreboding feeling of longing that we all have from time to time; whether it be for a different place, a different time or a different person. Like many adolescents finding their feet in the world both of the characters have a deep idealistic lust for change and feel uncomfortable and awkward in their own different worlds. Their unique relationship soon becomes their vessel to explore and develop, helping each other out along the way.

Now when it comes to anime I know the awkward and embarrassed teenage protagonist is such an over done concept that more often than not portrays it in a farcical and immature manner, but in the case of Your Name this awkwardness comes with a maturity and sense of anxiety that I think is rarely shown. The characters both have a great wariness of not belonging and, to go back to my star analogy, there is a mystical comfort in realising that there is someone else out there they can relate to is gazing at the same sky; it’s an overwhelming and very warm feeling.

This film is a real gem. It is a very sweet and heart warming film with a great sense of humour and some quite heart wrenching moments throughout. You might be fooled into thinking based off of the synopsis that it is going to play out like an elaborate episode of Quantum Leap but this films plot is an intertwining journey that will take many surprising paths.

Shinkai has created a masterful piece of work and I thoroughly look forward to seeing more from him. Japanese animation might has found a new treasure.



Review: Rams

HRUTAR_RAMS_StillUp in the cold, remote and exceptionally striking hills of Iceland, feuding sheep farming brothers Gummi and Kiddi set off with their prize specimens in tow to the village’s prestigious ram competition. What follows is an intense, bitter-sweet story of sibling rivalry and an epidemic that threatens their very way of life in this brilliant drama full of sombreness, laughs, big knitted sweaters and, of course, sheep!

The characters of Gummi and Kiddi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theódór Júlíusson) certainly steal the show, in a film with little dialogue they say more with their gestures, grunts and beard twinges than could be truly said in words. This is wonderfully portrayed with a cold face and a finger point the first time we see the brothers interact. Much like the sheep they love and care for you don’t truly sense their thoughts, feelings and intentions unless you look closely.

The brothers very much play a part of the landscape and either through choice or by circumstance they have slowly grown to represent the harsh land that provides them their livelyhood; their weather-worn grey sweaters, their hard faces, their thick bushy facial hair. Indeed the landscape its self plays a starring role in this film, it is cold, harsh and bitter, but not without moments of brightness and beauty; yet another parrelel between the two brothers. As the film goes on you will soon see how the weather sculpts these brothers relationship.

What really stood out for me with this film was the storytelling. Director and writer Grímur Hákonarson doesn’t take the audience by the hand and shove all the exposition in their faces, as so many directors feel inclined to do nowadays, instead it is left to us to discover. With of course the biggest question being why have these two brothers refused to speak to one another in 40 years despite dwelling an actual stones throw from one another? Piece by piece we discover the history and the complexities behind the brothers all the way up until the point the story breaks into it’s very powerful conclusion.

For those of us who grew up in a rural environment will certainly feel a lot of connection to the areas scrapie outbreak and Hákonarson does an excellent job at portraying the farmers struggles. I grew up in a village up in the Pennines near Huddersfield and remember well the devastation of the ‘foot and mouth’ disease. I think for many in the cities or suburbs foot and mouth disease was just a funny name for a seemingly consequence-less outbreak given that beef supply didn’t go down, but for local farmers they may as well have had their farms burned down as cattle were slaughtered and huge financial losses inevitably followed; some of whom never recovered at all.

In a nutshell Rams is a simply excellent film. It is a very primal comedy-drama that showcases the deep humanity that dwells in isolated lands. It will have you laughing out loud then holding back tears and all the while completely griped. Maybe for some it could be seen as a film that requires a little patience but for me it had me right from the start! Definitely my favourite film so far this year.