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The body-swapping romance animation shaking Japan

A body-swapping romance has shaken up Japan’s animation scene

Many Japanese admit to crying as soon as the music starts in Your Name. It’s setsunai, a term in Japanese culture used to describe the bittersweet feeling you have when remembering a past joy, a lost love, the transient nature of beauty – you get the idea. The notion of setsunai is prominent in Japanese culture and aesthetics – and the lyrics and melody of the film’s opening sequence.

Your Name.’s delicate evocation of a love that transcends gender, time and space has propelled this animated film into the list of the highest-grossing Japanese films of all time, challenging the throne that animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki has held for the past two decades. It may be too early to hail writer-director Makoto Shinkai as Miyazaki’s heir apparent, but there’s no doubt that Shinkai has created a vivid film that lives up to the hype surrounding it.

Feeling stifled living in a village near the city of Hida-Takayama in Japan’s Gifu prefecture, Mitsuha is a typical teenage girl who dreams of moving to the capital. Her dream comes true much earlier than she expected when she wakes up in the body of Taki, a teenage boy in Tokyo. At the same time, Taki wakes up in Mitsuha’s body and ends up taking over her life as well.

Japanese body-swapping and time-travel teen fantasies were first popularised in the 1980s by Nobuhiko Obayashi’s I Are You, You Am Me and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Shinkai revives the genre by putting a wild spin on his pet theme of long-distance relationships. While cities or galaxies separate lovers in his early works (Five Centimeters Per Second and Voices of a Distant Star), Mitsuha and Taki are forced apart by something more physical despite literally getting under each other’s skins. The sensation of being so near yet so far epitomises the sweet furtiveness of adolescent romance.

A plot twist in the middle also reveals how the protagonists’ paranormal experiences are part of a grander celestial phenomenon. Shinkai’s fascination with parallel worlds and cosmic mysteries, previously explored in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, reaches a new level of complexity and emotional resonance here.

On top of the moving story, the visual beauty of Your Name. is also something to behold – whether it’s the cloudburst of hyperrealistic details, the shimmering play of light over a placid lake or fireworks lit by a comet slicing across the sky. To cap it off, the songs by rock band Radwimps swell along with the dramatic climax, leaving us all on a lingering high.

Maggie Lee is chief Asia film critic for US entertainment industry publication Variety and a programming consultant for the Tokyo International Film Festival

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Trivia from films showing onboard


The years cartographer Kim Jeong-ho spent producing his map of the Korean Peninsula during the Joseon dynasty. Watch the incredible true story in Map Against the World.


The number of different endings that were shot for Bridget Jones’s Baby. Not even the cast knew which one would be used until the film was released.


The estimated number of script drafts that Mr. and Mrs. Smith went through before the final version.


The number of best actress awards Soul Mate received at 2016’s Taipei Golden Horse Awards. Stars Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun are the first joint winners for the prize.

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