In the rare moments during Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name when my mind wandered a bit, it kept coming back to the old internet meme “Still a better love story than Twilight.” Though the phrase was usually employed sarcastically on the ol’ interwebz, it was true in the best sense of Your Name, which effortlessly captures the purity and passion of adolescent love in a way Stephenie Meyer’s dark fantasy saga could only hope to. I left the theater feeling as if I had just woken from a beautiful, indescribable dream, desperately fighting to keep it from fading from memory.
Currently in surprisingly wide release—at least for a subtitled anime film without any giant robots in it—Your Name is a magical-realist tearjerker in which a pair of teenagers who have never met find themselves randomly swapping bodies, Freaky Friday–style. Each night, Taki, a boy from Tokyo, and Metsuha, a girl from a rural village, go to bed not knowing in which body they’ll wake up come morning.
The film makes no attempt to explain the phenomenon, allowing it to exist on the thin line between the concrete and the ephemeral. Instead, it concerns itself primarily with how its characters adjust to their new reality. It’s also unambiguously a love story—one so pure and innocent in tone that even when a rare double entendre strays into the dialog, you wonder if it was put there intentionally.
Like Meyer’s Twilight series, which made teenage female desire palatable to the masses by translating it into vampiric bloodlust, Your Name uses its central conceit as a metaphor for the emotional yearnings and bodily insecurities inherent to adolescence. In other words, it’s a coming-of-age story, and the arc the characters follow is a natural one. At first, Taki and Metsuha assume that what they’re experiencing is a dream, and simply have fun with the respective lives they’ve fallen into. As they come to realize that their situation is indeed a real one—and that they’re in the same boat—they begin to work together, communicating through notes they leave in each other’s notebooks and phones, and even on their own skin via Sharpie markers. Eventually, they learn to “care” for each other in every sense of the word.
The story contains some genuinely surprising plot twists along the way, which I won’t spoil; it’s not really spoiling anything, though, to tell you that the characters confess their love for each other before the film’s end. When it happens, it’s both completely jarring and entirely natural—jarring because the film does little to explain the “why” of their mutual affection, but natural because it doesn’t really need to. The shared love seems bound to develop between the two characters simply because they’ve shared so much of their lives. Your Name is a romantic film, but it’s far from a romanticized film. Aside from the initial bit of magic, the film isn’t particularly interested in “fate.” It’s not really even concerned with things like shared interests or chemistry. For Your Name, love is an entirely mundane thing—just as it is in the real world.
Former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe writes a series online called What If? in which he analyzes improbable scenarios via serious math and physics principles, and in one memorable iteration of it, he looked at the concept of the “soulmate”—the idea that everyone has one special person they’re meant to share life with. He concluded that, if such a thing were true, you’d have a 0.01 percent chance of ever actually finding your soulmate, even under idealized circumstances. In fact, most research has found that the surest predictor of whether any two people will end up together is something so mundane as to seem almost tyrannically trivial: their physical proximity to one another. So much, it seems, for destiny.