Melodrama, or being melodramatic, has evolved into some form of a negative connotation. We tend to forget that it was a formal genre that populated films in the 30s, 40s, and 50s but had its roots in theater. It is a style, both aesthetic and performative, heightening the emotional and sensual experience of character conflict. It is as if the medium, dunked in the melodramatic touch, can sometimes take a hold of those moments most sentimental and hold them up proudly for the audience to see. Sometimes, even this pride is enough to convince the audience to gravitate towards the density of sentimentality, forgetting about what lies outside the darkened theater. While being catapulted across space and time, upwards towards the heavens and darting deep into the obscure recesses of the human mind, Makoto Shinkai's Your Name weaves an intricate melodrama of love, memory, and how sense impressions can dictate how we see and feel the world.
Your Name begins with Mitsuha, a small town girl tired with the limiting surroundings, and Taki, a city boy incline in organizing his life, swapping bodies and, thus, where they live. Shinkai navigates through the immense awkwardness rather successfully, comically allowing each character to explore the opposite gender and the expectations they face. Within the first act alone, Shinkai builds up layer upon layer of intriguing set pieces that thoughtfully exhibit how stepping out of that preordained gender role can open you up to new people, to allow yourself the full spectrum of emotions and actions rather than just the ones you think will make you more of a man or a woman. The film is not wholly immune from thematic prat falls when it comes with toying with shallow gender stereotypes, as in it would have been interesting if each thought, in assuming the control of the opposite's body, they would assume control of conventional physique and mannerism but would later be surprised that may not be the case. Although this certainly does not ruin the experience, it needs to be acknowledge, nonetheless.
But that does lead me into probably the worst part of the film...which really isn't about structure, theme, style, or whatnot. It is merely about one shot, probably with an elapsed time of five seconds. Mitsuha is frantically bicycling down the road, wearing a the stereotypical schoolgirl skirt. The filmmakers decided to use a low-angle shot to watch her pump the bicycle pedals...essentially giving us access to her underwear...Look, if she were wearing joggers then it's fine but skirts and low-angle shots just don't mix. For a film trying, and succeeding, in creating a full and dynamic female character, they were careless in implementing a shot like this.
Amid some of these problems lies a film luscious in eye candy and brain pickings. Cross-cuts and montages, especially one montage dealing with how both of the protagonists adapt to the body-switching, are handled with an apparent deftness. These editing techniques are what the narrative hinges upon for clarity, bridging them with thought-voices and other forms of narration, culminating in a tapestry of time periods, or memories and experiences had, and how a flow of emotion restlessly recalls what has been done and what has been felt. And this tapestry is rendered gorgeous through the celestial color palette and fluid animation. From the sparkling naturalness of the small, lakeside town to the digitized vibrancy of the Tokyo cityscape, there is much for the eye to contemplate on. Even more so, the iridescent night sky imbues the whole film in a humanistic surrealism where every time Mitsuha and Taki look up at the universe in wonder, they are looking straight into the universe inside each other, so beautiful and mysterious; the definition of their relationship.
Certainly there is something Proustian to this tale, where Your Name is not just a title but a loose indication of the concept of the place-name. How many people have we met or have crossed paths with if for just a blip of a moment? How often do we think back to the people that have made an impression on us and find that what we see is only a kaleidoscopic image? The main characters wrestle with this idea. Their adolescent minds struggle to understand this inevitable tragedy, the silent tragedy all humans face. It takes its time for us to understand such ramifications and it orchestras these complex, often overwhelming themes into the melodramatic mode. Shinkai does this well. He does this even with a convoluted plot. It is because this plot works well to reflect upon the themes it sets out to retain and organize. Shortcomings arise, particularly towards the end where (SPOILERS KIND OF) the film dragged until the narrative instinctively reached a point of satisfaction, but these are merely structural and the content remains engrossing.
Your Name is a great melodrama and a great animation. It is one that wildly flaunts its intoxicating ambition. Yes, its flaunting sometimes lands it in areas problematic but it reaches for the stars, and it gives us a thorough story and its heart is in the right place. I've always felt a certain romance when looking up at the night sky. Now there is a story that thinks similarly.
Just get rid of that low-angle shot, please.