Review: Your Name

Mitsuha has spent her life in middle-of-nowhere countryside Japan; the oldest daughter in a family of shrine maidens who dreams of the big city and escaping the boring traditions and expectations of her hometown. Taki is a high school boy in the middle of Tokyo who spends his time balancing working hard at his part-time job and admiring architectural design. They should have nothing to do with each other—except they keep waking up in each other’s bodies with no explanation except for a millennia-old comet passing above. Discover how fate has tied these two teens together in Your Name.

Your Name is the novelisation of the film of the same name, both written (and directed) by Makoto Shinkai. The English hardcover release of the single novel was released in May 2017 by Yen On, with translation done by Taylor Engel.

Makoto Shinkai has established himself over the past decade with his dramatically heart-wrenching films about bittersweet young love and missed connections. Well known for his intricate and beautiful animation, he quickly gained notoriety with his debut feature film 5 Centimeters per Second in 2007, and has maintained a highly popular and beloved body of work ever since. His 2016 film, Your Name, has been called his best film yet by fans and critics alike, and the one I personally regard as my favourite. This novel was technically the first release of this story in Japan—predating the film by a handful of months—but Shinkai mentions in his afterword that he hadn’t planned on writing this novel at all. For those, like myself, who have already seen the film, this book does not provide new events not included in the film, but instead gives a slightly different perspective. Within the novel we’re given the spilt first-person perspective between both Mitsuha and Taki as they try to live each others’ lives and find out why they’re switching, whereas the film relies on the third perspective.

For those not familiar with the story, it follows two Japanese teens from totally different situations switching bodies after falling asleep at regular intervals. There’s no exactness to the process, but three or so days of the week Mitsuha has to try and muddle her way through Big City living and high demand part-time work as Taki, and Taki has to pretend to understand the Shrine Maiden traditions of the tiny town and put up with snide comments about Mitsuha’s Mayor father from other students. They only realise that the switch is happening mainly thanks to the reactions of the people around them—commenting on their weird behaviour; Mitsuha’s childhood friend asking if she “had been exorcised by [her] Grandma” after the odd events of the day before. They figure out a way to communicate with each other (writing diary entries in notebooks and cell phones), and soon try to keep the other from ruining their life.

For as much as the story sounds like a Freaky Friday or The Parent Trap rip-off, there are a few notable differences that give the story more levity than the just the general fish-out-of-water situation. Firstly is of course the issue of gender. In most body switch films, if they do concern a boy finding himself residing inside a girl’s body it is purely played for laughs. That isn’t to say that there isn’t any of that type of humour here—Taki’s routine of groping ‘his own’ chest on the morning he wakes up as Mitsuha (no matter what) is actually quite funny—but it doesn’t just stop there. A huge part of Mitsuha’s life is gendered; the women of her family have been shrine maidens for longer than anyone can remember. She speaks in a feminine way, and the town has expectations for what her life will be and what role she’ll play. When, in the first chapters, she yells to the stars about being reincarnated as a “hot boy in Tokyo”, it’s understood as her wishing to escape what her life is. To have the freedom in society she doesn’t feel she, and other young women in small town Japan, have—especially in relation to their male counterparts living easily in major cities. That’s why, when she does start switching with Taki, she doesn’t hesitate to embrace his life. By indulging in all the delicious food she could want, befriending her coworkers and arranging a date with Taki’s beautiful sempai, she’s experiencing the outside world in it’s entirety. It’s also why, I believe, we see most of the switching from Mitsuha’s (mind’s) perspective in Tokyo. In comparison, Taki doesn’t gain much from the switch aside from discovering the quiet little town, it’s traditions and his host body’s friends. He wasn’t yearning for a quiet life, and so his experiences is much less exciting—instead he wakes up to her having influenced the relationships in his life, and trying to figure out those situations too.

It’s exactly one of these situations that has him going on a date with his gorgeous coworker, unsuccessfully. He’s ready to complain about it to the the other teen who has taken over his life, but after that, the switching stops. It’s here where the story reaches it’s second half, and where Taki’s role becomes obvious. The abrupt end to the switching has him concerned, and he can’t manage to find or contact Mitsuha anywhere. Calls don’t connect, he doesn’t know the name of her town, and something keeps making him think he’s forgotten something. He fears the memories he has slipping away, being lost, if he waits any longer though. So, he goes to find Mitsuha and her town—the only clue, a gallery photograph.

The story is short (only 170ish pages) yet provocative, the language successful in evoking the same emotions the film did. Considering that the novel does not have any of Shinkai’s signature animation or RADWIMPS’ wonderful soundtrack to rely on, it’s a testament to the writing. Even though I knew the story going in, the prose still managed to effectively draw me in and was just as heart-wrenching in its most crucial moments Everything in this novel has a purpose, and the way each aspect is interwoven with the others is not only expert, but intentional for the story. The film (and novel) has obvious influences of Japan’s hopelessness during and after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, as well as anxieties with employment rates and an ageing population. His motivations then, were to make a hopeful story for the younger generations facing this bleak reality. Something to help them “believe in their future.”

Although not the only of Shinkai’s films to get a novel (we now have both Voices of a Distant Star: Words of Love/ Across the Stars and 5 Centimeters Per Second: One More Side, as well as the short story collection Your Name Another Side: Earthbound available), this was the first to find its way to English thanks to the film’s global popularity. Yen On has made it a beautiful little book: hardcover and with an (as always) wonderful translation job from Taylor Engel. Thoughtful word and font choice prevents the switching points of view from ever becoming confusing, and even if you have seen the film, I recommend giving the novel a read even though there are no substantial differences between the two.

Gee’s RatingRecommended

You can purchase this book online via sites like Amazon (available in hardcover or as an ebook) and Book Depository (which offers free worldwide shipping). These are affiliate links, so a small percentage of sales goes toward this site.

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