DECEMBER 10 — Out of the great many corners of film genres that exist here on Earth, I can probably very confidently say that Japanese anime is one corner that I haven’t visited as much as I should or I’d like to.
Outside of established classics like Akira and Ghost In The Shell or the slightly lesser-known but nevertheless amazing Metropolis, I definitely haven’t seen enough of the genre to know or comment much about it.
At most, it’s the more lyrical and adult-oriented side of Japanese anime like the output of Studio Ghibli that I’ve seen more of, with masters like Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata providing much of my viewing pleasure when it comes to anime.
Takahata’s heartbreaking Grave Of The Fireflies remains, for me (and I’m sure a lot of others too), one of the saddest war movies ever made, never failing to make me cry like a baby every time I see it and Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro remains one of the most enchanting and bittersweet cinematic experiences one can ever have in this life, animated or otherwise.
There have been a lot of rumours regarding the fate of Studio Ghibli in the last two decades, ever since Miyazaki announced in 1997 that Princess Miyazaki will be his last film, after which he made a few more movies and then announcing again in 2014 that The Wind Rises will be his last film, and that he’s quite serious about it this time.
And when Miyazaki’s own son Goro, who after directing Tales From Earthsea and From Up On Poppy Hill for Studio Ghibli has now moved on to Japanese broadcaster NHK to direct an anime series it’s rumoured to be very likely that this year’s two Ghibli releases, When Marnie Was Here and the Dutch film The Red Turtle (the studio’s first ever collaboration with an outside animator) will be the studio’s final gifts to the world.
With all of this going on, of course it is natural for fans to start searching for the "new Miyazaki", someone to take over that mantle, and for the last few years I was convinced that we’ve already found one in Mamoru Hosoda after his string of absolutely lovely films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and the Oscar nominated Wolf Children and The Boy And The Beast.
But seemingly out of nowhere this year, a new competition for the title of "the new Miyazaki" has arrived in the form of Makoto Shinkai, with the stunning box-office success of his latest film Your Name, which has already overtaken Ponyo’s 15.5 billion Yen takings at the Japanese box-office making it currently Japan’s number 1 box-office hit of 2016 so far.
What makes that tag so irresistible when it comes to applying it to Shinkai is the fact that Your Name is in fact the first anime to gross as much as some of Miyazaki’s hits at the Japanese box-office. And not only is he doing as well as Miyazaki commercially with his latest film, but he seems to be doing just as fine artistically too with his film’s ravishing visuals and emotionally engaging storytelling.
Having not seen Shinkai’s other films like 5 Centimetres Per Second and The Garden Of Words (I told you I haven’t seen as much anime as I’d like to), I can’t really say whether Your Name represents his signature style or not, but what I can say is that based on the skills he displayed on Your Name alone, I think we may be in the presence of someone special here.
What I mean by special is, despite the new Miyazaki tag, Shinkai is very much his own man as he concentrates on our own very real world as opposed to the often fantastical worlds that Miyazaki plays around in with his films.
In fact, Your Name is pretty much a teen movie, concentrating on a pair of high school teenagers, a Tokyo boy named Taki and a country girl named Mitsuha who find themselves switching lives at random times when they fall asleep. When I said switching lives, I also meant physically switching bodies as Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body with Taki waking up in Mitsuha’s body. So far so Freaky Friday, right?
Where Shinkai makes the material his own and elevates it to levels that make this not only one of the best animated films this year but also one of the best films of the year, period, is in the nuances that he adds to the film’s story, helped immensely by some truly gorgeous 2D animation. In addition to the body-swapping comedy that the film starts as, it also later becomes an intriguing time travel mystery with a very thoughtful Shinto spirituality beautifully thrown in to shed light on the body-swapping and time-travel elements of the story.
In short, beneath all its pop songs (by Japanese band Radwimps), genuinely funny jokes and very perky plotting and pacing, Your Name is one hell of an ambitious teen movie philosophically, emotionally and visually, making it a very, very satisfying viewing experience. Seen on the big screen, it can even make you swoon with pleasure. And since it is, indeed, playing in Malaysian cinemas right now, what are you waiting for?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.