Since Your Name has finally seen its bluray release in Japan, we’re going to give a thorough look at the neat details hidden in the film, the artists who made it all possible and their personal approach, as well as the usual notes about who animated what. There’s an essay on the film coming up as well, but for now this already should be a huge treat for fans of the film!
Original Author, Script, Storyboard, Editing, Composite, Direction: Makoto Shinkai
Unit Direction: Kenji Imura
Character Designer, Opening Animation Director: Masayoshi Tanaka
Animation Character Designer, Main Animation Director: Masashi Ando
Animation Direction: Ei Inoue, Kenichi Tsuchiya, Shunsuke Hirota, Kazuchika Kise
Key Animation: Takeshi Inamura, Hideki Hamasu, Akira Honma, Ei Inoue, Kenichi Tsuchiya, Shunsuke Hirota, Atsuko Tanaka, Megumi Kagawa, Hiroko Minowa, Takayo Nishimura, Taisuke Iwasaki, Michi Kishino, Naoki Kobayashi, Ushio Tazawa, Ai Takashi, Hisaki Furukawa, Satoru Nakamura, Mariko Matsuo, Asahi Takeuchi, Emi Matsunaga, Naoyuki Tatsuwa, Ryosuke Mizuno, Naoko Kawahara, Ryosuke Tsuchiya, Yuko Matsumura, Minoru Ohashi, Yutaka Araki, Yuji Watanabe, Naoko Saito, Sanae Yamamoto, Kazuyoshi Takeuchi
Emi Ota, Takahiro Chiba, Shinji Suetomi, Rina Takenawa, Sachiko Fukuda, Hiroko Kasuga, Saki Konishi, Haruo Okuno, Takayuki Gotan, Hisako Shimotsuma
Norio Matsumoto, Hiroyuki Okiura, Takashi Hashimoto
Opening Key Animation: Atsushi Nishigori, Junichiro Taniguchi, Taisuke Iwasaki, Shouko Takimoto, Koji Ooya, Masayoshi Tanaka
Flashback Scene Direction, Key Animation, Composite: Yoshitoshi Shinomiya
— Some quick staff notes: while most one-man army type creators in this industry are animators, Shinkai keeps that approach from his indie days despite focusing on anything but that aspect. The animation crew captained by the talented Masashi Ando represents the post-Ghibli climate more strongly than perhaps any other project to date. Production I.G, prominently credited for production assistance, was also an important factor; the second separate group of key animators is made up of people with ties to the company, and of course there’s Kazuchika Kise as one of the animation directors as well.
— Takashi Hashimoto animation right off the bat, with the comet Tiamat blazing through the clouds. I’ll attempt to highlight all the notable pieces of animation with confirmed authorship, but might make a bit of an exception with Hashimoto because, as I found out after I bought his key animation book for the film, he handled right about every piece of effects animation. He’s the indisputable king of 2D FX in anime through quantity alone, since he acts the supervisor of that material in most series that have a specific role for it. In that sense, it’s not surprising to see him dominate this movie as well. And of course, this means that Shinkai’s healthy obsession with celestial objects was entrusted to a reliable animator.
— This is going to be a very positive set of notes because I quite like the film and think it’s brilliantly constructed, but I have to admit that I think the opening sequence is a very weak effort, in that it feels like a standard latenight-style opening weirdly disconnected from the film’s flow. If you do like it though, here’s the video storyboards for the entire sequence! The movie’s famous character designer Masayoshi Tanaka was too busy to supervise the film, but he made up for it by acting as animation director for its opening. He also personally animated some bits, like this around the intro and this beautiful shot that has shading totally unlike the rest of the film.
— The way in which Mitsuha does her hair, which had its own set of reference sheets drawn by Masashi Ando, is quickly established as a pretty intricate process. This is one of the many mechanisms to highlight the contrast between how they operate the bodies, since Taki opts for an easy ponytail.
— There are a couple of scenes in this movie using this pattern of visible thought bubble that pans down to a flustered Mitsuha. This is a cute quirk that isn’t in vogue anymore, which might be explained by the fact that Shinkai is a bit older than most fans realize, and thus sometimes draws inspiration from more old-school work. Since his movies resonate so strongly with the youth and have great grasp of communication between current teens, people tend to forget he’s 44 already!
— The dancing scene is one of the most impressive craft accomplishments in the film, and packs more meaning than you might have noticed. The sequence was choreographed and performed by kabuki actor Kazutaro Nakamura, and it’s meant to represent the first comet incident that is later revealed to have caused the lake’s existence. This clearly reinforces the role of the Miyamizu and their shrine as an entity to preserve knowledge. On an animation level it’s quite the achievement too; rotoscoping sequences like this often causes some disconnect between the obvious cartoon expressions and the real body, so they opted for heavily referencing instead. The result, animated by the ex-Ghibli youngster Naoko Kawahara whom Masashi Ando praised, is truly enchanting. The fires that complement it are once again Takashi Hashimoto’s work.
— This isn’t as obvious until we see both of them act within their bodies, but with Mitsuha as Taki comes even more delightful body language and acting nuance. Mannerisms like playing with one’s hair quickly stand out. Logically I understand that it would screw over the pacing, but I wouldn’t mind 10 times more body swapping hijinks just to see each other acting in (literally) each other’s shoes. Also, there’s another cute detail in how Mitsuha doesn’t wear the ribbon as a bracelet when she’s in Taki’s body because she doesn’t even know he’s got it, whereas Taki won’t wear it because he refuses to tie Mitsuha’s hair. So in a way, its presence marks that the actual person is in control of the body.
— 2016? That’s not quite the same year we just saw in a calendar. Surely that’s not foreshadowing anything.
— Il giardino delle parole, aka The Garden of Words. Someone on the background art crew decided to have some fun.
— This is a good moment to bring up Mitsuha’s obsession with a pink hedgehog, since that’s what she sews into Okudera’s skirt. The hedgehog had already appeared before and keeps on showing up constantly throughout the film on notebooks, pencil cases, straps, plushies, and all sorts of merch – even 25 years old Mitsuha still has some! As far as I’m concerned, Mitsuha writing Amy the Hedgehog fanfiction will be canon until proved otherwise. Incidentally, her sister Yotsuha is a big fan of some sort of pink and blue creature.
— Mitsuha constantly checking out how to get to wherever she needs to go is a neat touch as well. The movie is mindful of modern details like that, like how she’s connected through 4G on the train and using wi-fi at home. That is what I was going to point out, but jeez girl how did you deplete the phone’s battery in about 20 seconds. The boring answer is that these continuity errors are bound to happen with teams this big. I wouldn’t even have caught it if I wasn’t seeking examples of these details to begin with.
— Hard to appreciate without high-resolution video, but you can feel the slight pressure of the pen and the hand’s softness when Mitsuha is writing on Taki’s hand. Portrayals of writing are actually incredibly tricky because they require excellent composite work to create the illusion (since the act and the output are created by different departments), but this film pulled it off even with chalk. Also, this is the first instance of someone writing on their hand which as you can imagine is quite important.
— Most of the movie is from Taki’s point of view, but we actually take 27 minutes to see him in control of his body. And as mentioned earlier, the ribbon marks the real owners of the bodies.
— This shot mirrors Mitsuha sitting to highlight the contrast in mannerisms. This is something the movie does constantly and in very effective ways. The voice acting plays a huge role in setting them apart of course, but it’s great that you could immediately tell who is in control while watching the film muted. And while we’re on this scene, “ew he suggested a boy was cute” is a dumb short gag.
— At this point in the film, the hints that something is off time-wise aren’t subtle so much as a narrative hammer hitting you in the head. First time watchers of the film are often too distracted by the brisk tempo of the film – I know I was – while the characters are…well, Taki and Mitsuha are precious kids but they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed. Bless their obliviousness.
— Now we’re talking! The intro perfectly encapsulates the body swapping dynamic, which again makes me question the initial opening. It’s not only a joy to watch due to its snappy pacing, it also highlights something important about its director and this movie’s inception. That the soundtrack was actually composed hand in hand with the film becomes blatantly obvious in the buildup to this moment. RADWIMPS are even credited for the music in a place of honor, between character designers and animation directors, that composers are never granted; part of this is smart PR because they’re a famous name, but it underlines their very important role as well. And when it comes to Shinkai, this sequence shows that his talent isn’t so much storyboarding but editing. That’s not a role that directors tend to handle by themselves to begin with, and yet he’s exceptionally good at it. I’ve jokingly called him an AMV maker in the past, but this shows he genuinely can turn that into an asset. I think he’s up there with people like Eureka 7’s director Kyoda and 10GAUGE’s crew when it comes to having impeccable sense for this.
— Taki building a cafeteria of sorts alongside Tessie, on the same location used for the punchline about the town having none to boot, might be the cutest silent detail in the film. A good way to show that both of them approach the issues from different angles too, since Mitsuha was more passive about that.
— Wearing the school uniform because he thought it was a weekday like in his timeline makes even more explicit that something is off. As I said before, these kids are a bit dense.
— Since I’m on a narrative note, and even though I think that the exact mechanics of the phenomenon aren’t important or even all that interesting, Taki’s struggle to carry grandma makes it obvious that strength is tied to the body. Dexterity on the other hand isn’t, since his drawings were just as good in Mitsuha’s body.
— I know I’m gushing about this a lot but just compare Mitsuha and Taki running with the same body, on the same place, filmed with the exact same layout. Posture can go a great length to show character but they actually move in different ways in this film, even in short cycles like this. The character animation in Your Name is so much stronger than any other Shinkai film that I feel gross even by comparing them.
— Labeling the exhibit featuring Mitsuha’s town Nostalgia is downright mean.
— Each variation on Mitsuha’s design allows you to know exactly at which point on the timeline you are, even when it jumps around. Either a smart trick or something neat they achieved by accident, but cool nonetheless.
— Taki’s interest in design work and landscapes is established early on and leads nicely to one of the movie’s final messages, rather than being a convenient development for this act of the film. That said, I’ll never not laugh at his massive ARCHITECTURE canvas.
— The drawings bring him memories of Itomori, and so does his face for us. He was one of the bystanders listening to Mitsuha’s dad.
— “By the way her sister and grandma died too” how kind of you, movie. The naming pattern in the family – Hitoha, Futaba, Mitsuha, Yotsuha – is a nice way to show that this phenomenon has been repeating through generations, as is explained later.
— Either the film forgot that Taki was keeping a diary before the swapping (inconsequential, go somewhere else if you want a boring rundown of “plotholes”), time-ruling entities are assholes and overdid it (always possible), or Taki was embarrassed about Mitsuha reading his personal entries and nuked those (cute, I choose to believe this).
— And so we arrive to perhaps the most memorable piece of animation in the film. Your Name is by all means well made, but it majorly leans towards restrained realism so there aren’t many opportunities for magical moments like this. The comet morphs into the very thread linking Taki and Mitsuha, the one that represents the latter’s life. This scene is almost entirely the work of Yoshitoshi Shinomiya, an independent artist who had already worked with Shinkai when illustrating a poster for his previous film The Garden of Words. But this sequence takes their collaboration, and perhaps his entire career, to a whole new level. It’s not as if it’s an entirely new register for him as an artist; the cold yet inviting colors appear to be a recurring theme on his work (even on the visual he drew for this year’s Pokemon film), as is the textured look more similar to illustrations, but ultimately the result is just on a different level. I don’t fault anyone walking away from this film and feeling that as a piece of craft it peaked here.
— There are rarely objective truths in art, but Taki in Mitsuha’s body and Tessie have the best chemistry in the film and I will fight anyone who claims otherwise.
— Get ready for some sourcing, because there’s an incredible relay of outstanding animators. Taki rushing through the forest, as well as the iconic sequence where Mitsuha hands him the ribbon, were animated by Naoki Kobayashi. His departure from Naruto and Pierrot in general to become a freelance artist was sad for its fans, but the industry as a whole undoubtedly benefited from it. Nowadays he pops up on tons of high-profile projects, putting his versatility to good use. The frantic run through the forest shows his maturity and how much more character he can imbue into his action nowadays, even using more subdued registers.
— And speaking of sakuga stars with links to Naruto, Kobayashi is followed by the one and only Norio Matsumoto. He earned one of the three spots of honor in the list of key animators (alongside the FX master Hashimoto, and Hiroyuki Okiura for his work on the climax) by animating Mitsuha and Taki’s meeting, including the excellent scene leading up to it. The enchanting rhythm immediately stands out, as do the shapes of the drawings; their hair in particular assumes more simple forms that feel perfectly natural in motion. I feel like very few people in the industry understand animation like he does, let alone possess the skill necessary to consistently put out work like this.
— Brief interlude from animation talk: their height difference is much more pronounced than in the previous scene, because Taki’s aged 3 years since then. Kinda cute.
— Next is the ex-Ghibli Takeshi Inamura, who animated the whole scene surrounding the moment where Mitsuha gets back her ribbon. He’s another all-rounder who effortlessly switches from smooth delicacy to more snappy acting. There’s still a perception that animation fans gravitate towards flamboyant and complex sequences, but my absolute favorite cut in the entire film is this simple instant; there are more inventive pieces of animation and more impressive technical achievements, but the exaggerated frown and sincere burst of laughter pack immense amounts of character. Inamura got the top key animation credit in the movie, so I’m glad his efforts were acknowledged.
— Brief interlude from animation talk #2: Taki genuinely not being a fan of Mitsuha’s new haircut and almost ruining the mood because he couldn’t hide it is also a cute detail.
— After that is the turn of an up-and-coming theatrical animation star, Akira Honma. I’ll be honest and admit that while his loving portrayal of writing on each other’s hands is excellent, what dominates the scene is Shinkai’s visceral cut at the end. Physically painful and further proof that editing is his actual forte.
— Here begins Takashi Hashimoto’s true festival of 2D effects. Their sabotage of the power plant, the shots of the comet, the impact and cataclysm, it’s all by his hand. It’s perhaps not immediately obvious, but the density of his explosions in the film is quite high, using up many layers and genuinely filling the screen with the cruel aftermath of the disaster. Hashimoto is the king of TV 2DFX, but he clearly knows how to step up his game for theatrical projects, where the audience faces a larger screen that must be filled with eye-catching detail.
— But if there’s one final piece of animation worth highlighting, it’s got to be Hiroyuki Okiura’s depiction of Mitsuha rushing to save the town. If Shinomiya’s flashback was the most inventive part of the film, and Matsumoto’s meeting perhaps the most charming, then this is the most technically proficient sequence. And I don’t mean to say it’s simply a clinical showcase of skill, au contraire; it’s because of Okiura’s otherworldly thoroughness when animating all of Mitsuha, from her swaying bangs to the folds of her clothing, that this scene feels so real. There’s tangible pain when she falls, and the way she moves her arms makes it obvious how hard she’s trying. While the facial expressions are pure Okiura realism (he’s well-known for his lifelike grimaces and genuine crying faces), they still get across her firm resolve. If anything I feel like this might be one of the least corrected pieces of animation in the whole film, since some drawings feel straight out of Okiura’s A Letter to Momo. Shinkai himself has openly gushed about his skill, which is entirely unsurprising considering how well made the whole scene is.
— Taki now fights to construct beautiful landscapes that will remain in people’s memories even if a disaster occurs. And so, the final act makes something that becomes increasingly obvious throughout the film even more so: this is a movie about the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and following tsunami, molded by the effect that had on Shinkai and Japan as a whole. While some of his prior work had positive romantic outcomes (like Place Promised), even those entailed an acceptation of loss. But there’s no such thing in Your Name, mostly because he just wanted to make the audience happy. And you know what – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Carry on being an optimistic reaction to a tragedy, you cute film.
— Calls that were never received and a final goodbye, plus missed opportunities. Using a bridge to represent failure to connect is amusing, since that’s obviously the opposite of its goal. Interesting idea though!
— I’ll spare you a thorough set of conclusions, because these notes are already long enough and I have an essay about the film coming up anyway. It goes without saying, but I quite like Your Name. Shinkai’s star crossed lovers tread a more pleasant path this time, accompanied by an actually noteworthy side cast and finally with the animation expressiveness his work starkly lacked. Add to that its catchy music and surprisingly smart construction, and the phenomenon surrounding the movie becomes easy to understand; it’s easy to digest and a consistently joyful experience, so it’s no wonder that half the world fell in love with it.