There hasn’t been a time I was less at home in my own body than when I was a teenager. Breasts sprouted, full of possibility that would never be realized. I wore orthodonture around the clock to tame my rapidly advancing jaw. Lone, large underground zits invaded my chin. And, because I was too shy to tell the hairdresser to stop at my shoulders as she lopped off my long wavy locks, I had a curly landing pad atop my head, the sides shaved close, and the back molded into a duck’s ass. To say I was awkward would have been kind.
Thus, the fantasy of switching bodies was an appealing one. What I wouldn’t have given to trade places with someone who I imagined had greater agency, more social facility, or a modicum of sex appeal!
Around the onset of puberty, I found the book Freaky Friday on the musty shelves of my County Library. I renewed it so many times, my name filled both the front and back of the book card. Freaky Friday was about a powerless girl, her mouth similarly encased in braces, who by mysterious means switches bodies with her mother. Yeah, I know. That’s not exactly like switching with someone whose Calvin’s fit like they were painted on. I can see why that might not appeal to everyone. My mother didn’t have much raw sex appeal and her social life was pretty much restricted to the 4-year-olds she taught, but that woman had control over her life and she made decisions about mine. Hence the attraction.
Of course the moral of Freaky Friday was not the grass is greener on the adult side. Rather, it hammered home just how complicated it is to be a parent navigating the oppressive responsibilities of adulthood. Which may have been what I liked about it—reassurance that as hideous as my life was, it wasn’t as bad as my mother’s.
Or maybe it was that the book was an exercise in deep empathy. Not just putting oneself in another’s shoes, but actually inhabiting another’s mind. Climbing inside the lived experience of the other. Isn’t that why we read or go to films in the first place? I spent most of my waking hours buried in books, living out lives that weren’t mine. Inside this desire was not only the drive to know, to understand, to feel, but also to escape, to transform, and to reinvent.
Which is what made Your Name such a pleasure to dwell within for 107 minutes of my life. On the surface, Makoto Shinkai’s anime film is about two people swapping bodies in the midst of their teenage years in the wilderness. Although, because this is anime, both Mitsuha, the female protagonist, and Taki, the male, are both saucer-eyed, zit free, and have fabulous hair. Rural-bound, tradition-fettered Mitsuha wants much more than her provincial life. Metrosexual teen Taki, well, we’re not quite sure of what he wants, at least not at the outset, but like Mitshua, he has the distinct feeling he is missing something.
(They want what any of us want. To be known. To be connected. To reach across and through the physical bodies that divide us and straight into another’s consciousness, that ineffable part of our being.)
The two occupy each other’s bodies, swapping as they sleep, waking to find they have secondary sex characteristics they didn’t possess the previous evening. At first they wreak minor havoc in each other’s lives, experimenting with the freedom of living outside of oneself. Mitsuha, nailing Taki a date with a hot older co-worker, and Taki eroding Mitsuha’s good-girl image.
But soon, they begin to transform each other at the core. This is where Your Name goes far beyond the appreciate-who-you-are/what-you’ve-got morality of Freaky Friday. Taki, who we are to understand is classically masculine and a bit boorish, becomes increasingly tearful, sensitive, and emotionally generous. Mitsuha, who is lives a traditional female existence at the tutelage of her grandmother, becomes increasingly strong and authoritative. Both come to embrace the feminine and masculine parts of themselves. In doing so, the successfully emerge from the ego-centrism of adolescence to become mature adults with the capacity to love others.
There is so much more to this film—time travel, saliva-fermented saki, fucking with fate, and love that is meant to be. But if I told you about it, I’d be ruining the experience for you. And this film is meant to be inhabited completely, so you might be transformed it by it as well.