23 Aug 2017
A year on from its initial release, in 2016, the phenomenon that is Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is back. In many ways it stands as a new gold-standard, redefining what it means to be a successful anime film in the 21st century - a box office smash not only in Japan, but also all around the world. Your Name proved decisively that the Ghibli brand was not the be all and end all when it came to cinematic anime releases here in the West. It also showed that director Makoto Shinkai was no longer merely a talented rising star, but the definitive voice of a new wave of animation talent. Anime fans certainly seem to agree - on popular rating sites, like Rotten Tomatoes and My Anime List, Your Name now ranks as one of the top rated anime films of all time.
This new IMAX outing presents a fresh opportunity for filmgoers to catch the movie, if they missed it last year, as well as a chance to see it again on the big screen (because, why wouldn’t you?). However, what, if anything, does this new supersized IMAX treatment bring to the table? Considering the number of words already spent on the film’s plot, themes and stylistic vision, this review will focus mostly on the specific qualities of the IMAX version, and what the film represents for cinematic presentation of anime going forward.
The first thing that strikes you about watching Your Name in its IMAX presentation almost goes without saying: Just how massive the screen is. In an age where viewing a film at home is increasingly prone to the danger of smart-phone interruptions and wandering attention spans, the all-encompassing and enveloping scale of the IMAX screen is a refreshing return to cinema as an ‘experience’. A veritable wall of colour that has to be seen to be believed, taking the feeling of immersion to another level.
However, as you settle in, you start to notice that things aren’t quite as rosy as they first appear. Firstly, it quickly becomes evident that Your Name’s animated nature is one that doesn’t necessarily pair up perfectly with the IMAX screen-size. On smaller screens, Shinkai’s remarkable background art appears razor-sharp, crisp to a fault; almost photo-realistic in it's beauty. In IMAX, on the other hand, the illusion starts to wear off, and we see them for what they really are - paintings. The treatment very much has the feel of having been ‘blown up’ to fit the screen size, and what was once crystal clear now shows the smudges and blurs of digital paint that make up every image - the artifice and craft of the film on clear display for all to see.
This extends to the characters, with line-art now feeling a tad too chunky at times. While the colours start to separate out into wide blocks of primary tones; almost as if we’ve been ‘zoomed in’ to what we’re watching. In short, while the screen size very much adds a sense of depth and immersion to the film’s proceedings, it makes all the seams and craft that make up the animation process a little too obvious. The screen-size also presents an issue with the subtitles - on a smaller screen you can take in the whole screen (subtitles and all) with a single eyeful. However, with this IMAX treatment your eye has to consciously scan up and down the screen to capture both subtitle and image.
If these criticisms seem harsh or overly specific, it is only because Your Name stands at the pinnacle of what anime represents in the 21st century. As such, it represents a high water mark of what can be achieved within the medium, a showpiece of sorts. This was our second theatrical viewing of the film, and on some fronts the impact remains just as thrilling as the first time around. In particular the stunning introduction sequence, which sees us flying through Taki’s gleaming, multi-layered Tokyo and on to Mitsuha’s rural backwater town - all backed by Radwimps fantastically propulsive soundtrack.
The old joke in the anime industry used to go that every few years you’d see a film come along which clearly tried to follow the Ghibli template (Shinkai’s own Children Who Chase Lost Voices among them). But now, given the remarkable success of Your Name, might we start to see a shift toward an increasing trend of ‘Shinkai imitators’? At its core, Your Name works because it feels completely and thoroughly modern, yet also timeless. With its deft blending of topical, close-to-home themes and a heartwarming message that speaks to both young and old, Your Name is in many ways the quintessential ‘crowdpleaser’ movie. Taking Shinkai’s long-running themes of distance and love, and fine-tuning them into his most populist piece to date. In that sense, Your Name very much remains an ‘experience’, and one that deserves to be seen in the unique atmosphere only a cinema setting can provide.
Your Name will be availible at selected IMAX cinemas from 23rd August.