Disney have undeniably had roaring success over the past six year after something of a creative slump. Starting with ‘Tangled’ their output seems to have gone from strength to strength with every animation they’ve released, and that’s not even touching upon the live-action efforts they’ve given us.
But who’s capable of challenging the mighty Mouse House in terms of animation superiority? Studio Ghibli have arguably been at the forefront of the game for decades, with the Japanese studio producing jaw-dropping feature after jaw-dropping feature. Yet Disney (and in that realm Pixar) seem to have been on top due to their super mainstream appeal and global brand that can virtually reach out to everyone.
However, legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki retiring from Ghibi it was a huge loss. Couple this with the studio’s decision to cease making any more features for the foreseeable future (barring its collaborative efforts on this year’s ‘The Red Turtle’), it therefore makes way for other Japanese animators to stamp their mark and attempt to fill that massive void left by Miyazaki-San.
Above: Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning triumph ‘Spirited Away’.
And plenty have indeed made an impression over the years: Katsuhiro Ôtomo in the late-1980s with the iconic ‘Akira’; Mamoru Oshii in the ‘90s with ‘Ghost in the Shell; and of course Miyazaki’s array of wonders such as 2001′s ‘Spirited Away’. While his son, Goro, has to a degree stepped up with pleasant films likes ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’, it’s talents like Mamoru Hosoda with movies like ‘Summer Wars’, ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’, and the superb ‘Wolf Children that have proven to be serious crown challengers.
This year’s ‘Your Name’ is a seemingly quaint story about two school kids: a city-based boy named Taki and a country girl called Mitsuha. Both are brought together in the most extraordinary ways which plays out in a rather thought-provoking and poignant manner. (Note: to delve further would ruin the surprises of the plot, but believe me when I say you won’t be disappointed.)
So often are we given a new Disney or Pixar movie - a handful each year, in fact - that we’ve become spoiled. Their globally dominant and appealing formula offering up gorgeous visual spectacle and heartfelt story as well as an important message are now studio staples, so’s naturally very hard for anyone else to compete with.
But ‘Your Name’ manages just that.
Above: Our main characters in the stunning ‘Your Name’.
For starters, Japanese anime still adheres to that wonderful use of hand-drawn artistry. Granted, there’s often plenty of CGI tweaking and support, but actually drawing a movie still has masses of appeal to animation fans. Makoto Shinkai’s ‘Your Name’ stands toe-to-toe with Miyazaki’s painstaking precision for detailed, gloriously conceived animation… which in turn makes it a direct challenger to Disney.
While hand-drawn animated movies retain a certain essence for the art, it’s not just that that puts this example on par with what Western audiences have familiarised themselves with in terms of a ‘Big Hero 6’ or ‘Toy Story 3′ model. Its story is simply one of the most relevant, exploratory, and powerful you’ll see in an animation. It can certainly address some areas that Disney aren’t able to tackle due to their family-friendly, global brand they’ve created and thrive on. So again, without intending to spoil the plot, we have key themes of sexuality, romance, love, and loss which have been touched upon in movies like ‘Frozen’ but nowhere near to the same levels of freedom.
The various elements of Shinkai’s tale all flawlessly work in sync to create a powerful and emotive feature that would encapsulate any Ghibli or Disney or Pixar fan. Certainly this year’s Oscars is looking like one of the best ever in terms of its animation entries, with ‘Your Name’ making up the current longlist which bears a host of stellar efforts, including ‘Zootropolis’, ‘Moana’, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, ‘The Red Turtle’, ‘The Little Prince’, and not forgetting ‘Finding Dory’. One thing’s for sure: a shortlist will be very tough to narrow down.
What ‘Your Name’ does is to continue to open up Japanese anime to a wider, more receptive audience, especially with its increased UK slate. It’s seen it go from a single day of screenings to a week-long release, in original Japanese and a dubbed English versions. This way, hopefully more patrons will get to see it than if it had remained to a limited day-only event.
Above: Woody and Buzz in Pixar classic ‘Toy Story’.
Comparing this to films that make up Disney and Pixar’s top-end movies, such as ‘The Lion King’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘WALL-E’ and ‘Toy Story’, ‘Your Name’ certainly succeeds at tapping into the emotional engagement of its audience. It’s gorgeously constructed - both visually and narratively speaking - and I firmly believe anyone who enjoys animation, or indeed cinema, will adore this. Be warned though: it packs a poignant punch, that’s for sure. It’s one of the most spellbinding anime films since ‘Spirited Away’ and certainly the most impressive animated movie in recent years.
One thing is for sure: with an ever-growing global audience for anime, Disney should quite rightly be keeping one eye on the competition, if not at least where Oscars season is concerned.
‘Your Name’ is in UK cinemas now; check here to find out where.
Picture credit: CoMix Wave, Studio Ghibli, Disney