“Your Name”

After reading a few reviews, I’m happy I gave a little anime film called “Your Name” a chance. This is a beautiful mind-bender with a rewarding payoff.

Taki and Mitsuha, two Japanese high school students, wake up to find they’ve swapped bodies. They wake up the following day back in their normal bodies, and then again the next day having swapped again. Why? They don’t know and neither to we. This keeps happening as they try to solve this mystery.

“Your Name” is an innovative depiction of time. It utilizes subtlety and editing to keep you guessing what’s going on. Pay close attention to each time a door opens or shuts to catch the body swaps. “Your Name” contains no exposition-fueled monologues, which is a nice change of pace for a sci-fi/fantasy film.

Taki and Mitsuha’s story is more emotional than fantasized. Taki deals with angst and not knowing his place in the world while Mitsuha deals with an estranged father and a difficult political climate. They help each other using text messages and notepad apps in their phones (a clever use of modern technology). They feel like real teenagers and not soap opera characters.

Director Makoto Shinkai (“The Garden of Words”) has made a beautifully drawn film that explores the power of dreams and twilight, as well as the beauty and horror of comets. Each time I felt “Your Name” was slowing down, something new would happen that kept my attention.

“Your Name” is exhausting to watch because we want Taki and Mitsuha to solve their own mystery. Each time they come close, something stops them, whether it’s a person, a dream, or a disaster. It gets mildly redundant, but thankfully the ending is sweet, poetic, and ambiguous enough to keep us wondering what happens afterwards.

Due to its popularity, we can count on a remake of “Your Name,” but it isn’t needed. Especially since the 2006 Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock vehicle “The Lake House” is a tamer version. Do yourselves a favor and just see “Your Name.” Especially if you’re an anime fan.

Grade: A

“Ghost in the Shell”

Scarlett Johansson is best with quiet, expressive roles and action heroines. In “Ghost in the Shell,” she does both and carries the ultimately bland cyberpunk film.

Humans have cybernetic technology and use it to enhance their strength, intelligence, and other traits. Major Mira Killian (Johansson), a cybernetic soldier, hunts for a mysterious cyber-terrorist (Michael Pitt) against her superiors’ orders. After encountering him, Killian recalls her past and realizes that her creators are hiding something.

I haven’t watched the anime, but from what I understand, “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) is one of the greatest anime films of all time. The live-action adaptation is uncertain if it wants to be a slow, artistic sci-fi film in tradition of “Blade Runner” (1982) or more action-packed like “Equilibrium” (2002).

The over-reliance on slow-mo action sequences are distracting from the film’s superb visuals and expressive moments. I enjoy Johansson performing her own stunts, but I was more interested in her character-driven moments. Rupert Sanders’s occasionally mesmerizing direction is best utilized in Killian’s solo scenes. It’s unfortunate there aren’t enough of those moments.

Writing wise, I prefer science fiction that shows the audience its world rather than tell us about it. The writers don’t trust their audience well since most dialogue scenes are exposition-fueled. Furthermore, the characters are emotionless with their delivery, with the exception of Pitt.

Pitt’s performance is cartoonish and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to sound damaged or imitate the Apple Macintosh. The best supporting performance goes to the great Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki. Kitano only speaks Japanese in this role and delivers each line with sass, charisma, and confidence. Why hasn’t he gotten more American roles?!

“Ghost in the Shell” had potential to be a mind-bending sci-fi film due to its visuals, concepts, and Johansson’s compelling performance. Maybe the sequel will expand more on those attributes.

Grade: C+