The biggest anime since the genre-defining Spirited Away has come West. Your Name, directed by Makoto Shinkai, premiered in North American theaters over the weekend. It was a blockbuster in its home country, and rightfully so: The film is an emotional adventure of teen romance, tough choices and time travel.
Your Name somehow balances all three of these disparate elements in less than two hours, and it does it well. Moviegoers who fall hard for the anime’s mix of humor and heart may come away wanting more after Your Name’s tearjerker of an ending. If that’s the case, they should look no further than The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, directed by Shinkai’s contemporary Mamoru Hosoda.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which likewise caused a storm at the Japanese box office in 2009, is another modern classic of Japanese animation. For as much as Your Name gets right, we might argue that The Girl Who Leapt Through Time did it first — and better.
Each film touches on similar themes: Young love! Understated sci-fi elements! Downer climactic moments! (We promise we won’t spoil what those entail.) In Your Name, a boy and a girl develop a strong bond through a bizarre, out-of-body experience they each share. A boy named Taki, who lives in Tokyo, wakes up at random in the girl’s body. So, too, does the country-living girl Mitsuha in Taki’s. It’s inexplicable throughout, but it’s the necessary setup for what becomes a series of cataclysmic events on a national scale.
Your Name at first explores the awkwardness and pleasures of living as the opposite gender for a day, but the stakes of the heroes’ body swapping ramp up fairly quickly. These events are outsized in nature, but they fit perfectly with the anime’s tone. The love that Taki and Mitsuha quickly develop is all-encompassing and important to them on a global level; that’s pretty par for the course for teens. We won’t spoil what, exactly, these events are, but rest assured: They have serious real-world consequences that go far beyond high schoolers wanting to be together. While it’s a fitting climactic event for the drama of Your Name, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time succeeds by keeping its teenage feelings at the fore and more realistic in scope.
“More realistic” is a bit of a relative term here. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a sci-fi romantic comedy, after all. Makoto is a lackadaisical student who by chance learns of her ability to “time-leap.” Naturally, she uses her clock-resetting powers to finally become a better student and live her best teenage life. But that also includes undoing events of more consequence, like when her best guy friend admits he likes her. (She uses them to try to stop a death from happening, too — The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does not stay away from the high drama of life-or-death situations, either.)
Makoto’s initial intentions mirror those of Your Name’s central pairing: She wants to see how the other half lives. That’s the other half that’s popular, that does well in school, that has time to do everything they want, making themselves happy and their parents proud. But The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’s drama is more intimate and universal than Your Name’s. Yes, there’s the threat of mortal consequences, but the story is most immediately one of navigating awkward first crushes and recognizing the beauty of the life you do lead, warts and all.
Both movies beautifully portray just how extreme the teenage emotional landscape is in ways that remain endearing to any age. Your Name’s poetic exploration of love’s inscrutability is deeply affecting, as we’ve written about before; so, too, is The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, maybe because it operates on a much smaller scale. Never once do we forget that Makoto is just a teenager. It’s what makes her trepidatious first steps toward love, responsibility and overall maturity so inspiring.
Your Name, meanwhile, gets heady fast, its characters treading more serious territory — so if you’re planning a double feature, perhaps start with that one first and use The Girl Who Leapt Through Time as a bit of a palate cleanser. Know in advance that both films majorly get the waterworks going, though, so there’s really no such thing as a “palate cleanser” here.
Each is a modern anime classic that takes heavily from the Studio Ghibli tradition (the female-fronted The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in particular). Your Name is currently doing a short run in theaters, so expect it to hit home ideo later this year. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray.