This article contains spoilers for “Your Name.”
Makoto Sinkai’s critically acclaimed “Your Name” became the highest-grossing anime film of all time when it released in 2016. While it resonated with audiences because of its compelling narrative that seamlessly wove together the mysterious story of teenagers Mitsuha and Taki, whose bodies swap when they sleep, a quintessential aspect of this film, and a large part that contributes to its success, is its soundtrack.
Japanese rock band Radwimps recorded the entirety of the film’s music, which is a particularly interesting fact in its own right. While the practice of hiring popular artists for a movie soundtrack isn’t completely unheard of, films more often hire pre-established musicians for lead singles. Consider the “007” franchise, whose most recent release, “Spectre,” featured Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall,” a decision largely driven by marketing purposes to both attract fans of Smith and lend the film further star power.
Yet while the decision to hire Radwimps was similarly market-driven — Radwimps’ 2013 album, “Batsu to Maru to Tsumi to,” is certified platinum in Japan — viewing the film as a whole shows that there was much more to this decision than simply attracting Radwimps’ fanbase.
“Your Name’”s official soundtrack is 1 hour and 12 minutes long, and with the film’s full runtime being 1 hour and 52 minutes, this means that more than half of the entire film is accompanied by music. Compare this to musicals such as “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land,” with their soundtracks being 39 and 45 minutes, respectively, and it’s apparent that “Your Name’”s soundtrack is as essential to the film’s effectiveness as the dialogue or animation.
Every time a chord is played or a lyric is sung, it’s done so very intentionally and with precise calculation behind every character action and line of dialogue. “Your Name” has a way of immersing you in its world and characters: From scenic shots of the bustling Tokyo cityscape contrasted with picturesque mountain ranges, to intimate moments between Mitsuha and Taki such as their first meeting during twilight, the music is an essential aspect of that world. All of these scenes have one thing in common, which is the soundtrack that carries the emotion forward spectacularly.
A perfect example of the music effectively conveying its characters’ feelings would be the final scene of the movie where Mitsuha and Taki — five years after the events of the film — find each other again. At the beginning of the scene, both protagonists perform their morning routines on their way to work. The music is calm and serene, fitting the peacefulness of waking up on a normal day, but carries a feeling of melancholy in its serenity. Older but unfulfilled, Taki’s search for what he’s been looking for his whole life is still unresolved, and the music helps in reminding viewers of his internal struggle. The dreamy music continues at a slow pace, but builds as the pair end up at the same train station. Through the windows of their parallel trains, the two lock eyes as the the singer’s voice erupts in a momentous rush of emotions.
As the song reaches its full swing, the characters’ connection is split by a third train, which leads them to rush off and search desperately for each other. When they finally reach each other, they’re hesitant, with the song acting accordingly by not only softening in volume but in tempo as well. As they walk past each other the song begins to fade away, but Taki musters the courage to turn around and call out to Mitsuha. She promptly turns around and just as their conversation begins they are cut off by the title and the song swells once again.
While the music plays an important role in eliciting powerful emotions in scenes, it’s equally as impactful in its absence. For the most part, the music is unheard during transitions that branch the more important scenes together. However, during the sequence where Taki discovers that Mitsuha had died three years ago, which is the point when the protagonists are most distant from each other, we get one of these soundtrack absences. Taki also begins to lose his memories of Mitsuha at this point. So the lack of music reflects the loss of his connection to her. He doesn’t even feel longing at this point, his feelings for Mitsuha become non-existent. It’s when he begins to learn about Mitsuha’s hometown and the people who lived there that his connection is reestablished and the soundtrack reappears.
What Radwimps and the rest of those involved in the creation of “Your Name” accomplished is something truly special. It is an example of a film whose separate components compliment and benefit the complete experience. And just like any other aspect of the film, this experience would not have been complete without the soundtrack. “Your Name” is an experience, and it seeks to capture a feeling. It evokes a feeling of longing, of a life not quite complete and chronicles the lives of two people who finally find the answer to that feeling.