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Your Name’s approach to love manages to fix what most other movies get wrong

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The beauty of what can never be

a schoolboy looks at a schoolgirl on a staircase behind him in a scene from the anime film Your Name Funimation

Your Name, one of the most buzzed about anime films hitting North American theaters today, is a movie about self-discovery and, above all else, the strong connection two people who have never met can share.

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Your Name.]

Your Name focuses on two characters and their intimate, although not sexual, relationship they have with one another. Taki, a teenage boy from Tokyo, and Mitsuha, a teenage girl from rural Japan, wake up one day to discover they have switched bodies. Unlike other films that use the same premise, Taki and Mitsuha go back and forth, alternating between waking up in their own bodies or waking up in the other. It’s because of these circumstances that the two develop a friendship, which then blossoms into romantic feelings. Everything seems like it might work out for these lovestruck teens stuck in a weird, fantastical predicament.

Except they never “meet.” They never get to really hold each other. They’re bound to this faint memory of an intense emotion they shared with each other, but they can’t remember the other person’s name as time goes on. They can’t remember what the other person looks like. As much as they want to, they can’t be together.

This is what stuck with me after watching Your Name: the experience of longing. It’s a challenging emotion to contend with. It’s a subtle ache, like a dull headache on a rainy, gloomy day. It doesn’t take over your life, but it’s noticeable. Some days, it’s more noticeable than others. You want to chase the longing, but you also know you have to move on with your life. You create this stalemate for yourself and deal with the emotional throbbing that comes with longing.

Anyone who has ever had a crush, been in love or, in my experience, has lost a great love, knows what longing is. It’s that moment when you hear a song that reminds you of that person and you feel that small tightness in your chest. It’s that moment a friend casually mentions they ran into said person and your heart flutters with the memories of when it was good. You long for those moments. You romanticize them. Even though it can never be, or it feels like it can never be, you cling to it.

Longing, in many ways, is more addictive than any other part of a relationship because it exists partly due to fantasy. You long for the fantasy of what could be, not the actuality of what the relationship was.

In Your Name, five years after Mitsuha and Taki have their intense moment, they’ve each gone their own separate ways. Both are living in Tokyo, but they have their own friends, new careers and are going about their day-to-day lives. Still, there are scenes when Taki and Mitsuha are on the train and they see something that, for a quick second, reminds them of the memory they shared with that persona. A red band that Mitsuha used to tie her hair, for example.

In that exact moment, they’re frozen, gripped by this overpowering sense of longing they have for the future that could have been. Sitting in the theater, watching it play out before me, I could feel myself getting emotional. I blinked hurriedly to stop any tears from escaping, not wanting to be that person, but it was the most effective use of longing I’ve ever seen in a movie. The look on Taki’s face when he believes he’s found the person he’s been longing after for five years is ubiquitous.

We all long for something. It can be a person, or an experience or a milestone, but it’s a shared human experience. That ache in our chests is a feeling that doesn’t need to be described because we can pinpoint to the exact moment in time we’ve felt it. For some, that could be a few months or weeks ago. For others, it could have just happened.

Your Name doesn’t romanticize longing, though. This isn’t a Rachel and Ross scenario from Friends or a Ted and Robyn situation from How I Met Your Mother. Taki and Mitsuha don’t spend their five years planning in the back of their minds a way to get back together with the one person they long for the most. This isn’t a Hollywood-style romantic film. They accept they’ll spend their lives yearning for this part of their life that they’ll never get back and deal with the ennui that can often times elicit.

At the end of the movie, however, Taki and Mitsuha do end up finding each other. Their memories are returned and, as they embrace, they cry. It’s not from finally finding each other or realizing they can be with the person they love, it’s an emotional release. This longing, this constant ache they’ve carried with them like a haze that never went away, finally cleared. It’s the most intense, emotional experience in the world.

The reason the scene works as well as it does is because of how universal that experience is. I want you to recall a moment you saw a crush or an ex for the first time after ending things or moving on with your life. Perhaps you see them across the street and wave, wanting to make amends and be at peace with one another. Or maybe you decide to grab lunch and try to settle the awkwardness that has settled around you. Regardless of what it is, when you do meet them, there’s a very good chance you’ll do exactly what Mitsuha and Taki did: you’ll hug.

You’ll wrap your arms around them and they’ll do the same, and the longing that comes with seeing them or fixing things or any other sentiment encompassed in this ache, will suddenly melt away. The floodgates will open and the emotions will overtake you. If you’re like Mitsuha or Taki, you’ll cry. I know I did when I saw my ex for the first time after our breakup.

It’s a beautiful feeling and despite the sadness that accompanies the overload of emotions, it’s one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. And it’s one that I’ve waited for cinema or television to get right, but each time it looks like it might, the unrealistic expectation that longing will inevitably result in getting what we want takes away from the beauty of the emotion’s sadness.

Your Name is a sad movie. It has a happy ending and there are funny moments, but it’s sad. It’s heartbreaking. It’s absolutely devastating. It manages to achieve all of this because of how honest its characters are about not expecting anything. They’re content with the idea of living with a dull ache, just like many of us are. We move on. We try to forget. We continue living.

Your Name ends on a happy note, but its the Taki and Mitsuha’s decision to persevere where the movie finds its real heart. It’s the emotional catharsis I wasn’t aware that I needed and it was a movie that made me appreciate the little twangs I get in my chest when I do hear that song or, like Taki and Mitsuha, the name of someone I once loved.

Your Name reminds us it’s okay to move on even if we never truly let go.