When the last movie you made is the highest-grossing anime film of all time (as well as the 4th highest overall in Japan) – how the heck are you supposed to follow that up? I imagine that’s a question that Makoto Shinkai asked himself many times during the approximately 2 year period in which he was creating his latest work: Weathering with You.
After running away from home, 16-year old Hodaka Morishima tries his best to make a living in Tokyo as a minor. With compulsory education laws and police on every corner, it’s a struggle to be sure. After befriending a morally dubious writer/editor named Keisuke Suga and his assistant, Natsumi, Hodaka puts together some semblance of a normal life. While investigating “supernatural” cases that make for great filler in magazines, he comes across the story of a “Sunshine Girl” that brings sunlight wherever she goes! Convenient, as Tokyo has been under a deluge of rain for an unprecedented amount of time. With bizarre weather patterns, the people of Tokyo are hungry for sunlight in their lives – even for a moment.
Hodaka eventually finds this “sunshine girl” – Hina Amano – and is flabbergasted to find that the stories were all true! Skilled with dispelling the clouds and rain, if just for a little while, Hina proves herself to be an authentic “sunshine girl”. From there, the two begin an unofficial business partnership in order to make some much-needed money – literally bringing light into the lives of Tokyo residents for special events!
Through the course of the film Hodaka and Hina struggle to solve the mystery behind Tokyo’s severe weather crisis, and her own powers.
One of Makoto Shinkai’s primary goals was to show that a filmmaker could be successful without making films in the same vein as legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. While Your Name helped to elevate Shinkai’s status and reputation as a masterful storyteller, he was not interested in making a carbon-copy of it, despite its immense success. To that end, Weathering with You is definitely of a different cloth than Your Name – while the latter certainly has its share of drama, the ending could be considered traditionally “happy”, and the coming of age narrative shines through in the well-balanced moments of quiet reflection & maturity alongside comedic exchanges, puns and the general excitement and foolishness that resides in ones teenage years.
Weathering with You has elements of this, but the overall tone is definitely darker. Let’s start with one of the central components: while previous films like The Garden of Words and 5 Centimeters Per Second used weather as a softer means of setting a mood, it’s a more central “character” in this film, and much more aggressive.
Then there are the characters themselves. In Your Name, Taki and Mitsuha had their own struggles, but Taki was a diligent worker with a goal in mind, and Mitsuha was doing her best to fulfill the destiny her grandmother had set out for her while under immense pressure from her father and peers to be something completely different.
It’s established in most summaries and synopses that Hodaka is a runaway. You don’t know why he ran away, and you never find out. His insistence on “never going back” is never justified outside of what appears to be teen angst and sheer stubbornness. Hina is certainly portrayed in a more favorable light, but even the “sunshine girl” makes some dubious moral decisions.
Now let’s just pause here for a minute, because I want to make something clear: teenagers being imperfect and making dumb choices is no reason to knock on this film. In fact, in the post-film interview that Fathom Events put together, Shinkai laments those who are teenagers in the age of social media. It’s impossible to say ridiculous things without the ridicule and judgment of not just your immediate social circle, but in some cases, the world at large. What a harrowing concept!
What does make this problematic is that we don’t get the same level of depth that we got from say, Mitsuha confronting her father and forcing him to listen to her. I was very interested to get a peek into Hodaka’s home life and see what made it so terrible that he had to get on a boat and head into a metropolitan city to almost certainly meet homelessness and severe financial struggles.
In the spoiler review I’ll dive a bit deeper into my questions around Hina’s character – suffice it to say that there were elements of her story that didn’t seem to come together.
While the main duo may have left some room for improvement, the remaining cast of characters were top-notch. Natsumi is like the second coming of Misato – a young woman who strikes an endearing balance between bubbly and optimistic and realistic. Looking to take charge of her own destiny and get into a proper job, Natsumi displays a deep level of empathy and compassion for those that she ends up interviewing.
Keisuke Suga’s characterization is best described as the inappropriate (but cool) uncle. You know, the one that hands you a beer even though you’re 17 and says “I won’t tell your mom if you won’t.” and spends too much time at the horse track. Yet beneath the rough exterior is a counselor that comes through when our characters need it most.
Finally, Hina’s younger brother Nagi is superbly executed comic relief. The running gag centered around him is smooth (like buttah) and he manages to avoid falling into the archetype of annoying/overly jealous younger sibling.
The real question mark of Weathering with You is how the film chooses to conclude. Actively trying to avoid spoilers here, but believe me when I say you might find yourself watching the credits and looking to your neighbor like “Really? It’s like that?”
Now, before you arrive at the conclusion you are treated to some gorgeous animation. Shinkai has always managed to create works that capture sweeping landscapes with startling detail and visual drama, and Weathering with You is no exception. The combination of rainfall and beams of radiant sunlight makes for some technically staggering and beautiful sequences. From an animation standpoint, you will certainly not be disappointed.
If you go into this film expecting another Your Name. – you will be disappointed. If you go in looking forward to seeing what sort of narrative Makoto Shinkai puts together when he considers the struggles of teenagers in a digitized society as well as a not-so-subtle set of commentary on climate change, you’ll have a much better time.
I will be posting a separate spoiler review for Weathering with You, as well as a transcription/summary of the post-film interview with Makoto Shinkai. Look forward to it!