What They Say:
The summer of his high school freshman year, Hodaka runs away from his remote island home to Tokyo, and quickly finds himself pushed to his financial and personal limits. The weather is unusually gloomy and rainy every day, as if to suggest his future. He lives his days in isolation, but finally finds work as a writer for a mysterious occult magazine. Then one day, Hodaka meets Hina on a busy street corner. This bright and strong-willed girl possesses a strange and wonderful ability: the power to stop the rain and clear the sky…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In talking about Weathering With You, it’s impossible to avoid the elephant in the room: Your Name. Almost overnight, Your Name turned Makoto Shinkai from a popular but niche filmmaker into a household name, setting box office records and earning a devoted fanbase worldwide. As Shinkai’s first movie after Your Name, Weathering With You is inevitably going to be compared to Your Name, fair or not. Your Name left such an impact on the community that there’s no way to avoid comparisons. Even so, Weathering with You is still an excellent film in its own right, and a testament to Shinkai’s skill as both a writer and a director.
The first thing that stands out about the film is the strength of its atmosphere. Weathering With You’s Tokyo is one that’s plagued by constant rain. This isn’t the soft, peaceful rain of Garden of Words, either; it’s a constant pounding rain that dominates almost every scene, at times even overshadowing the dialogue. Between the constant noise and detailed water animation, you can almost feel the constant chill in the air, which makes the scenes without rain even more distinctive. Those moments where Hina clears the sky and sunlight beams down feel almost sacred, like there’s some sort of divine intervention staving off the rain, however temporarily. Meanwhile, the indoor scenes are a brief respite from a cold world, a chance to spend time with friends without having to worry about the ever-present rain that dominates so much of the film.
Beyond being a central feature of the plot, the ever-present rain perfectly parallels the story’s core themes. Hodoka and Hina aren’t heroes setting out to change the world; they’re a runaway and an orphan trying to get by in a world that doesn’t seem to care about them or their happiness. I had a chance to speak to Shinkai before the screening, and when asked what kind of message or feeling he wanted people to take away from the film, he said that he wanted to make a movie about kids trying to live in a world with climate change, which is exactly the feeling Weathering With You gives. True, it doesn’t address the subject directly, but it’s hard to miss the obvious parallels with how much of the film revolves around the unusual weather. More than that, though, Hodoka and Hina’s journey captures the same kind of emotions.
I’ve spent most of this review so far talking about heavy themes, but Weathering With You’s tone is actually far closer to Your Name’s playful humor than the weighty melancholy of Shinkai’s earlier films. All of the characters have the same instant chemistry as the cast of Your Name, and their interactions practically ooze charm. Hodoka and Hina’s Sunshine Girl business and Hodoka’s job at a newspaper reporting on occult rumors are both established through musical montages, courtesy of Radwimps, that highlight the fun they’re all having, even as everyone struggles to make ends meet. Even when the story gets more serious in the second half of the film, there are still moments of humor and whimsy scattered throughout that keep it from getting too heavy.
For all that I’ve been comparing the film to Your Name, Weathering With You differs in one key aspect: its thematic goals. Most of Shinkai’s previous films, Your Name included, have prioritized conveying a particular feeling, with the stories’ messages being present, but secondary to that goal. There’s a rawness to them that makes his movies feel like an emotion captured in cinematic form as much as a story unto themselves. In contrast, Weathering With You was clearly written with a core thematic idea in addition to that. Even beyond its approach to climate change, the film draws some striking contrasts between its leads and the adults around them. Even when they’re having trouble earning enough money to live on, Hodoka and Hina’s approach to life feels unburdened, like they’re just trying to live on their own terms and seek their own happiness. This allows them to more easily accept Hina’s ability and chase after new ideas and goals. The adults, on the other hand, are burdened with responsibilities, jobs, and rules that they have to follow, leaving them unable to just let go. When talking about his reason for running away, Hodoka describes his home life as suffocating, which is exactly how the adults seem to feel. The world and their responsibilities confine them, limiting them in ways the kids aren’t.
The film’s more nuanced approach to its themes gives a lot of food for thought – but isn’t without its drawbacks. The emotional peaks can, at times, feel diluted precisely because the film has so many ideas at play. That’s not to say that they fall flat—far from it—but they do feel a little less raw than they’d otherwise be, especially compared to Shinkai’s other work. One of Shinkai’s most noteworthy talents as a filmmaker is how pointed the emotions in his films feel, in large part because they’re the core that his stories seem to be built around. Weathering With You is still an emotional film, don’t get me wrong, just not quite on the same level as the likes of Your Name or Voices of a Distant Star. It’s more of a punch to the gut than a stab through the heart, if you will.
Though its emotions aren’t quite as impactful as its predecessors, one aspect that Weathering With You unequivocally improves on is its animation. The film’s portrayal of Tokyo is so detailed that it’s practically photorealistic, down to even the smallest minutiae. Similarly, the rain is animated in amazing detail in every scene, moving naturally in a way that’s incredibly difficult to pull off in animation. The film is full of sweeping shots with dynamic camera movements that you rarely see in animation because of how difficult it is to do 3D movements in 2D. There might’ve been some CGI used, but if so, it blends so well with the 2D animation that it’s practically unnoticeable. All of this is backed by another wonderful soundtrack by the band Radwimps that evokes the same emotions as their work on Your Name, while differing enough that it feels tailor-made for Weathering With You.
Though it doesn’t capture lightning in a bottle the same way as Your Name, Weathering With You is still a worthy successor and another testament to Shinkai’s skill as a filmmaker. It’s both gorgeous and thought-provoking, while still maintaining some of the raw emotion Shinkai films are known for. If Weathering With You occasionally falls short of its predecessor’s best moments, that’s only because Your Name set such a high bar, not any failing on its part. Even putting aside all comparisons, Weathering With You is a wonderful film, the type you could show to anyone, anime fan or not. With this movie, Shinkai’s shown that he’s still evolving as a creator, trying new approaches and ideas rather than settling into a routine, and I for one am excited to see where he goes next. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend seeing the film while it’s in theaters. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Date Available: January 17, 2020