Makoto Shinkai is a filmmaker whose heart lies with the cosmos. The Your Name director looks at the world through a lens so expansive that sometimes humans can get lost in it — his earliest films more often than not forgot about the character and favored the awe inspired by natural phenomena: meteor showers, typhoons, the unchanging rhythm of the seasons. Like Hayao Miyazaki, who Shinkai has frequently been compared to as the anime legend’s widely regarded successor, Shinkai bows to the might of nature — though his films don’t have quite the deep political messaging as Miyazaki’s.
Shinkai’s strengths lie in his breathtaking animated tributes to the power of nature, rendered in stunning photorealistic animation, and the ripples that natural phenomena send to affect the little people on Earth. It’s why his early films would often feel cold and distant, and his characters vague outlines of people. But with the globally successful Your Name, Shinkai gained a sense of humor. He found a funny bone, a perfect compromise between his cosmic ambition and his intimate character writing. He swings even further in that lighthearted direction with Weathering With You, a whimsical supernatural romance with a pointed environmental message that is even more vibrant than his 2016 mega-hit, but doesn’t quite pack the same emotional wallop.
“You’re going to make a boring grown-up,” college student and writer Natsumi tells Hodoka, the teenage runaway and protagonist of Weathering With You.
There’s a childish charm to Weathering With You, which playfully zips through the story of a teenage runaway who arrives in an unfriendly and rain-drenched Tokyo. Shinkai treats the serious subject matter with a surprisingly light hand, showing Hodaka’s growing desperation as he wanders the streets of Tokyo through the first of a series of peppy music video-like montages. But when reality comes crashing in, that feeling of alienation that Shinkai has so expertly displayed before comes creeping in. As Hodoka’s desperation catches up on him, the streets of Tokyo fade into a mundanity that is even more terrifying than the “scary” or “amazing” impressions that he first has of the city when he arrives. Perhaps the scariest thing, Weathering With You declares, is not being able to see the world with the wonder of a child.
But Hodoka gains a renewed lease on life when he runs into a girl with the ability to change the weather. Hina is a teen orphan who gained her power after she crossed a shrine on a rainy day while praying for one last day of sunshine with her sick mother. She has looked after her younger brother since and struggled to hold down a well-paying part-time job because her age. When Hodoka, who had been investigating rumors of a “sunshine girl” for a small publishing company he had gotten a job at, finds out about her situation, he comes up with the bright idea of lending out her services for money. The business takes off and becomes a major success with everyone from kindergarten kids who want to play outside to businessmen holding a fireworks festival, with Hodoka, Hina, and her precocious brother Nagisa becoming an inseparable team.
Weathering With You would inevitably draw comparisons to Shinkai’s cosmic romantic masterpiece, Your Name. It’s also a teenage romance with a supernatural twist, and engages in spectacular feats of both visual comedy and breathtaking otherworldly sequences. But Weathering With You doesn’t have quite the emotional ambition of Your Name, instead favoring a buoyant tale of of first love that overcomes any of the grim realities Hodoka and Hina face. It would best be described as a slice of life comedy, anchored around the hijinks of the two colorful found families that Hodoka becomes a part of: Hina and her brother, and the publishing company’s only two employees, Keisuke and Natsumi. Shinkai has come a long way from the subdued archetypes of his early films — the lively characters of Weathering With You pop off the screen; from the sleazy layabout with a heart of gold Keisuke, to the overly assertive and enthusiastic Natsumi, to the playboy elementary schooler Nagisa. And of course there’s Hina, the magical girl who becomes the object of Hodoka’s affections, whose noble, quiet suffering reflects that of a Miyazaki heroine (she’s not unlike Sheeta from Castle in the Sky).
More so than Your Name, Weathering With You wears its Miyazaki influences on its sleeves. It has a decidedly more comical approach and childish whimsy than Shinkai’s previous films and features, of course, a pointed message about climate change. Perhaps Shinkai took to heart the declarations that he would be the next Miyazaki, toning down his unique brand of cosmic romance for something a little more approachable. Weathering With You doesn’t suffer too much from this shift, but Shinkai’s Miyazaki-isms don’t work as well as he might have hoped — the climate change message mostly fading into the background as bombastic chase sequences and slightly overwrought displays of love take the foreground. Shinkai has a lot of ideas rolling around in this film (Is it about the isolation of technology? A social commentary? A mythic tragic romance? A magical realism tale about the overwhelming power of nature?) many of which don’t always work. The sudden shifts in tone to from lighthearted to somber can be jarring, and the ominous presence of a gun that Hodoka finds is from a far more serious version of this film. But it’s a lovely tale that breezes by with the lightness of a cloud, regardless of its clunky elements and occasionally off-putting musical cues.
Shinkai’s blending of hand-drawn and CG-animation, aided by his longtime studio CoMix Wave Films, to create a photorealistic vision of Tokyo has become his signature style, and the animation in Weathering With You is absolutely arresting. He uses that style to show a side of Tokyo we rarely see on screen. Weathering With You may be the first anime film since Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers to nail the mundanity of Tokyo’s seedy underbelly — a love letter to the city in the most honest way, down to its dirtiest, most intricate details. And while the film doesn’t remain in the dirt and turns its eyes back to the skies, Weathering With You is far and away one of the loveliest and most beautiful animated films in years.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10
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