Though he’s been making acclaimed movies for years, it was not until Your Name. became the highest-grossing anime film ever in Japan and a global sensation that people started eagerly anticipating Makoto Shinkai’s next feature, Weathering With You. The result is a beautifully animated film about love, growing up, and human’s emotional connection to the weather, but also a film that uses climate change as a mere plot device while ignoring the very real threat of the climate crisis that feels somewhat wrong to do in 2019 – especially when the teen target audience takes the subject way more seriously than the film does.
The human heart is connected to the clouds, and the weather has an incredible power over us, the movie says. The sun and clouds affect our mood, so when Tokyo is getting non-stop rain for days on end, what we meet is the worst the city has to offer. This is not the shiny and fashionably Tokyo with delicious food and beautiful sights of Your Name. Instead we see a dark, damp, rundown Tokyo full of desperate people and those who will definitely take advantage of them, including a scene of a truck recruiting young women for the sex industry – a rare sight in anime aimed at teenagers. It’s a hard place to be if you’re unemployed, or a kid, so it’s especially hard on 16-year-old Hodaka (Daigo Kotaro), who ran away from home looking to make it in the big city and ends up living on the streets. It’s a fascinating look at the hardships of current-day Tokyo and the struggles of the youth today. We see Hodaka spend his days interviewing for jobs with yakuza-types that scold him for being too young, and running away from the only places that would employ him – the sex industry.
He eventually lands a job doing research on tall tales for a National Enquirer-like magazine for Mr. Suga (Oguri Shun), a shady yet charismatic man who treats him like a slave but at least gives him food and a place to stay. His first assignment is investigating the rumors of a “shunshine girl” who can stop the rain by praying. Weather impacts not only the emotional state of the characters, but the tone of the film. For the first act, as the torrential rains hit Tokyo and Hodaka looks for a job, the movie’s pace drags, making us feel the slow passage of time and the fear and desolation that is in Hodaka’s heart. But then he meets Hina (Mori Nana), a Tokyo girl who sees a pillar of sunlight one day at the hospital where her dying mother spends her last days, and by talking through a traditional Torii gate and praying for her future, suddenly finds that she can pray the rain away.
As soon as Hodaka and Hina meet, the film changes tone, the pace picks up, the color palette becomes brighter and even the music becomes more cheerful. The two realize that everyone wants a bit of sunshine, and since these are desperate times and people are willing to spend money on things, the two decide to start charging money for sunshine. Everyone seems incredibly happy about this, but the power of controlling the weather takes a huge toll, and Hodaka and Hina will have to make tough decisions on whether to put their personal wishes before the wellbeing of everyone else.
Fans of Your Name. shouldn’t be surprised to know that Weathering With You is every bit as beautiful as Shinkai’s previous film. The characters are drawn to scale, making their lives feel small and powerless against the changing world around them. The photorealistic 3D backgrounds bring the vibrant Tokyo to life in a way that even live-action movies struggle to do, with the train stations, busy streets and dark alleyways given extraordinary detail that will surely lead to another wave of anime tourism for those wanting to explore the many real places featured in the movie. Given the importance of the sun in the movie, it is a bold move to hide the sun for much of the film, but that is very much intentional. When Hina starts experimenting with her powers, Shinkai portrays every single ray of sunshine as if it we were looking directly into heaven, with phenomenal lighting that reflects on all kinds of surfaces to bring about splashes of light and color that instantly moves the film into a more cheerful and hopeful territory. This is aided by a fantastic and emotionally charged score by returning rock band Radwimps, which combines a classic symphonic score with pop tunes that will make you shed an ocean of tears.
It is easy to compare Weathering With You with Your Name. Both rely heavily on the romantic story starring teenagers and mix modern genre tropes with traditional Shinto beliefs and folklore. Shinkai uses this contrast to create a style of magical realism that feels grounded, even when Hina’s powers start entering fantasy territory. That makes the film’s exploration of climate change feel weird and out of place, given that Shinkai doesn’t seem to use his platform to say anything about the climate crisis. Characters tell of the time that Tokyo was a bay, and that it is futile to try and stop that from happening again. Though the film may be read as a criticism of traditional Japanese views on cycles of change, taken at face value the film seems to say we should all simply enjoy the few precious moments we have on this Earth instead of fighting its wishes. Weathering With You make us question whether we are willing to put others before ourselves and do something selfless for the long-term benefits instead of going for short-term satisfaction, and though it is seen through the eyes of a naïve, egocentric teenager, the film seems to condone doing the later – no regard for the very serious and real consequences.
Weathering With You is a beautiful film with breathtaking animation, a story and soundtrack that will make you cry oceans, and a cast of wonderful and charming characters. Unfortunately, it wraps the story in a conflicting view of climate change that feels like an unnecessary red herring for a film that seems to want to talk to current generations about something important but never starts a conversation.
Weathering With You does not currently have a U.S. release date.