When animation director Makoto Shinkai released Your Name. in 2016, it took Japan by storm. Soaring past records previously held only by Miyazaki movies, it became the highest-grossing anime film of all time, as well as the fourth highest-grossing film in general in the country. Proving that traditional animation is alive and well, and that Japan is at the forefront of it, Your Name. went on to international acclaim. Makoto Shinkai, now dubbed the “new Miyazaki”, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, and expectations for his follow-up grew insurmountably high.
That follow-up is Weathering With You, and like its predecessor, it’s a young romance that flings its couple into a situation much larger than themselves. There’s plenty of moments that will tug on heartstrings, but its story doesn’t quite have the same emotional weight that Your Name. does, and the narrative isn’t as complex or as interesting. I’d hesitate to call it a disappointment though – the film makes up for this with a full and rich cast (as compared to Your Name. only focusing on its two leads), stunning animation and visuals, and a metaphor that feels much more apt than the film before it.
Weathering With You follows Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo), a runaway boy from an unnamed town who arrives in Tokyo to try and make a living for himself. After slumming it in the city’s unforgiving streets, he finally lands a job writing bogus and sensational stories for a tabloid publication. The owner, Keisuke (Shun Oguri), allows Hodaka to live in his tiny office / home along with himself and assistant, Natsumi (Tsubasa Honda). The three form a close friendship as they chase down stories and try to make a living, all while Tokyo faces persistent rainfall that hasn’t let up in a very long time.
This rain is what eventually leads Hodaka to a girl named Hina (Nana Mori), an orphan attempting to fend for herself and her younger brother, Nagi (Sakura Kiryu). Hina reveals herself to be a “sunshine girl”, someone with magical powers who can summon sunshine by simply praying. Hodaka comes up a business plan: He and Hina will go around the city supplying good weather to anyone who needs it. This ends up being a very popular service, as many of Tokyo’s residents are seeking any kind of respite from the constant rain.
Animating rain is an exceptionally difficult task, so to set a feature-length film in a city that’s consistently being drenched seems like a purposeful challenge. Shinkai and his team showcase their mastery of the art though; every drop lands beautifully in the sprawling urban landscape and the flood waters ebb and flow with mesmerizing movements. Likewise, the moments when Hina is able to make the sun break through the clouds are almost shocking in their gloriousness – no other animes have skies quite as striking as Shinkai’s.
It’s amazing that any film can make something as simple as a couple minutes of sunshine feel cathartic, but it’s something that feels true to its characters (who haven’t seen the sun for ages) and story. Hodaka makes several observations about just how much the weather can influence people’s moods and happiness, and he couldn’t be more correct. Weathering With You is about finding those small spots of bright sun in a gloomy and indifferent world, which is a poignant and appropriate message considering the film’s underlying topic: climate change.
While a major component of Your Name. was influenced by the 2011 earthquake that hit Japan, Weathering With You has climate change interwoven into its entire story. Tokyo’s neverending rain symbolizes the smaller and less immediate changes that are happening to our planet, but those changes can still be devastating in their own quiet ways. The film’s cast of very likable characters represent those who stand to suffer the most from a changing climate; the poor and downtrodden who struggle to survive.
We’re living in a time that’s seeing more and more people, especially younger ones, fall into despair in the face of climate change. Many feel like they have no future to look forward to. Weathering With You dares to be optimistic, which is a stance on the topic that I honestly haven’t seen from any sort of media. The film’s central message, solidified by a track off the soundtrack (Shinkai’s second collaboration with Japanese rock band Radwimps), is that we’ll be okay. It dares to dream of a future where yes, climate change radically alters our way of life, but that life can still be lived. The idea of still being able to find love and lead a fulfilling life in a post-climate-change world may seem radical at the moment, perhaps even a bit too naive, but it’s an idea that we desperately need.
Hope springs eternal in Weathering With You, and the film’s two lovers actively seek out that hope whether they can. As opposed to Your Name.’s couple largely being moved around by the hands of destiny, Hodaka and Hina forge their own paths, and both make separate but equally as monumental decisions in the film’s third act. While mostly light and sweet in tone, the film also doesn’t shy away from the darkness that resides in their lives. But small rays of sunshine can always burst through even the most stubborn of clouds. This film is a beautiful reminder of that.
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Weathering With You is a worthy follow-up to the phenomenon of Your Name., with a much more vital message.
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