Review

by Grant Jones,

Weathering With You Blu-ray

Synopsis:
Weathering With You

Hodaka Morishima is a sixteen year old who has run away from home, using a ferry to get to Tokyo. He lives on the streets for a time looking for odd jobs while Tokyo experiences a constant state of pouring rain. One of his first nights there a young girl – Hina Amano – takes pity on him while working her job at McDonald's and gives him a burger for free. Encouraged by this, they part ways for a while and Hodaka lands a job writing for a small tabloid.

As time goes on, Hodaka eventually runs into Hina once again and he discovers that she can pray to make the rain stop. They set up a small business selling brief reprieves from the rain. But this power comes at a terrible cost as Hina begins to fade away. Furthermore, both Hodaka and Hina are being pursued by the police. Racing against time and running from the law, eventually Hina fades away completely and Hodaka must journey to that other world and bring her back.

Three years pass. Hodaka was sent back to his home island to finish out school. Once he graduates, he goes back to Tokyo and finds that Keisuke has greatly expanded his writing enterprise. Hodaka searches Tokyo and finds Hina once again, and reunited in the rain they decide to be together in the world come what may.

Review:

What do you do when the rain won't stop?

The film Weathering With You attempts to answer this question in both a literal and figurative sense. From acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai - whose other works include films such as 5 Centimeters Per Second and your name. - and CoMix Wave Films animation studio, it tells the story of two young people whose lives become entwined in a Tokyo under a never-ending rainfall. Weathering With You is an interesting film to discuss. In many ways it is excellent, but I'm not sure it reaches the lofty heights that it's aiming for.

Visually, it is gorgeous. The character animations are smooth and crisp, with a realistic look that grounds the film in its setting. Tokyo is particularly well-realized. The city is lovingly recreated and everything from the sweeping skylines to intimate indoor locales is marvelously done. Tokyo is a well-trodden setting for anime yet Weathering With You makes you feel like you've never seen it quite this way before. The shattered building with the shrine on the roof is a really unique visual set against the backdrop of Tokyo's shimmering neon vastness.

A great deal of attention is paid to rain and water movements. When the rain falls, it's truly awe-inspiring to see the care put into animating each individual raindrop. The way the rain (and at times tears) roll down surfaces and interact with the characters and environment is remarkable and lends a surreal quality to many scenes in the movie without being outright fantastical.

The cast are all strong and likeable. Given that the entire film hinges on Hodaka and Hina's chemistry, they do not disappoint. Their twin stories of escape, obfuscation, and eventual blossoming love are enjoyable and makes them easy to root for. The rest of the supporting cast like Nagisa, Keisuke, and Natsumi are given much less screen time but make a huge impact whenever they are on screen. Each has their unique quirks and charms that allow them to leave a lasting impression, and their contributions during the final escape/chase sequence are a delight.

The movie's themes are certainly resonant. There are elements of young people being harassed by authorities in a world that has no place for them. Hina gives up her entire being as a sacrifice – in part to a gig economy job, in part to the happiness of others – and the consequences of that sort of constant outpouring of the self are explored. There is also an unmistakable statement on climate change. There's a quiet undercurrent of dread for these people living under an unrelenting and unforgiving set of weather conditions that make normal life impossible and looking for any solution to the problem. But in that sense too there is hope. There's a scene in particular where an old man delivers exposition regarding the sunshine girls and humankind's relationship with nature. In particular, he points out that our perspectives are very short and limited, and that our need for the world to be in “balance” is a modern notion. In the end, our co-existence with nature has never been “normal” – all we have is each other in the face of a volatile and unpredictable world.

The cinematography is solid as well. Shinkai is a seasoned filmmaker and it's evident. The shot compositions are strong, and the film is visually exciting without being confusing. There is good use of occasional POV shots with fish-eye lenses and blurring at the edges to simulate the feeling of trying to look at something in the rain. My only gripe with the cinematography is the movie trailer-esque “black screen with dramatic narration” moments that pop up two or three times during the film. Otherwise though it is all here; visually, thematically, cinematically, the elements of the film all come together quite nicely.

…and yet there is an unmistakable sense of missed potential keeping Weathering With You from being one of the greats.

Nothing in the film feels incompetent or poorly executed, but you do not get the sense of anything being particularly risky or ground-breaking either. The film is good from start to finish but never quite makes the leap into being great. It is hard to articulate exactly why that is, but the lack of any truly defining elements is one reason that comes to mind.

The runtime is another issue. At 112 minutes, Weathering With You is not exactly a short film. There is a lot of film here and not enough tension to sustain it for my tastes. Certainly, the characters often find themselves in very tense situations: homelessness, vagrancy, lack of supervision, being chased by police, harassed by predators – none of those are safe or secure. Hina is even taken away and transported to another realm of storm dragons and sky jellyfish! But at no point did I feel like there was much threat or cause for concern. We move at such a steady pace from scene to scene and for such a long time that there isn't much of a chance to stop and feel the weight of what is going on. I would not call the movie predictable, but none of its events are necessarily shocking either. All of the potential major threats to the safety and security of our cast just sort of evaporate without much consequence. Hina and Hodaka have almost zero friction in their relationship – they have a fondness for each other before they have even conversated and never really come into conflict.

In fact, our leads never appear to suffer much in the way of consequences. Hodaka gets in two standoffish situations involving guns but you never really worry about his safety. He also abdicates all of his responsibilities to the tabloid, but that never really amounts to much – Keisuke gives him money and helps him and eventually finds all the success in life (professionally and personally) that he wanted anyway. The police are supposed to be a constant threat throughout the film but they are mostly an inconvenience, and all that results from Hodaka breaking the law is being on probation during his remaining time at school.

I think this is most egregious in the case of Hina's absence. The film does a great job establishing how scary her disappearance should be – her body slowly becoming like seawater and the moment where Hodaka wakes up to see her empty bathrobe in the bed are both really haunting moments. Hodaka's desperate attempts to somehow get back to her also feel well-executed. But part of the problem is that we do not have enough time as an audience to truly feel her absence. We see her a few times in this other world as a reminder that she is still alive in some shape or form, which clearly suggests that her rescue is at hand. Knowing that she is still alive and relatively unharmed sort of tells the audience “Hey, it is all going to work out, enjoy this low-stakes chase scene.” After the climax of the film, Hina and Hodaka are apart for three years… but we jump right ahead to Hodaka's graduation and reunion with Hina, picking right back up where they left off as if nothing happened.

Maybe that is the problem holding this film back. It's gorgeous, technically well-executed, and thematically resonant. The characters are fine and there's enough tension to keep things moving. But there seems to be a hesitation to fully commit to some of the heavier themes at work, and that results in a roughly two hours film that is little more than pleasant. It feels harsh to say that, because there is nothing lacking in its technical merits per se, but I think that lack of tension is what is holding this back from being a must-see. Weathering With You is a pleasant film that I recommend you see if you have the chance. I am net positive on the execution of the majority of the film, but it is hard not to see where – if they had leaned in a little more - it could have been one of the greats.

Grade:
Overall (dub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Music : B-

+ Deft direction, gorgeous art, sweet and uplifting story
Thematic elements do not quite deliver, rather low tension for its length

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Production Info:
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Screenplay: Makoto Shinkai
Storyboard: Makoto Shinkai
Unit Director:
Kenji Imura
Yuuga Tokuno
Music: RADWIMPS
Original creator: Makoto Shinkai
Character Design:
Atsushi Tamura
Masayoshi Tanaka
Art Director: Hiroshi Takiguchi
Animation Director: Atsushi Tamura
Art design:
Hiroshi Takiguchi
Kaoru Takino
Tasuku Watanabe
Sound Director: Haru Yamada
Director of Photography: Ryosuke Tsuda
Executive producer: Yoshihiro Furusawa
Producer:
Kinue Itou
Wakana Okamura

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Weathering With You (movie)

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