Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Weathering With You
High school freshman Hodaka Morishima leaves his home on an isolated island and moves to Tokyo, but he immediately becomes broke. He lives his days in isolation, but finally finds a job as a writer for a shady occult magazine. After he starts his job, the weather continues to be rainy day after day. Then one day, in an alleyway of the crowded and busy city, Hodaka meets a young girl named Hina Amano. Due to certain circumstances, Hina and her younger brother live together, but share a cheerful and sturdy life. This bright and strong-willed girl possesses a strange and wonderful ability: the power to stop the rain and clear the sky.
I feel for Makoto Shinkai—the pressure on his shoulders must be immense. In 2016, he went from a director of niche films to a mainstream name in Japanese households within the span of several months. Your Name found international success because its feel-good themes and charismatic characters marked just enough of a departure from Shinkai's previous works to result in his most accessible film yet. The underlying assumption when it came to Shinkai's next work was that it would have to be more like Your Name than anything the director had done before, or else it stood no chance at all of recapturing that lightning in a bottle.
The financial stake that Toho and other companies must have had in Weathering With You comes through strongly in the product placement that litters the film. The film's depiction of Tokyo teems with real-life brands, all of them angling for the viewer's attention. Of course Weathering With You would try to copy Your Name's success; after discovering a non-Miyazaki anime director who could draw in mountains of cash, there was no way investors could allow Shinkai to return to his indie and experimental roots.
But I don't think Shinkai wanted to tell a story just like Your Name. Weathering With You may have the aesthetic landmarks of its predecessor, like Masayoshi Tanaka's character designs and a RADWIMPS soundtrack, but the core themes about how we deal with disaster and a changing world have a different spin on them, and the ending especially leaves a different aftertaste. In one crucial way, Weathering With You feels like a response to Shinkai's very first film: Voices of a Distant Star. Both films tell the story of a girl whose powers are directly connected to the fate of the world and a boy who feels powerless to save her from the weight of that responsibility.
I feel somewhat helpless when it comes to analyzing Weathering With You's story, because I expect that most of the discussion around it will revolve around its ending, which I won't be spoiling for obvious reasons. What I will say is that Weathering With You is rich with social commentary; it does not merely draw inspiration from the trauma of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, but unflinchingly confronts its aftermath. Ultimately, the film is a source of hope and comfort in a changing and chaotic world, although it also brings out some conflicting feelings. That lingering aftertaste makes the film interesting to me, but something also tells me that it won't be quite as accessible as Your Name despite its similar cosmetic trappings.
Weathering With You takes its time before it reveals its full hand. Most of the film is concerned with its adorable teen love story, taking the time to establish both of its leads as full-fledged people in their own right before the romance begins to blossom. Hodaka and Hina are introduced as likable and hardworking kids who happen to live on the fringe of society. Lacking parental figures and even (in Hodaka's case) government-issued ID, the two quickly latch on to each other for emotional support in a world that doesn't understand them. When Hodaka discovers Hina's power to change the weather temporarily, he suggests she do it for money so that they can support themselves. They live a shaky existence, always teetering on the edge of catastrophe, but they are happy. They wish that their lives could go on forever like this. Meanwhile, the rain keeps falling, as if it will never end.
The film's use of the weather as its central metaphor is brilliantly suited for its particular aesthetic strengths. The film is filled with utterly breathtaking shots of rain and other weather effects, showing off all the strengths displayed in earlier Shinkai films like The Garden of Words. Over the years, Comix Wave has cultivated an incredible team for background art and compositing, and with Weathering With You, it feels as if they've outdone themselves yet again. On a narrative and thematic level, the prospect of irreversible climate change is a haunting specter that hangs over the entire planet, even when the phenomenon is not being directly addressed. Weathering With You doesn't shy away from depicting both the beauty and the horrors of the natural world.
Yet for all the apt imagery and the appealing love story, Weathering With You stumbles when the real conflict finally surfaces. The characters are jerked from one plot point to another, occasionally acting in ways that break character and immersion. I didn't feel as if I could relate to them by the end, which was strange considering how grounded they were throughout most of the film. I also felt that the traditional Shinto beliefs underscoring the themes of this film came across more like hamfisted exposition than an organic part of the story's flow. The characters who explain the relationship between prayers and the weather have only a flimsy connection to the overall plot. Although the themes have weight, the execution does not.
Although the format of Weathering With You will inevitably invite comparisons to Your Name, I came out of this film feeling that such comparisons would be a disservice to both films. Shinkai was evidently constrained by the need to fit his story into a particular template, one that didn't seem to fit the plot this time around. Yet even within those constraints, Weathering With You is still a fine film that successfully captures the pulse of modern Tokyo in a time of turbulent change. Those hoping for another experience just like Your Name or even one significantly different from Your Name are bound to feel at least a little let down, but this was probably the best that could have been done to create a film with an individual voice that nevertheless hits the same marks that viewers remember fondly from Your Name. Weathering With You set itself up for an impossible task, but even if it failed that task, it still stands as a success in its own right.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : B+
+ Rich with social commentary, weather metaphor is apt on multiple levels, cute teen love story
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