Makoto Shinkai is a director that you may have heard from his last feature film, Your Name. Your Name released back in 2016 and took the world by storm for its stunning animation, wonderful premise, and an ending that hits you like a sack of bricks, leaving you in pure awe of what you just experienced. It’s one of the best anime feature films ever created and ranks as being one of the most profitable movies that Japanese cinema has ever produced.
To put it into perspective, only one other Japanese film surpassed its box office in Japan, and that movie just so happened to be Spirited Away. But Makoto Shinkai is more than Your Name. The man has been around for nearly two decades directing several anime feature films, though none of them were ever quite as successful or as monumental as Your Name. Most of his earlier work carries a wistful and simple air to them, almost like walking in a garden on a nice spring day.
Weathering With You feels like that for the majority of its run, only to completely crash in its final scenes. It’s a shame to because the majority of the movie is a marvel to watch.
Weathering With You
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Release Date: January 15, 2020 (Limited)
Hodaka Morishima (Kotaro Daigo/Brandon Engman) is a young Japanese high schooler who runs away from home to live in Tokyo, feeling stifled not only by his family but his simple country life. However, with no place to call home, he quickly starts to work for a writer named Keisuke Suga (Shun Oguri/Lee Pace) after Suga saved his life in a freak rainstorm. It turns out that Tokyo has been under perpetual rain for months, yet there are rumors of a mysterious sunshine girl who is able to bring the sun back for a limited amount of time. Hodaka meets her and she introduces herself as Hina (Nana Mori/Ashley Boettcher). Quickly, a friendship begins to develop between the two all while rain continues to pour on Tokyo.
There’s a simple beauty in how Shinkai presents us with this version of Tokyo. Instead of painting the city in glitz and glamour, most of our time in Tokyo is spent in dull locations with drab, washed out colors. Our protagonists aren’t meant to be wealthy or well off; in fact, all of them struggle with finances in one way or another. They’re still able to make a dingy world special in their own way.
A lot of this could be from the imagery Shinkai uses. Water has never looked more beautiful than it does in Weathering With You, each raindrop feeling intricate with large bodies of water flowing in a way that enhances the themes of the story. Weather turns into a metaphor for our cast’s emotional state of mind with the warmth of the sun comforting Hodaka in times of joy while pounding rain only serves to heighten his fears and anxiety.
It may be a simple metaphor when you break it down, but the devil is in the details. Seeing Hodaka beaten up as the rain turns into a downpour is easy enough to understand but is so well executed thanks to the animation. Indeed, all of Weathering With You is a joy to watch, made even better by the soundtrack done by Radwimps, who also provided the soundtrack to Your Name. They nail a sound that reminded me, at times, of “Eyes on Me” by Nobuo Uematsu and Faye Wong. Truthfully, all of the production aspects of Weathering With You are simply superb.
As much as visuals may work for a movie (which is, undeniably, an important aspect of any animated feature), a film is nothing without a strong story. For the most part, Weathering With You succeeds in this department. The core relationship between Hodaka and Hina is well established and slowly fleshed out over the course of the film. Half of the movie is dedicated to the two of them just hanging out and making it sunny for others, giving us a look at their cheery sides. Side characters are also given distinct personalities, but Weathering With You doesn’t focus strictly on them. They eventually fade into the background as the main narrative takes center stage, which is a shame due to how much the secondary characters began to grow on me.
As strong as these characters are, it doesn’t stop the first half from feeling rushed. There are never any moments for the characters to breathe as Shinkai feels compelled to keep the plot moving at all costs. Characters talk over each other and rarely have moments to themselves. It is distracting early on while we’re being introduced to this cast with the movie only giving us room to breathe when absolutely necessary. Eventually Weathering With You slows down and emotional beats are given proper time, but the film could have afforded to slow a bit at the start.
Weathering With You is a very Japanese movie, but not to the point that you need to have extensive knowledge of Japan in order to fully enjoy it. Events center on gun control, laws concerning minors, and the historical legends surrounding weather maidens, but it’s nothing that can’t be gleamed by simply paying attention. When we see Japanese culture in popular media, it’s not usually done in as much detail as it is in Weathering With You. I actually learned a thing or two about after finishing the movie.
However, all of that good will is nearly flushed down the drain when we reach the climax. Without spoiling anything, Weathering With You makes a bold choice in its depiction of Hodaka and Hina’s romance. I’m sure this was meant to be wholesome and beautiful, but instead the decision comes across as absolutely selfish and horrifying.
On that note, I can’t say I fully liked Hodaka as a protagonist. This is due to his self-centered attitude and determination to only look at the now instead of the future at any given moment. Sadly, those negative traits are dialed up to 11 in a decision that made me slack-jawed at how insensitive and egotistical he is as a human being. He acts like a petulant child and what was meant to be a beautiful and poignant finale becomes frustrating to watch as the movie throws away nearly all of the goodwill that is established up to that point in favor of an ending that almost comes across as self-sabotage.
Weathering With You was so close to recapturing the beauty and wonder of Your Name but misses the mark thanks to that ending. To be fair, Your Name was always a lightning in a bottle movie that couldn’t be replicated. I feel Shinkai recognized this and knew he couldn’t recreate Your Name. Instead of imitate it, he tried to subvert it.
80% of Weathering With You is an enjoyable young adult romance that borders on being magnificent. Seeing the stills is proof enough of Weathering With You’s artistic merit, but the ending left such a sour taste in my mouth that it impacted my prior enjoyment. My advice to you would be to watch the first 90 minutes of the movie. After that, skip the conclusion and continue living in ignorant bliss of how the film ends. You may end up enjoying it more for that.