Feature length Japanese anime continues to fly under the radar among the several mediums of animation, and one filmmaker that’s become prolific within the niche in recent years is Makoto Shinkai, who has made a name for himself by combining young romance narratives with concepts rooted in science fiction. His first film to breakthrough with an American audience was Children Who Chase Lost Voices, which came out in 2011 to critical acclaim, but he would gain all that and more in 2017, when his body-swapping and time-jumping romance, Your Name, would become the highest grossing Japanese film of all time.
A young boy meets a girl with mysterious but wondrous powers to control the weather in the newest film from Makoto Shinkai.
Now, Shinkai returns this weekend with Weathering With You, an anime film about a teenage boy who meets and falls in love with a girl with otherworldly powers to control the constant rain in the city of Tokyo. Despite having a familiar structure to his previous film, Weathering With You is still worth seeing this weekend for its gorgeous animation, endearing romance, and a grounded but informative approach to depicting spiritual ideas rooted in Japanese culture.
Weathering With You follows Hodaka Morishima (voiced by Brandon Engman in the English dub), a teenage boy running away from home in hopes of getting by in the metropolis of Tokyo, which barely sees the sun as the result of a ceaseless rain; the power of which almost knocks him off the boat he arrives on until he is saved by Keisuke Suga (Lee Pace), who gives him his business card in the event he needs help upon his arrival. Sure enough, Hodaka’s job search leads him into contacting Keisuke, who hires him as an assistant to himself and his niece Natsumi (Alison Brie). Together, the trio interviews citizens of Tokyo about any unusual phenomena they’ve experienced in the weather for magazine articles they write about urban legends.
After a routine interview, Hodaka saves a girl named Hina Amano (Ashley Boettcher) from sleazy club owners and quickly discovers she is a ‘sunshine girl’, a woman with spiritual powers to temporarily stop the rain and control the weather with prayers to the sky. Hodaka and Hina get to know each other and click almost instantly, agreeing to use the latter’s powers for good in a fruitful side business stopping the rain for citizens wanting a sunny day for any special occasion. All goes well until a detective named Takai (Riz Ahmed) investigates the circumstances behind Hodaka’s rescue of Hina, while the sunshine girl is quick to feel the consequences of overusing her powers.
There’s an undercurrent of subtext relating to the current issue of climate change throughout Weathering With You, and Shinkai communicates them brilliantly through the film’s visuals. The city of Tokyo is gorgeously hand-drawn with authentic detail and filled with gorgeous colors, while both the beauty and foreboding terror of the city’s persistent rain are prevalent in the animation, such as when dark shadows cover Hodaka after a downpour begins on the deck of the boat he stands on, and again in a dream sequence where he watches from a cliff as raindrops retract back into the sky and a cluster of sunbeams drift further and further away from him at breakneck speed. Meanwhile, interior scenes with Hina are striking in how the colors of their clothing and her house pop with striking vibrance.
It’s also worth noting that the budding romance between Hodaka and Hina is congenial in its relatability from their first glances at McDonald’s to a hilarious moment where Hodaka gains anxiety over visiting a girl’s house for the first time literally on Hina’s doorstep. Their relationship takes turns for the endearing and heartwarming when the pair feels mutual excitement about bringing joy to their customers, and when they share intimate moments, such as when they watch the massive Jingu Gaien firework show together. There’s also something for older audiences to chew on as the film goes along thanks to thought-provoking ideas about the weather and Japanese spirituality, such as the concept of the sky having an ability to harbor an ecosystem of its own, and ancient legends about maidens who lived all over the world with powers not unlike Hina’s.
As engaging and informative of a watch that Weathering With You is, the narrative structure follows a path from story beat to plot point that feels familiar to Your Name, causing the emotional punch to not be as impactful as Shinkai’s previous effort. What doesn’t help is that the similarities in framework between both movies make this film’s particular narrative predictable as a result.
However, following up such a masterwork was always lofty to begin with, and Weathering With You still stands on its own as an entertaining anime film with a very poignant message relevant to dealing with contemporary environmental anxieties: the air we breathe and the nature all around us is of equal importance to the human connections we have, and it’s through these connections that we’ll be able to change the world.
Audiences will feel the weight of that idea as they become engrossed in the lovely young romance at the center of the film and gawk at the breathtaking animation as Hina’s powers bring out the beautiful sunlight and the deep blues of the sky. It’s honest and truthful about the climatic state of things, but has a heartfelt, optimistic message at its core, and that’s why audiences and anime fans alike should weather all obstacles before them and go see Weathering With You.