In 2016, an anime movie was released in Japan that created a phenomenon. Your Name, by director Makoto Shinkai was a fantastical story about a boy and a girl who, through a quirk of fate, would switch bodies. The movie was greeted with much acclaim and would go on to win several awards internationally, leading some to call Shinkai a second Hayao Miyazaki.
Fast forward three years and on July 19th of 2019, Shinkai’s newest movie, Weathering with You was released. So how does it hold up and does it meet with the expectations left behind by its predecessor?
Weathering with You is the story about a boy and a girl and how they change the world. The boy, Hodaka Morishima is a 9th grade runaway who leaves his home to come to Tokyo. There, through the generosity of the journalist, Keisuke Suga, he finds a job and a place to stay. Though his work as Keisuke’s assistant, he learns of the urban legend of a girl with the ability to make it sunny. Through a twist of serendipity, Hodaka encounters the girl, Hina Amano, and discovers that the urban legend it true. Hina literally has the ability to change the weather. From there, Hodaka and Hina’s adventure together begins.
Weathering with You is a story of adolescence. Hodaka is a boy trying to find something, but unsure of what it really is. Like many young people in Japan, the answer seems to lie outside of his rural home, and in the big city of Tokyo. The movie explores the various emotions Hodaka feels as someone trying to find some semblance of control within a system that dictates every facet of his life. By offering him control over the weather—one of the areas of this world that humanity still has no control over—through Hina, he is given control, and thus freedom, over his life. The story really captures the sort of bursts of exhilaration one feels at gaining such freedoms, be it owning one’s first vehicle or graduating a school.
For anyone who has seen more than one of Makoto Shinkai’s previous works, the usual elements that he often employs are scattered throughout the movie. The lost male protagonist, the kind but at times strict heroine, adolescent emotions, a fantastical element that both opens up the story but also leads to a crushing sense of loss… it’s all there. While you can recognize the tropes, they’re rearranged in a manner that keeps the story from feeling like a carbon copy of what has come before. Most of the characters are original enough in their depictions that they feel like real people.
Unfortunately, while the main thrust of the movie is well defined, everything around it feels somewhat half-baked. Certain elements feel contrived and their purpose within the movie seem rather blatant. Parts of the movie act more in service of the plot than of the characters which make the inner working of the story a little transparent. You can see the man behind the curtain, and that’s not something you want to be made aware of in a story that strives to be as emotional as this one.
One of the biggest hurdles for a story with fantastical elements is engaging the viewer and allowing them to accept the unreal. Good world-building and emotional engagement is what lets audiences believe that superheroes can fly or that aliens can visit/invade/befriend Earth. Makoto Shinkai’s first original work, Voices of a Distant Star, was such a heartfelt and emotionally engaging story that it let you put aside your disbelief and let you accept that a young girl could pilot a humanoid mech and fight in space and that cellphone signals can reach across the solar system. Weathering with You runs into a few such plot points where the suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience is necessary. This is where the previously mentioned transparency of the inner workings really hinders the immersion into the world of the movie. Individual mileage may vary, but seasoned movie goers who are well versed in the structure of story and of the arsenal of tools that story creators use may find some things jarring and disruptive.
Weathering with You is, to put it simply, enjoyable but unrefined. Overall, it’s a fun story which makes some fun and some downright bold choices within. However, take one step back and you can see the Visible Man’s organs rather clearly. It feels like the script needed a few more passes and some strong critique before going into full production. That said, it’s well worth catching on the big screen for the atmospheric music and the absolutely beautiful spectacle.