It’s been a while since Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name took the world by storm. An imaginative and heart breaking love story that pretty much everybody had praise for and raised the question of what exactly he’d produce next? The answer is now here in the form of spiritual successor Weathering With You.
Teenage minor Hodaka Morishima runs away from his island home in hopes of making a life for himself in the Tokyo metropolis. Finding it nigh impossible to survive, he ends up resorting to a chance contact he made on the boat over and is hired as a writer for articles about alleged supernatural occurrences. The biggest rumour speaks of a local ‘sunshine girl’ who is said to be able to control the weather. Fate intervenes and Hodaka encounters this mystical girl, Hina Amano, who can indeed pray rain away and the two go into business using her gifts to help people. But where did Hina’s talent come from?
I describe Weathering With You as a spiritual successor as I exited the cinema feeling it was impossible not to see it as a response from the director not only to Your Name itself but the overwhelming positive public response, with Shinkai reportedly not sharing the passion of his global audience. Weathering With You replicates many of its elder sibling’s themes but at times almost seems to be skewing them as a sign of Shinkai’s annoyance.
Certainly the initial impetus for the plot feels identical to Your Name, with Tokyo being seen as a mecca for young people. However, unlike Mitsuha, Hodaka is forced to achieve his wish in a more realistic way and danger soon follows. When he discovers a gun whilst sleeping in an alleyway the movie takes a surprisingly dark turn, Shinkai raising suspense whereas in opposition to Hollywood handing out guns like candy we get an extended sequence where Hodaka examines the gun privately and upon realising it’s a genuine firearm is spooked by what he has in his possession and how he can get rid of it without implicating himself to some wider crime.
The weight of this sequence ties further into what I see as Shinkai using this as a counterpoint to his previous film. In Your Name, characters proved quite willing bar some initial doubt to go along with the incredible events they found themselves party to. Here, although Hina’s powers are genuine, it’s understandable that people don’t buy into them and issues are muddied by Hodaka’s status as a runaway minor whom the police are searching for. Likewise, some of the obstacles our protagonists must overcome in the final act are linked to grounded personal realities that they refuse to put at risk by buying into what sound like the whimsical imaginings of teenagers.
Lest I make the film sound too cynical there certainly is a heart to this and it shines (no pun intended) with the sequences where Hina and Hodaka use her powers for clients to pray bad weather away. It’s here that we get an escapist side of the movie, complimented by incredible visuals as the weather changes to brilliant sun. Depictions of the sky have been a continuous treat for me in Japanese animation this past decade and Shinkai’s team pull off some absolutely gorgeous depictions here.
The actual interactions between the two are a sweet and sincere love story, full of the bashfulness expected at that age. Rather infamously, this fact was criticised in the press by Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino and it’s a complaint I don’t really see any merit it in. Much like Your Name, the love story element of the plot is one of two individuals who value the unique identity of the other person and find beauty in that, enough to fight for. Isn’t that the sincerest form of love? Tomino’s comments about the lack of physical intimacy between the couple come off as the ill-advised moaning of a cantankerous old man.
Speaking of talking points, I’ve seen much made of the film apparently having something to say about climate change. Speaking as an open advocate in belief of the fact that climate change is real and must be addressed as a priority, I don’t really get that from the film. Yes, weather is central to the plot and we do get a few side comments about how Hina might be following in the steps of what was once upon a time a power shared by far more of the population but given the hard science of climate change and why it’s happening I find it awkward to suggest the film is challenging it. Maybe that was indeed Shinkai’s intent but for me it comes off more as taking a grounded example of everyday life and from there building into a fantastical, imaginative story.
The version of the film I saw was the original Japanese recording and the whole cast perform admirably. Newcomer Kotaro Daigo debuts here as Hodaka and readily proves he has the chops to carry such a central role. He’s complimented by Nana Mori as Hina, with Nana herself having only recently debuted. Daigo does well at channelling the uncertain Hodaka whilst Nana delivers a performance that beams the atmosphere of a ‘sunshine girl’ in all respects. The rest of the cast are generally more seasoned and deliver fine performances even if they’re mostly in support roles to the wider plot. I was actually amused to catch Masako Nozawa, most famous for playing Son Goku in Dragon Ball, cameo as a fortune teller. Plus maybe there’s a few other surprise cameos, hmm? (That’s all you’re getting, I’m trying hard to keep this spoiler free!)
As alluded to before, visually the film is a true beauty. Shinkai has commented that he wanted to make Tokyo look better than it does in real life and it really does shine on the screen. This is backed up further by some imaginative depictions of where the water Hina prays away is ending up, a visual edge to the growing sense there’s going to be a cost for all this.
If you enjoyed Your Name, you’ll definitely want to see Weathering With You. You can absolutely see the latter without the former but as I said at the start I think you’ll get a bit more out of this if you’ve seen both. Although I would have welcomed the climate change commentary being more practical this is still a very strong film that showcases why Shinkai is globally celebrated. Part of the reason I’m a fan of cinema is that it offers worlds we can escape into for a few hours, nourishment for the soul. In that respect Weathering With You is a feast.
Weathering With You releases in select UK cinemas both dubbed and subtitled 17th January. Additionally, select venues will screen both Weathering With You and Your Name in a double bill 15th January. For a list of all available screenings, please visit Anime Limited’s official booking website.