Directed by Makoto Shinkai
Starring Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri
It’s hard to avoid thinking Japan is boarding a late train by fielding Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You to the newly renamed best international film category at the Oscars. And that’s because it failed to bet on Your Name, Shinkai’s 2016 breakthrough about a romance between two teenagers who find themselves swapping bodies, even though the animated feature was an instant commercial hit and critics worldwide were shouting critical huzzahs, with Empire hailing it as “this decade’s Spirited Away.”
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How do you follow up a beloved feat like Your Name? When you’re Makoto Shinkai, the answer is: Do more of the same. Weathering With You has many of the elements that made its predecessor a hit, from the mixture of adolescent love with mysticism to the gorgeous animation to the Radwimps soundtrack. Once again we follow two teenagers, and a love both abetted and thwarted by supernatural forces.
First, we meet Hina (Nana Mori), a soon-to-be orphan watching over her mother in the ICU in the middle of a rainy day in Tokyo. Hina sees a ray of sunlight punching through the storm clouds, shining on a derelict shrine on top of an abandoned building. She runs through the city streets and prays at the shrine, where she discovers that a different prevailing weather pattern is the least strange thing about it. A few months later, we meet Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo), running away from his island prefecture to the capital for reasons not quite explicated, who soon becomes a vagabond in the seedy Kabuchiko district.
Your Name’s winning formula is here and accounted for: the effusive emotion and Shinto mysticism rubbing up nicely against real-world concerns. And then there’s the animation: Shinkai has outdone himself with this follow-up, presenting Tokyo not just with detailed fidelity, but also with a glow that suggests a lush, lambert inner life. Pixar and its ilk may be the dominant force in animation today, but artisans like Shinkai show us what we’ve been missing: a soft humanity devoid of the plastic gloss of CGI.
There is a reinforcing message for the young (about not belittling their ability to make a difference in the world) and a coda informed by climate crisis paranoia. It is this coda that is the problematic element of Weathering With You: By presenting an alternative vision of Tokyo set in a not-so-distant future, the film’s ending strains supersede everything that has gone before in terms of intrigue and fascination. Weathering With You feels like it ends too soon, making you wish that the wunderkind animator had started his story where he finishes it.
Photographs from IMDB