The fact that we live in a world where Makoto Shinkai is the biggest name in anime at the moment is honestly kind of strange to me. Nowadays, whenever he’s got a new movie coming out, that film is going to get worldwide hype from major news outlets and various parts of social media to the point that I feel even more justified to ignore the mainstream than I usually do. Don’t get me wrong, I love that one of my favorite anime directors has made it to the big time, but I also hate the attention because people just cannot stop bringing up Your Name whenever they speak of his future projects. I didn’t even read any of the reviews before seeing Weathering With You, and I knew that a bunch of them were considering it to be a disappointing follow-up to that smash hit.
Which really astounds me because I did not see the similarities at all. Or at least not similarities that are all that important. Weathering With You has a lot of the same elements as Your Name from the Radwimps musical montages to the cameos from previous movies to the increased focus on genre-blending and a more overall sense of fun. However, that’s just superficial stuff that affects the packaging at best. The story is completely different, right down to the usual theme of long-distance relationships only really playing a role in the final act. Maybe people like me who doesn’t put much stock in superficial similarities as long as the meat is different are rare?
This movie is surprisingly dark too. Shinkai’s movies are no stranger to being cruel to its characters in order to convey how painful long-distance relationships are. In Weathering With You though, it’s like he’s aiming for the happiest story he’s ever done, but said happiness comes with an asterisk mark so big that you question who had the time to draw it. The main theme of this movie is basically about the needs of the one versus the needs of the many. How we as individuals deal with what society expects from us and the consequences that can happen as a result of prioritizing what we want over doing what’s right. This is some pretty heavy stuff that I not only haven’t seen before in a Shinkai film, I don’t think I’ve seen this much in fiction in general. You’ve had stuff like Oregairu which is about a self-deprecating guy who sacrifices his own happiness to make certain individuals happy, but Weathering With You takes that logic to a city-wide scale. And Tokyo is a big city.
Honestly, what astounds me the most about this movie is how this story is conveyed through all of these little details in just the animation alone. A lot of my friends who watched this with me thought it was an overlong movie that was too standard, but while I’m sure the audience and the fact that I was watching it on a big screen might have affected my emotions somewhat, I was gripped around the moment when the main character (Hodoka) fired a gun he had found at a thug who was beating the shit out of him for trying to be a hero. And the movie never lost me afterwards because I was just too fascinated with all of the details similar to that scene.
Something that I think I appreciate more about anime than other people is how much Japanese culture can get worked into those stories, provided you’re not just showing off the culture like an amateur documentary. I had someone ask me why Hodaka was acting like a bitch regarding firing that gun and I had to explain to him that guns are incredibly rare in Japan to the point that even the yakuza can’t get a hold of them easily, thus obviously people are going to be freaked out if you have one in Tokyo. Plus, the fact that he was pushed so far that he’d use a gun in the first place gives us a great insight into his emotional state whilst setting up how that scene would look to someone who didn’t have context regarding what happened. And while the movie isn’t meant to be realistic, it does have a lot of instances where reality slaps the protagonists in the face, which ties into the “individual v.s. many” themes I mentioned earlier whilst also exposing the glamorization of Japan as pretty much that: a glamorization.
Like the movie isn’t just dark in the story. It’s dark in how it tells the story. From the very start of Weathering With You, you see Hodaka running away from home to live in Tokyo for reasons that aren’t really explained beyond wanting a brighter life away from his constrained home island (it’s implied that his family was abusive though), but obviously running away to a big city with no real plan is going to leave you homeless and destitute. He does luck out in regards to finding a place that’ll take him in, but up until then, he has trouble finding a place to eat, he can’t stay in most hotels because he’s a minor, and he even runs into men trying to coerce underage girls into selling their bodies. Basically to him, Tokyo is far from the wonderful city that Taki from Your Name lives in.
You could make a dictionary out of all the subtle details that are contained with the movie’s art and animation alone, and what’s funny is that Shinkai himself never really intended them as anything more than just something that would occur naturally if you were put in a similar situation. There’s a scene where Hodoka is running on train tracks to meet someone and in his perspective, it’s an emotionally charged scene. But to the people who see him on those tracks, he looks like he’s making a fool out of himself, and it doesn’t help that he gets cut off by a guy who has a car and thus can get to a destination faster than he can. There’s also a scene where the characters have to stay in a love hotel, but they never actually call it a love hotel. It’s just something that’s obvious if you know that a bathtub only works a certain way in certain places. It’s funny because the movie does have the characters narrate quite a bit on their situation, as is per usual for a Shinkai film, but I don’t think they’ve ever commented or explained any of these details.
It’s honestly kind of amusing because the characters and a lot of the emotional moments in this movie aren’t subtle at all. When the characters are in love, the sound and camera work really want to hammer it in that they’re in love. When they’re feeling sad, even Helen Keller would have been able to know that the movie wanted you to cry at that moment. The film really plays it big when it wants to make the audience feel something, and I can see how people have issues with that, especially if they don’t like the characters. There also isn’t a lot of screen time when the movie calms down between being emotional or funny.
But I really liked the cast of this film, and I especially liked how in addition to the lives of these two kids, this time we get the perspective of an older guy (Keisuke) who’s trying to bond with his daughter, as well as his niece (Natsumi) who’s trying to find a job. Their subplots were pretty interesting because they also deal with society’s expectations for them and how it conflicts with their own interests, plus it gives a nice alternative view to Hodoka’s naive mindset as well as an outsider’s insight into why Tokyo is currently suffering from abnormal weather. Not to mention, they were pretty funny.
However, when it comes to the funniest character of this film, that’d definitely have to be the main girl’s younger brother, Nagi. That kid is a fucking chad with how he’s incredibly supportive of Hodoka and his sister’s relationship, as well as how much of a ladies’ man he is himself. Practically all of my friends love that rascal and he added a lot of enjoyment whenever he was on screen. I don’t even have to explain. You’ll know why he’s so cool if you see the movie yourself.
The main girl, Hina, is really likable as well. In keeping with the movie’s themes, she also suffers from societal issues in regards to making money to support herself and her brother due to her family being about as non-existent as most anime parents. She eventually discovers she has a unique talent that makes for some good cash, but the issue is that said talent has long-lasting effects, especially when it involves interfering with nature itself. Combine that with her bubbly personality and it’s not hard to see why Hodoka would fall for her. And that’s not even getting into all of the times when she helps him.
The relationship between those two was just incredibly lovable to me. They both play off each other really well and are capable of giving the other party emotional support, so when it actually comes time for them to be separated by long-distance, I really wanted the movie to end with the two getting their happy ending. Of course, there’s a reason for that long-distance that I won’t spoil, but basically the world is put in a place where an individual must sacrifice her own happiness in order to make other people happy. And while it obviously depends on the individual circumstances, it’s generally hard to come up with a solution where both sides can be happy, especially when you discover what this movie’s main supernatural conflict actually is.
You know how a lot of visual novel characters are basically dating sim archetypes, but when you delve into their individual routes, you’ll see that there’s more to them than that? The cast for Weathering With You is basically what I consider a more naturalistic version of those types of characters. It’s really not hard to see that every one of them has baggage underneath their bright smiles, and a lot of the times, their fun personalities actually complement the drama that goes on in their lives. Particularly when it comes to Hodoka. When you get down to it, he’s a very selfish immature boy, and I think anyone who’s known a guy like him would understand that you can be friends with him whilst understanding he can make some dumb mistakes.
That said, I was definitely not prepared for where those mistakes as well as everything else the characters do would lead to. If I had to pick one scene that defines everything unique about the movie, regardless of whether or not you thought said uniqueness was actually good, it would have to be the ending. Without spoiling anything, the ending is something you’d see in fucked up romances like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, or some of Seo Kouji’s manga like Suzuka, except the writing makes it clear that the happiness gained from it is not free.
But at the same time, when you have that happiness, take it. Because otherwise, you pretty much just sacrificed a lot of people’s livelihoods for nothing. It’s a pretty unusual message that obviously has its issues when you apply it to real life, but I love how Shinkai has explained in interviews (I think it was the one at the end of the fan screening) that in the realm of fiction, it’s something that can be seen as a good thing. And not only do I fully agree with him on that, I think it applies to real life as well as long as it’s on a much smaller scale.
More importantly, I just can’t stop thinking about that ending. It kind of reminds me of Danganronpa V3 and how divisive that conclusion was, but I really loved it and thought it contributed hugely into why that was my favorite Danganronpa game. And the more I think about it, the more I think that’s true for Weathering With You. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite ending of Shinkai’s, but it’s the one that has me thinking about it the most. Like 5/cm’s ending was great and also divisive, but it was very easy to understand and explain regarding why I thought it (and the movie as a whole) was good. The ending in this film though? I’ve got to say, I’m glad Shinkai knew that the critics would be even more divided on this movie than they were with Your Name when he came up with the entire plot. That sort of unsafe mindset is why he’s rising to the top whilst Mamoru Hosada hasn’t really taken off despite being a prolific anime guy in his own right.
Seriously, I was worried that when people said it was too similar to Your Name, they meant in regards to telling the same story as that show but watered down. That Shinkai would just be playing it safe from now on. But no, Weathering With You is similar to Your Name in the same way that Kill la Kill and Promare are similar to Gurren Lagann or how one Shonen Jump series is similar to another Shonen Jump series (as in “kinda, but not really”). And seeing Shinkai continue to evolve as an anime auteur while making good movies like this is one of the big reasons why I will continue to be an anime fan for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, I think what holds back Weathering With You from being a perfect movie is that the intellectual appeal and the emotional appeal tend to interfere with each other, leading to some scenes coming off as a bit undercooked in practice. I do agree that the conclusion could have probably used a few more minutes dedicated to detailing some of the consequences that would most definitely occur from the characters’ actions, not too dissimilar from how I felt about the ending to Man of Steel. This a common trap that occurs when someone who’s used to tugging your heart also tries to satisfy the monocole-wearing intellectuals, and there’s no denying that this movie is definitely one of the most thought-provoking works of art Shinkai has ever made. In addition to broadly commenting on society, this movie also has some environmental themes as well, mostly in regards to how you shouldn’t fuck with nature because it will fuck you back harder as a result.
There’s also a few plotholes and character backgrounds that aren’t given much attention, but I don’t recall anything that was really important to the narrative in a major way. And honestly, I can’t think of a lot that I’d change about Weathering With You, even the stuff that I felt worked against the movie. Because I’m afraid that if I did, I would be ruining why I resonated so strongly with it. This movie didn’t just live up to the hype for me, I feel like it surpassed it in certain aspects. I always go into a Shinkai movie expecting it to be good and I agree with people that my previous favorites of his are better. But who cares about trivial stuff like that? What I got out of this latest ride was an experience that I want to revisit again, as well as something that’s continuing to stick in my mind long after I finished it. Ultimately, isn’t that enough?
I don’t need Weathering With You to be on the same level as Your Name because I could just watch Your Name again if I wanted that experience. What I wanted was something I didn’t know I wanted. And Weathering With You turned out to be that thing. Emotionally-charged. Intellectually-rich. Beautiful to look at. This was a movie I really enjoyed watching and the more I’ve sat down on it, the more amazing I think it was. This new decade has started off rough in quite a few places, but when it comes to the anime world, I think it started off on one of the best possible notes that could have happened.
P.S. The Radwimps soundtrack for this movie is fine, but aside from a few songs, I definitely think Your Name’s OST is miles better.