Weathering With You is director Makoto Shinkai’s follow up film to his 2016 smash hit (and one of my personal favorite films), Your Name. That film became successful beyond anyone’s expectations, surpassing Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away as the highest grossing anime film of all time. The film was also met with acclaim from both fans and critics, which makes Weathering With You a hard film to put out into the world. It’s similar to the situation that director Jordan Peele found himself in after making another smash hit Get Out and then following it up with Us. How does a director follow up a widely deemed masterpiece with a film that doesn’t feel underwhelming? Well, I am delighted to say that Makoto Shinkai has done just that with Weathering With You a film that is timely, moving, and ultimately triumphant in its commitment to Shinkai’s fantastical ideas.
The film centers on Hodaka, a runaway 16 year old boy living in Tokyo, and Hina, an 18 year old girl who is raising her little brother without any parental help. After meeting they become business partners by selling a particular skill that Hina has – the ability to control the weather. This particular ability is referred to as being a “sunshine girl” because as of late Tokyo is in a constant downpour of rain. The two begin to run this mystical business successfully while also becoming personally entangled in the process. And of course with this being a Makoto Shinkai film, there are plenty of emotional surprises along the way for the two characters.
One thing Shinkai does masterfully in this film is building such beautiful human connections between the characters. Hina and Hodaka’s relationship from beginning to end feels so natural and wonderful to watch. The director has a handle on writing relationships that I can only describe as masterful. Hina and Hodaka are also surrounded by a terrific cast of supporting characters, particularly the wild wonder Natsumi, and Hina’s sly devil of a brother, Nagi. Everyone in the film feels extremely well developed and you just can’t help but wish you were friends with this bunch of misfits.
Like Your Name, this film is a fantasy film centered on a single idea that Shinkai is fascinated with: the weather, the affect that humans have on it, and the affect it has on us. Without spoiling anything major, I believe the film presents a conflict that we all struggle with every day, self-interest versus the greater good for the environment. What are we willing to give up to put the world’s environment back in balance in the midst of increasingly erratic climate change? Is it worth it to sacrifice your own happiness to help the greater good? And if you’re a fan of The Good Place like I am, the film also presents a scenario similar to the trolley problem: is it better to save one human life or better to improve the lives of a larger group of people?
At the end of the film, I believe the message you leave with will largely be up to your own interpretation. I believe that the film ultimately provides an optimistic and nihilistic answer to the questions it proposes. On one hand, it says that humanity will often put its own self interest above the greater good. It also suggests that humanity is trapped in a sense, between a rock and a hard place, we have to deal with both the grand struggles of the worlds problems (climate change) and our emotional struggles as well. On the other hand, I believe it emphasizes that despite all of the strife that goes on in life, if you focus on the people that you love and the simple things in life (such as a blue sky on a sunny day) everything in life will ultimately be okay.
At the end of the film, I left feeling full of wonder and surprise at the emotional and fantastical heights that Makoto Shinkai took me to. I was also in awe of his commitment to his ideas. In most mainstream movies, this story would have been watered down and ended with no sense of consequence or lingering questions. Weathering With You asks ambitious questions, takes daring risks, and goes to unexpected places. It stays true to the rules it sets up and finds no easy ways around the broader conflicts presented. It’s a delight and a work of art; another win for director Makoto Shinkai.