17 Feb 2020
The phenomenal reception of Weathering with You echoes a lot of what we saw with Makoto Shinkai’s last major release, Your Name. It’s another spectacularly gorgeous film to look at, showcasing all the fidelity of modern animation, and its success here in the UK alone is doing wonders for raising the spotlight on anime in film. However, Weathering with You also echoes many of the themes that Shinkai touched on in Your Name, exploring them through a colourful new lens, and provoking a new appreciation for the messages at the heart of both films.
The story follows teenage runaway, Hodaka, as he tries to struggle his way through a new life in Tokyo. Thankfully, he’s taken under the wing of writer, Keisuke, whose publishing company is investigating urban legends, and so Hodaka partners up with Keisuke’s niece, Natsumi, to report on the supernatural and mystical stories bubbling beneath the surface of Japanese society. It’s on this path that he meets Hina, a teenage girl with a supernatural gift of her own - she can control the weather through prayer - and both of them agree to use this power for the good of others. But, as the age old saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and both characters eventually discover the costs of Hina’s gift, both for them and their world.
You may have noticed, as many others have, that this story rings very familiar with Your Name; that too had a boy-meets-girl story set before a backdrop of the mystical and fantastical. It seems even more familiar when you think about the dramatic threats that both pairs of characters eventually face, and how this shapes the romances between them. However, as I mentioned earlier, I think that, while Shinkai is certainly revisiting a familiar narrative and broadly similar themes, there’s a very different lens at play here. For example, in Your Name, there were a number of key binaries being explored; city and country, past and present, boy and girl, for example. That last one in particular was probably the most prominent, and it more clearly shows Shinkai’s desire to blend these binaries together and to explore what happens when you flip them, merge them and generally just test what they actually mean. How, for example, to do you perceive gender and time when your characters keep switching between them?
In Weathering with You, Shinkai does present a similar core narrative, but with a focus on very different binary themes. Hodaka ditches his island home at the beginning of the story, so we lose that previous city/country dichotomy and replace it with the divide between land and sky in urban Tokyo and the weather that flows between them. Myth and reality is another, with the legend of the ‘weather maiden’ being the point where both start to dangerously blend together. More than this, the way myth and reality fuse together in the film also brings out this interesting ‘chicken and egg’ idea - are our characters’ actions preordained by the myths they follow, or are the myths given life because they choose to pursue them? It’s an odd question, but it’s the sort that this movie has me thinking about even now, and that’s a really wonderful thing.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away for those who have yet to see the film, but the point I want to make is that, while Weathering with You may seem like a retreading of Your Name, it’s far from a revision or a copy. In this new setting, with new characters and new themes to focus on, this familiar story resonates very differently, and sets the film, in my mind, as a companion to Your Name. You don’t need to see one to enjoy the other, but they complement each other exceedingly well when you take a step back and look at the thematic dynamics at play, and Shinkai’s desire to blend the boundaries our societies set up.
Another concept that both films explore, but Weathering with You doesin a slightly better way (in my opinion), is that of ‘fate’. Both pairs of characters come up against destiny in one form or another, struggling to change it while almost being overwhelmed by the strength of the forces against them. Weathering with You, I feel, does it better because it doesn’t let our protagonists escape scot-free. They make a choice and that has very serious ramifications for the world around them whereas, in Your Name, Takiand Mitsuha make a choice for the sake of the world around them and pay a much more personal cost as a result. Separately, both stories are really good glimpses into the choices we make and who ultimately pays the cost but, together, they form a much bigger exploration of fate. Is it better to accept the path ahead of us, or to seek a new one in unfamiliar and dangerous terrain? To get a clearer answer, I think you need to not only look to Weathering with You and Your Name, but Shinkai’s other releases, such as The Place Promised in Our Early Days. By doing so, you’ll start to see how each’s answers those sorts of questions differ ever so slightly and, like a chorus, they give you a much fuller picture of those broader themes, particularly of ‘lost love,’ ‘fate’ and the ‘boundaries of place’.
Turning to the visual elements of the film, there’s little more to say than Weathering with You is a breathtaking spectacle. The fidelity of the animation is stunning, and the focus on the weather in this case does a lot to evoke fond memories of The Garden of Words. Simply put, it’s another master-stroke from Shinkai, and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s now become his own competition. I don’t say that condescendingly to any other animator or creator - this is art and everyone, in my view, has an equally valuable way of bringing a story to life. However, Shinkai has almost become a genre of his own, and the energy and vividness of his style continues to be a joy to watch. That is particularly true in this film; the range of settings in Weathering with You gives Shinkai a very broad canvas to show his talents and bring a thematically deep story to life with equally intense animation.
The Japanese rock band, RADWIMPS, also make a return to compose the soundtrack and score for Weathering with You, having done the same for Your Name. As such, there’s almost a literal echo as we get familiar energetic and fast-paced montage tracks like Voice of Wind, and slow, ballad-like performances such as the film’s theme song, Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do? It’s undoubtedly a great album once again, but I personally think the standout tracks continue to be the ones we rarely listen to. The relaxed piano keys of Fireworks Festival and Time With Family really do convey a masterful approach to subtle tone-setting, and I find myself listening to these melodies far more often than the main theme song simply because they are so subdued and tender.
Finally, I want to say that I think one of the most important aspects of this movie’s release is how it has continued to strengthen the place of anime in UK cinemas. We’ve certainly gone from strength-to-strength recently off the back of other popular titles such as Your Name, Maquia, and Dragon Ball Super: Broly, to name but a few. It’s also clear from the reviews and the reception that Weathering with You has given the case for more anime space in UK cinemas a strong start in 2020, with My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising looking to carry that torch when it shows later this month. Anime may never quite reach the heights of Hollywood in terms of attendance and revenue here in the West, but it’s undeniably growing, and we’ve got a lot of great films, creators, studios and fans to thank for that trend.
Weathering with You is undoubtedly a film that is worth your time and money; it’s Shinkai at his best with a spectacle that is, once again, truly electrifying. However, it’s also incredibly thought provoking in how it reexamines some of his works’ core themes and concepts, presenting them through a very unique, vibrant and resonant lens. The result is a film that perfectly accompanies Shinkai’s others and is a great adventure, both for those already familiar with his films and those looking to jump in for the first time.