WEATHERING WITH YOU
(****)-VITO CARLI

"...richly detailed, vibrant, and completely stunning"

An Unexpectedly Hopeful and Inspirational Film

(012620) I recently went to my local multiplex at Orland Marcus Theatre on bargain show day and saw a pair of current movies. The first one was 1917, the critically acclaimed cinematic work which won a Golden Globe for best picture (it also might get an Oscar for best pic) which features one of my favorite character actors (albeit briefly) Benedict Cumberbatch.

The second film was a preview screening of Weathering With You, a Japanese animated film from Ghibli Studios that I knew nothing about. It was submitted this year by Japan as its official submission for Best International Film but it received no Oscar or Golden Globe nominations. Although I highly recommend both 1917 and Weathering With You, the latter was far fresher, more unconventional, and more impressive overall.
Weathering With You is surely the finest animated film I have seen in many years (I am sure there is some great stuff I missed though). It is even better than the more violent but less spiritual Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) which was filled with dazzling action scenes.

Weathering for You has far more depth than most animated films, and it serves as an ambitious allegory about the current environmental apocalypse, and the story involves a young couple that tries to use natural magic to combat it. The tragic love story has melancholy charm to spare, and it plays out like a clever smashup of a Japanese folk tale and a more modern conventional teen love story.

The director, Makota Shinkai has made over half a dozen films, but he garnered the most acclaim for Your Name, which was a giant international hit. Your Name actually went on to become the highest grossing film of all time in Japan, breaking the record of Miyazaki's Spirited Away, made by one of the Shinkai’s main inspirations. Weathering With You is already the sixth highest grossing film ever in Japan and it has not even finished its first run.

The look of Weathering With You is richly detailed, vibrant, and completely stunning. The film utilizes some of the same talented animators who used to work for the Japanese master, Hiyao Miyazaki, my all-time favorite animator. Weathering actually rivals some of Miyazaki’s best works (Spirited Away and Princess Minoko) in terms of quality, and it leaves most recent Disney animated movies (at least the ones I have seen) in the dust.

Weathering With You convincingly jumps back and forth between the mundane everyday world (but the animation makes even ordinary scenes intoxicatingly beautiful) and the film’s more fantastical settings (such as a whole sequence that takes place in the supernatural sky), and each is depicted equally convincingly.
The city streets filling up with raindrops that reflect prismatic color schemes may fill viewers with feelings of rapture, and they made me recall better days filled with discovery walking in bad weather downtown when I was teaching at Columbia College.

The story begins when a sixteen-year-old Hodaka runs away from his isolated island home and arrives in modern Tokyo which is bustling with activity and energy. He meets an older, streetwise and slightly shady man named Shuga who offers him a job as a freelancer. In his job, Hodoka works closely with Natsumi (voiced by Alison Brie from Community, Mad Men and Little Hours), an attractive slightly older, college age female character who helps him investigate the supernatural for Shuga’s publication.

To prepare for a news story, Shuga and Natsumi meet with a psychic who tells tales about a sunshine girl who can channel the power of a gods/divine energy to control the weather. Hidaka is skeptical about the tales, but he immediately meets a runaway teen, Hana (voiced by Nanna Mori) who can mentally stop the rain with concentrated prayer.

The pair decide to capitalize on her gift, and they set up a website through which paying customers can meet up with her to hire her to change the weather for particular occasions. This is kind of appalling because she reduces her divine gift to performing a kind of cheap, parlor trick for economic gain, and excessive greed and consumerism is part of what caused the current growing climate change problem.

At first Hodaka seems torn between the more experienced sensuality of Natsumi (who is decent and does not totally qualify as a bad girl or femme fatale), and the innocent exuberance of Hina. To make things more complicated it is unclear in the film whether Shuga and Natsumi are romantically involved, and there is a scene when the film hints they have a pimp/prostitute relationship. Don’t worry the kids won’t understand it, and the PG13 rating seems excessively harsh to me.

But Hodaka eventually falls deeply in love with Hina, and the film perfectly captures childlike romantic naiveté in his clumsy interactions with her. He feels absolute terror at the very thought of visiting a single female’s apartment for the first time or seeing her partially unclothed.

The rain in Tokyo never stops and it is hinted that it is caused by climate change or humankind’s desecration of the earth. The principal players are hesitant to seek a more permanent solution to solve the problem because it would require a big sacrifice that they might be unwilling to make.

The film’s soundtrack is filled with lively and engaging J-pop songs which help to lighten the mood, and make the film seem more pleasingly “foreign.” Musical numbers by AKB48 (Koi Suru Fortune Cookie) and Gen Hoshino (Koi) are used well in the karaoke section of the film. The Radwimps, a band that was also used in the director’s previous film, Your Name provide lushly romantic songs which often speak for the characters in the film, and at times Weathering With You becomes a quasi-musical.

The conclusion is unexpectedly hopeful and inspirational, and the characters ended up coming to life for me more than the vast majority of non-animated film characters. When I left the theatre I felt more like I just had a great religious experience than seen a movie.
 

Directed & Written by:   Makoto Shinkai
Starring the Voices Of:    Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri
Released:   01/17/2020
Length:   112 minutes
Rating:   Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, some violence and language

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org
and www.chicagopoetry.org plus look for his recent book Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor.Come to the Monthly Show every second Friday at Intersect Cafe at 1727 W. 18th near Damen and 18th in Pilsen from 6-8 featuring Poetry/Spoken Word (also some Music and Performance Art), Hosted by Vittorio Carli, Featuring Esteban Colon, Harissener Fried, Shontay Luna and the glorious return of The Golden Elvis on February 14

Vittorio Carli is the narrator of a new movie titled The Last Hippie Freak which recently played in Canada and will soon be streamed online. To see a preview go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWQf-UruQyw

WEATHERING WITH YOU  © 2020 Toho Films
Review © 2020 Alternate Reality, Inc.