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
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
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.