Directed by: Makoto Shinkai | 114 minutes | animation, drama | Original Voice Cast: Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri, Sei Hiraizumi, Yûki Kaji, Kentaro Araki, Tsubasa Honda, Kana Hanazawa, Kana Ichinose
Anime fans have long known the name Makoto Shinkai. Since his debut film “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” (2004), the director has worked his way to the very top of the contemporary Japanese animation world. Shinkai eventually became known to the wider public with his romantic body-swap film “Your Name” (2016). In Japan, the film ranks second as the most successful anime film of all time, right behind Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” (2001). The expectations surrounding Shinkai’s next film were therefore high. His fans then had to wait three years, but with “Weathering with You” they will undoubtedly be happy.
Weathering with You follows 16-year-old boy Morishima Hodaka. Tired of his old life, Hodaka flees to Tokyo with just a backpack and a little money. But life in such a big city turns out to be very hard for a minor. Life in Tokyo is expensive and no one wants to give him a job without ID. After a few hungry days on the street, however, he meets Keisuke, a shady publisher of a magazine that reports on inexplicable phenomena. For a low wage, but with the option of sleeping in the office and having dinner in the evening, Hodaka becomes an intern at Keisuke. His first assignment: to conduct research on the so-called “sunshine girls”, young girls who can stop the rain and clear the sky. At first Hodaka takes this folk legend little seriously, but then he meets Hina, a friendly girl who seems to have this gift. Hina is urgently looking for money to support herself and her little brother Nagi. This leads Hodaka to a profitable idea: together with Hina he starts a sunshine service. One can put this to good use in Tokyo, as the city has been plagued by constant rainfall for months. But as the sunshine service grows in popularity, Hodaka also finds his feelings for Hina grow stronger.
As usual with Makoto Shinkai’s films, the first thing you notice about Weathering with You is the beautiful animation. Tokyo is rarely as detailed and vibrantly animated as it is here. In the first few scenes you as a viewer immediately get the feeling that this is an actually inhabited city. This is a metropolis that is constantly changing. Despite the torrential rains, people are steadfastly clinging to what they do: an ever-moving mass of umbrellas moving to unknown destinations. But also the smaller environments, such as the editorial staff of Keisuke (actually his home), have a detailed and above all attractive drawing style. These environments have a degree of charm that makes you want to be part of this world as a viewer. You would prefer to get lost in the world never to return.
But despite the beautiful animation, “Weathering with You” also has some obvious problems. This is mainly due to the mix between romance and fantasy and the way these genres are applied in the film. “Weathering with You” is strongest when the film focuses entirely on the blossoming love between Hodaka and Hina. The interactions between the two are both touching and comical. But when Shinkai trades in the lightness of the film for truly dramatic angles, “Weathering with You” does not come out well. When the movie gets dramatic, Shinkai really leans on the fantasy elements of the movie. These elements have not been sufficiently elaborated and the reaction one has to these supernatural events is far from convincing. Everyone accepts but when Hina stops the rainfall and rarely does anyone wonder why exactly this is happening. In an anime film like “Kiki’s Delivery Service” the magic of its main character is also accepted, but in that film it is clear from the start that this is not a direct reflection of our own world. “Weathering with You”, on the other hand, clearly takes place in a world in which magic does not play a role, but when inexplicable phenomena do occur, people hardly react with surprise.
With a clearer focus and a better designed world, a higher level could have been reached here. In its current form, the film simply falls short of this. Less attention could have been paid to the fantasy elements, because the film proves to go a long way with only romance and comedy. But nevertheless, for its visual and technical prowess alone, Shinkai’s latest title is a must for animation enthusiasts.