Director Makoto Shinkai’s follow up to Your Name finally hits select theaters dubbed and subbed in the US today. GKIDS brought it to US theaters in limited release Jan 15th, nationwide today. During a fan preview we watched, there was also a full interview with the director about the film and its themes. So let’s talk a little about the film and then jump into our review.
In the summer of his high school freshman year, Hodaka runs away from his remote island home to Tokyo and quickly finds himself pushed to his financial and personal limits. The weather is unusually gloomy and rainy every day as if to suggest his future. He lives his days in isolation, but finally finds work as a writer for a mysterious occult magazine. Then one day, Hodaka meets Hina on a busy street corner. This bright and strong-willed girl possesses a strange and wonderful ability: the power to stop the rain and clear the sky…
Spoiler warning if you have yet to see the film.
Weathering With You quickly drops you into a world where the weather feels otherworldly. Young Hodaka is on a boat heading to Tokyo and clearly is both excited and overwhelmed by that experience. We also get our first glimpse of where the ‘weathering’ part of the film’s name comes from. It’s raining an unusual amount in Tokyo and the weather is acting strange as a sudden rogue wave of water that falls from the sky and crashes down on the boat. This nearly causes Hodaka to fall off the boat but is saved by another passenger. The man quickly takes advantage of Hodaka by having him buy him dinner and a beer.
In Tokyo, he quickly learns that an underage student isn’t going to get very far. Nobody will hire him and staying at an internet cafe is getting too expensive. He quickly ends up on the streets of Tokyo which are shown as a rather unforgiving place. Running out of options, Hodaka decides to seek out the man who saved him from falling off the boat earlier. Now working for this small-time publishing writing tabloid stories about the supernatural Hodaka finally has a place to sleep, food and some money. This is where we finally start to get into the meat of the story. Random appearances of sky fish are reported and people looking for ‘sunshine girls’ to get rid of the rain.
This dirty view of Tokyo is a very different take on the city then Your Name, Makoto Shinkai’s previous film. It is rare to see Japan shown in this way in animated films, and in many ways was a risky approach for Shinkai. However, it pays off in setting the scene for the eventual meeting of our main characters Hodaka and Hina.
Living on the streets and hitting up McDonald’s for chowder dinner is a depressing low for Hodaka. He happens to find a gun in a bag that fell out of the garbage after he is beaten up for loitering around a club. He doesn’t know what to do with it, so he keeps it. Exhausted and hungry, someone sets a burger next to him at the restaurant. It’s our other main character, Hina, who took pity on him. The story takes many difficult and often magical twists and turns as we realize things are not as they seem for Hina and her younger brother.
Hina has spent her days lying about her age to get jobs and keep family services away. We quickly find out that Hina and her brother are living alone, her mother having passed recently. It was her mother and her at the start of the story which was a year earlier. The police start to hone in on Hodaka who is a reported runaway, and his world of support quickly starts to crash around him. This is when our three characters decide they must run away from the police and family services, or risk being separated forever.
Legend has it that specially selected young maidens had a connection to the weather gods and their prayers would cause the sun to appear on an otherwise rainy day. The legend also has a tragic end for that maiden. In order to correct the weather, she must sacrifice herself.
When Hodaka, Hina and her brother decide to run away from the police, the weather responds with an aggressive increase in the rain to the point of putting the entire city in danger of flooding. Hina understands that in order to stop the rain and the weather from continuing she must let herself go into the sky world, even though she knows it would devastate her brother and Hodaka. Hodaka wakes up to find the sun is out and the weather has cleared up, but at what price?
Makoto Shinkai uses the film to pose a question to the audience that is both relevant and leaves you conflicted. As the film closes out, Hodaka does everything to get Hina back, but there is a price for this. They return with the entirety of Tokyo underwater, as in post-apocalyptic underwater. Their desire to be together worth the price the world paid for it? The director mentions in his interview for the film that climate change is a theme for this film. This is part of the reason why the weather plays a role like a conscience entity in the film.
Watching the weather’s conscious reaction to their desire to run away is a specialty of Makoto Shinkai. He has a strange ability to mix the mythical and magical otherworldly creatures into a modern cityscape and story. This incredibly fast-moving mix leaves you sometimes wondering what’s actually happening but you are none the less enthralled with all of it. Makoto Shinkai even manages to sneak in two cameo appearances of the key characters from Your Name into Weathering With You.
Weathering With You brings in a lot of themes into a 2-hour film. The director doesn’t shy away from these central points: the dirty side of Tokyo, climate change, family life, and sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong, within all of the gloomy life and world themes, there are moments of pure joy and laughter for our characters. Hodaka calling Hina’s younger brother Senpai was one of the funniest moments. Apparently Hodaka is clueless about women, unlike Hina’s younger brother.
The film does leave you with a fairly large question that you will leave the theatre asking yourself. If you had the choice to change the world for the good or be with the one you love, which would you choose? Is the price that is paid by others for your choice, worth it? I can’t say I have an answer to this question. Weathering With You will drag you into a world that is both real and magical. You are left feeling a sense of desire to enjoy the sun a little more.
It is a must-see film for any fan of Makoto Shinkai’s work. Or if you are just someone looking for a feel-good film that grounds itself in modern concerns, with supernatural consequences.