CoMix Wave Films latest anime flick and Makoto Shinkai’s followup to Your Name is a very anime film. High-school kids, environmental concerns, magical realism, gorgeous animation and a number of anime staples make for a film that is following in the footsteps of a lot of the films before it. But in some ways it is different enough to make a name for itself and stand out amid the moments where it feels too safe and familiar.
Hodaka Morishima (Kotaro Daigo) is a 16-year-old runaway looking for a new life in Tokyo. His timing isn’t great as he arrives during the longest consecutive stint of rainy days in Tokyo’s known history. He’s eventually taken in by the rough Suga Keisuke (Shun Oguri) who runs tabloid stories, the latest one being about people who can control the weather. Hodaka runs into such a person, a girl about his age named Hina Amano (Nana Mori) who is able to summon the sun and stop the rainy weather.
The first anime cliche begins with the characters. Hodaka and Hina are stereotypical anime protagonists. Hodaka is unsure of himself, an awkward boy, having a bit of a sexual awakening and gets most of the arc of the film. In contrast, Hina is a lot more self-assured and for a good stint of the film comes across as basically unable to do wrong. She also has the power over nature that is often attributed to women in anime films.
This is in part because the film is heavily from the perspective of Hodaka, who is clearly so infatuated with her that he can see no flaws. As the film progresses and he learns more about her and her past some of that blinding perspective is peeled back and he is able to recognize her humanity and insecurities. Most of her confidence is a facade that Hodaka doesn’t want to see past.
Later scenes in the film pull away from the simplicity of the characters initially introduced and help create a more complex and interesting dynamic that could have been introduced earlier in the film. However, given that the film is told through the eyes of Hodaka, it makes sense that his awareness is followed instead of cluing the audience into elements of the characters earlier in the film.
The weather is another kind of character in the film. The constant rain and then the seemingly miraculous bursts of sun are as much a part of the story as the characters. There’s an arc to the way the weather is developing, a story that slowly unfolds as Hodaka investigates with Suga the ancient stories of the weather.
Weathering with You’s ultimate message about the storm is a bit odd. Instead of taking the obvious route of exploring humanity’s environmental impact and responsibility for unusual weather patterns, it posits that nature is very much out of human control. Folklore tells of horrific storms and older characters in the film posit that one day the planet may continue to thrive without humanity. It existed long without humans and might continue to after the planet becomes inhospitable to humans. Humanity may simply be a drop in the ocean of time.
Yet Hina has the power to control the weather and with that power comes a recompense. While Hina’s powers may be based in spiritual powers, it plays with the idea of the hubris of humanity controlling forces beyond understanding. There’s a mystical power to the storm, one beyond human understanding, and to alter that comes at a price.
Weathering with You is firmly in the magical realism camp, depicting a contemporary Tokyo with fantastical elements weaved into the mundanities of trying to live in Tokyo. It’s this element that helps distinguish it from something like the works of Hayao Miyazaki on one end of the spectrum or Satoshi Kon on the other end. Makoto Shinkai lands somewhere in the middle, very much interested in the realities of contemporary life but adding mystical and spiritual elements.
The contemporary and mystical elements are blended together with the gorgeous animation. As Western animation continues to double down on 3D animation, there’s still something magical about the stylistic flourishes of 2D animation. There are some moments where it’s obvious computers are employed to get a certain type of shot to move smoothly, but for the most part it is traditional Japanese animation. Rain has rarely felt so mystical and otherworldly. It is often mundane, but the moments where it does not act as expected works so well with a hybrid of computer generated and 2D animation.
What starts out feeling like a typical anime film evolves into something special by the end. There are moments that feel derivative or perhaps not as impactful as they could be. One scene has the two main characters holding hands as they fall through the sky, evoking much better moments from Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky. But somehow the film overcomes those limitations.
There’s a mood and emotion to Weathering with You that takes over by the end. There are many cliche moments, but the film is effective and memorable with a lot to admire about it. It is perhaps not as daring and bold as it could be, but by the end it’s about as engrossing a coming of age story as it could be and that might be all that matters.
© James Blake Ewing 2020