Soaked with climate-altering passion, Makoto Shinkai’s new animated spectacle “Weathering With You” once again pits two young lovers against forces beyond their control, treading similar waters as his 2016 global hit “Your Name,” for a thrilling extravaganza of scintillating imagery, uproarious music, and gravity-defying stunts with spiritual panache.
Torrential rain drowns Tokyo like it hasn’t in recent memory, and with every enormous drop that reaches the ground, the city’s dwellers long a little harder for the sunshine of summer. Such inclement conditions welcome 15-year-old Hodaka (voiced by Kotaro Daigo), a small-town dreamer who’s run away from home to the chaotic metropolis.
Necessity propels him to take a live-in job transcribing for a scruffy father figure, Keisuke (Shun Oguri), whose occupation is to write engaging fake news. But his luck changes when he, gun in hand, attempts to defend Hina (Nana Mori), a “sunshine girl” with the power to momentarily stop the downpour.
Precipitation as a connector for unlikely sweethearts was previously featured in Shinkai’s medium-length effort “The Garden of Words,” a great example of how the director harnesses the elements with evocative impetus to accentuate or externalize innermost sentiments. In “Weathering With You,” Hina’s gift (obtained from a visit to a Shinto shrine) blesses the clients for her mystical services with a respite from the downpour that permits outdoor activities. A permanent solution to this weather crisis, however, will come only with a major sacrifice that neither she nor the infatuated Hodaka can fathom.
Cityscapes overflow with superb detail so densely and exquisitely packed into every shot that even the dew on surfaces glimmers. The excellent production design reflects the obsessive care Shinkai has always displayed for the depiction of liquids and radiance in his realms.
Light beams illuminate objects and buildings whenever the clouds disperse, charging the screen with a celestial aura. Sun-dappled horizons contrast with merciless rainfall, making us and the characters appreciate more intensely the miracle of a clear day. In real life, witnessing skies as glorious as the ones the film’s team fashioned could overwhelm one with their magnificence.
A faux-musical trapped in a quasi-music video (and that’s a compliment), “Weathering With You” reunites its maker with Radwimps, the Japanese band behind “Your Name’s” now cherished songs. For this collaboration, the tracks continue to speak for the couple with lyrics that verbalize their come-what-may type of relationship.
Thanks to the creator’s decision to subtitle these melodic messages, their significance travels across language. Rather similar to the emotional pieces created for the previous anime feature, these pop gems care not for subtly mirroring the general approach to this fantastical teen drama.
A lover of high-stakes finales, Shinkai doesn’t skimp on the setbacks he buries as landmines along his heroes’ road to happiness. Hodaka’s tears are nearly as incessant as the heavy showers washing over the Japanese capital. As the police pursue him to return him to his parents, and Hina’s body fades into transparency for the greater good, he loses sight of his own safety in pursuit of companionship.
As a bloodied Hodaka vehemently claws and bites in the name of sincere adoration, his desperation turns infectious. We can’t help but root for his cause, even when the ending reaches peak dramatic excess with a sublime fall from heaven to earth. More grounded in true hardship is Hina’s secretive lifestyle in order to prevent being separated from her precious younger brother Nagisa (Sakura Kiryu). The awful weather she can control at least partially, but her familial devotion is a tempest she can’t dismiss with her supernatural gift.
Far from making a concrete statement about global warming and its quantifiable effects, Shinkai seems instead to make a case for an idealistic hope: Even if entire communities are eventually submerged under the ocean, having one’s object of affection close by will empower us to weather even the most apocalyptic storm. It’s not scientifically sound, but risking the fate of humanity for the sake of a beloved individual is as selfishly lovey-dovey as it gets.
It’s messaging that could be construed as problematic, if interpreted as Shinkai’s refusal to address a crisis; in keeping with the anime superstar’s other stories, the plot, like the protagonists, may truly be concerned only with the heartfelt goal of defeating loneliness.
As irresistibly romantic as it is awe-inspiringly gorgeous, “Weathering With You” on the whole satisfies the craving for more of what “Your Name” ignited in viewers, yet with slightly less impact. Aside from the narrative tightness missing here and at work in “Your Name,” despite how elliptically it transpires, there’s also a bias that’s sure to affect reception of any of Shinkai’s future projects.
Assuming that most audiences and critics weren’t familiar with his oeuvre prior to “Your Name,” that film has now become the barometer against which all of his subsequent directorial endeavors will be unfairly measured. But an imperfect offering from a titan of the medium still easily defeats most of the soulless cash-grabs that studios market as cinematic nannies for young moviegoers.
Keep an eye out for cameos by “Your Name’s” leads. Now that we have the certainty that both films’ realities exist in the same timeline, Hodaka and Hina should plan a double date with Taki and Mitsuha to share anecdotes on overcoming force majeure to stay together for a crossover sequel: “Weathering with Your Name.”
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