Weathering with You Review
Weathering with You, Tenko no Ko, translated literally as “Child of Weather” in Japanese, is the latest film from director Makoto Shinkai, whose previous film Your Name became something of a worldwide phenomenon. A story of two souls connected by fate it was a fun example of body swap comedy, with stunning animation, a rocking soundtrack, and a magic that I fell utterly in love with. Many people, including Shinkai himself, wondered how it could be possible to make a follow-up to something so beloved. Whilst Weathering with You didn’t dazzle me the way that Your Name did, it shows a fascinating growth in Shinkai as a filmmaker and storyteller.
Hodaka is a teenage runaway who has come to Tokyo to start a new life. After some mishaps he ends up in the employ of the slightly shady Keisuke Suga, who owns a small publishing company. Researching a story about strange weather occurrences and mysterious young women, Sunshine Girls, who have the ability to turn a raging storm into a bright sunny day. By chance he meets Hina, a Sunshine Girl with an appropriately sunny demeanour that nonetheless is clouded by a hard past. Together they explore the possibilities of manipulating the weather, but Hina’s powers may come with a terrible price.
You get the impression early on with Weathering with You that Makoto Shinkai is aiming to tell a more measured and mature story than what he did in Your Name. Hina and Hodaka have a lot more weight on their shoulders than Taki and Mitsuha did (at least initially). Hodaka, who with an attitude of determination you can't help but root for, has run away from home although we never know the details about why, and we first meet Hina as a personal tragedy is unfolding and she carries a sense of someone who has had to grow up quickly. They, along with the other characters we meet, are complicated, flawed, and your heart goes out to them both as they try to navigate the strange mystery of Hina’s powers.
There’s also a subplot of Hodaka being investigated over possession of a gun which he obtains, something that really feels darker than things we’ve seen from Shinkai’s work before. Yet there are still moments of sweet happiness, such as when Hodaka and Hina, along with Hina’s younger brother Nagi, embark on a little business venture to spend Hina’s sunshine powers around Tokyo armed with an umbrella covered in Teru Teru Bōzu, a Japanese charm to try and bring sunshine. From a cultural standpoint, Obon, the Japanese festival to honour the spirits of one’s family, also plays an interesting role in the background as it seems to suggest a closeness between the world of the normal and supernatural. It all comes together to build an interesting world that whilst close to the everyday normal has an edge of fantasy to it.
The animation is, unsurprisingly, perfection. Shinkai has an ability to bring out certain qualities in environments and the Tokyo we see here is at times unromantic, grimy, harsher place that speaks to that more mature tone that Shinkai is aiming for. The rainfall, and all it represents, makes for a beautiful if melancholy backdrop to a lot of the film, something which makes the breaks of sunlight even more special. Rain is also an important factor in a previous film of Shinkai’s; 2013’s The Garden of Words, a bittersweet romance of lonely people meeting in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden during Japan’s rainy season. A very different sort of love story to Weathering with You, but the shared themes of weather and lost individuals helping each other heal makes for an interesting pairing.
The soundtrack is once again provided by Japanese rock band Radwimps and, like their previous work with Shinkai, is a pleasing combination of poignant and energising tracks. Added to the vocal line-up is singer Toko Miura, who brings an extra emotional punch to the soundtrack, particularly in the song “Grand Escape”.
The main issue with the film comes with the latter part. Despite spending so much of the movie building up this theme of consequences; the nature of Hina’s powers, the gun that Hodaka picks up, Hodaka’s boss Keisuke’s efforts to get in contact with his estranged daughter, the third act seems to throw all of that out the window in a “we don’t care about any of that, we love each other” which is all well and good, but when that decision still has consequences, negative ones, for other people, it’s a little hard to see the positive. Even with some musings that certain things were always meant to happen, it doesn’t feel entirely right.
Your Name showcased the power of love to save, Weathering with You has love changing the world, but not necessarily for the better depending how you look at it. For me it lands awkwardly and leaves you craving a bit more in the way of explanation or at least resolution. However, it is still an interesting decision of where to take the story, and I think will fuel a lot of discussion about the nature of the film in the future. There is also a more direct link between Weathering with You and Your Name, which - and I don’t want to reveal too much here - was a little odd and really brings into question some things about the other film.
Despite an ending that isn’t as strong as its set-up, there is a fascinating and affecting quality to Weathering with You that I think makes it worth watching and seeking out. You may not fall in love, but tears might just fall like rain.
Weathering with You is out in UK cinemas on January 17th