In an effort to escape an unhappy home life, teenage runaway Morishima Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo) travels to Tokyo (which is experiencing non-stop rainfall) and after searching for job opportunities and lodgings, he manages to find employment at a small publishing company headed by Keisuke Suga (Shun Oguri) and his young associate Natsumi (Tsubasa Honda). While researching a puff piece about “sunshine girls”, fabled young women who have the ability to change the weather, Hodaka meets the mysterious Mina (Nana Mori) and discovers that she has the incredible ability to temporarily stop the rainfall and as the two of them set up a business, accepting requests from various people who wish to have sunshine for different reasons, Hodaka begins to develop strong feelings for Mina but as the authorities start to search for him, wanting to take him back home, he grows desperate to remain with Mina but discovers that the fabled “weather maidens” are destined to endure a tragic fate . . .
Your Name, a film that was given to us by the makers of this film, was a big hit with many film fans and many reviewers have been quite vocal with their love and appreciation for it, perhaps seeing writer/director Makato Shinkai as a successor to the beloved Hayao Miyazaki, who Shinkai has admitted to being a big fan of. Myself, I definitely saw merit in Your Name as I found it to be a bold, imaginative and complex feature that showed off an intelligent script and a very admirable attempt at being emotionally affecting and heartwrenching but at the same time, I felt that it was perhaps a bit too complex, it went on for around twenty minutes too long and, though it attempted to tug on the heartstrings and to instill a sense of awe and wonder, it left me at arm’s length and though I certainly appreciated all the craft that went into it, recognising something of a “new wave” of innovative anime films for cinephiles to savour, I didn’t love it and it didn’t have the same masterful impact of something like Spirited Away or My Neighbour Totoro.
And with Shinkai’s latest, Weathering with You, I find that I have incredibly similar feelings because the film is very impressive – giving us a highly original and imaginative film that shows off plenty of excellent animation and some very effective music, but just as it was with Your Name, it didn’t win me over completely and I found that it ran on for too long and just didn’t know when to stop, culminating in a surprisingly so-so ending.
But even with its flaws, the film is nonetheless a worthwhile experience because it tells a story that we’ve surely never experienced before (one that has clearly been inspired by the hot button issue of climate change) and the story that we’re given is epic and engrossing and it makes sure to include numerous fantasy elements and an intricate central “mystery” while also telling an emotionally charged story about two young people and the extreme lengths that they’re made to go through in order to stay together, just like as it was in Your Name; the script is refreshingly more unique and intelligent than you’d get in your average animated film, also being charmingly funny at various points, and in particular, the film reminds us how good weather can bring out the best in people, bringing us together as we savour time spent out in the pleasant weather enjoying time with our kids, at a sporting event, or a wedding, among other things; Shinkai has also stated that the film was inspired by the many hours that he spent staring at the sky during his childhood and that it was his intention to give the audience that particular nostalgic feeling – to make them feel like children witnessing the majesty and wonder of the sky.
On a technical level, the film really succeeds because the animation is undeniably excellent and although it can’t really compete with some of the animated “heavyweights” that we see in modern cinema nowadays, there is plenty here for us to feast our eyes on and all the characters, expansive locations, and the omnipresent rainfall and water are expertly designed and go a long way to giving the film such an epic and engrossing quality. Going hand in hand with the visuals, the sound design and music is pleasing and there are many songs that are heard along the way (though perhaps too many, in my opinion) and there are some really nice audio touches such as a distorted “rewinding” effect that is heard as Hodaka witnesses Mina change the weather for the first time.
But as mentioned before, while the film succeeds on a technical level and through its distinctly above average writing, it didn’t completely win me over as it tends to ramble on for the final twenty minutes or so and though there was ample opportunity for it to conclude at an ideal time, it just keeps going and doesn’t quite know when to stop, as it was with Your Name, in my opinion. So though his work clearly has merit, I’d say that Shinkai doesn’t achieve the same mastery over his material as someone like Miyazaki did and though it attempts to be deep, meaningful and perhaps even emotionally devastating, his films have yet to truly connect with me on an emotional level.