THE STORY – A boy runs away to Tokyo and befriends a girl who appears to be able to manipulate the weather.
THE CAST – Kotaro Daigo & Nana Mori
THE TEAM – Makoto Shinkai (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 112 minutes
By Tom O’Brien
Though animation fans certainly know the work of the great Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki, and his famed Studio Ghibli (“Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” and others), they have been looking for the next great Japanese animator ever since Miyazaki announced his retirement from feature films in 2013. They may have found him in Makoto Shinkai, the acclaimed Japanese animator who achieved worldwide fame with his one-of-a-kind romantic drama “Your Name” (2016), which is widely considered to be a contemporary animated classic and grossed over $361 million worldwide.
Shinkai shares with Miyazaki a love of fantastical stories, but unlike the Japanese master, who set his stories against fantasy-like backdrops, Shinkai’s films usually are firmly grounded in contemporary life, often set in large cities. His latest film, “Weathering with You,” offers those same pleasures, telling a magical story about weather, set against the backdrop of modern-day Tokyo; and like “Your Name,” the focus is on a love story between two teenagers that also happens to involve magic.
In “Weathering with You,” 16-year-old Morishima Hodaka (voiced by Kotaro Daigo) leaves his island home in hopes of getting a job and hopefully a better life. En route on a Tokyo-bound ferry, he is nearly swept out to sea in a storm and is saved only by Keisuke Suga (Shun Oguri), a magazine publisher who gives the boy his card and asks him to call if he ever needs help. Hodaka tries to make it on his own, but the big city has nothing to offer the young runaway, except for a free Big Mac slipped to him by young McDonald’s server Amano Hina (Nana Mori). Desperate, he calls Suga, who hires him as a reporter for his sleazy gossip magazine.
Hodaka is assigned to find examples of the legendary phenomenon of “weather maidens,” young women who can control the weather and are in great demand since Tokyo has had rain every day for months. In his search, Hodaka is reunited with Hina, who reveals that she is indeed a weather maiden herself. As the teens begin to fall in love, they hatch a plan to monetize Hina’s skills, creating a business where customers would hire her to temporarily open the clouds so that the sun will shine through for special occasions. The service becomes a quick hit, but the teens soon learn a tragic lesson: that you cannot control the weather because, in the end, the weather always controls you.
While “Your Name” is complex, with its story being told over multiple timelines, “Weathering with You,” by comparison, is relatively straightforward (though still effective) in laying out its romantic tale. One major asset of this film, however, is Shinkai’s skill in capturing how teenagers around the world really behave, and as different as Hodaka and Hina are to one another, they both have that familiar longing to find their place in life that so many teenagers share.
One of the main characters in all of Shinkai’s films is the sky – he seems fascinated by it – and while his scenes looking up at and flying through the skies are stunning, I contend that Shinkai’s real technical achievement is his precision in capturing the small details of urban life. (Look closely at the precise detailing of the Big Mac box, for example.) His visuals are so sharp that you might mistake them for a photograph at first glance, but there’s an intensity of color in his drawing that no camera could provide.
If it’s true that “Weathering with You” doesn’t deliver the same emotional climactic punch as “Your Name,” it’s understandable, because Shinkai’s new film wisely plays it in a much lower key. But the emotion for which Shinkai is known for is here, as well as his ever-present eye – that ability to see what’s right in front of you and enhance it through animation. That’s the hallmark of an artist who may be indeed the new Japanese master.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – While it tells an affecting romantic tale between teens, one of whom wields a superpower, this animated stunner by Makoto Shinkai contains images of contemporary urban life that seem almost photographic at first glance, with a depth of color that can only be achieved through animation.
THE BAD – Although beautifully drawn, the film lacks the emotional punch that so distinguished its predecessor, “Your Name.”
THE FINAL SCORE – 8/10