Weathering With You is the most recent film from Makoto Shinkai, director of films such as 5 Centimeters Per Second, The Garden Of Words and the previously reviewed, Your Name, which I said was one of the best animated films of the decade. Now, when I went to see Your Name for the very first time at London Film Festival, there happened to be a Q and A with Shinkai himself. He discussed some future plans he might have had, and this film was apparently within his future vision.
Shinkai obviously was going to have real trouble following this up. You created one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of the decade and you had the highest grossing film in Japan in 2016. How do you follow that up? I suppose this is what was going through Shinkai’s mind at the time going into the film, given that he was going to have to really strike genius twice in order to just meet a level with Your Name. From what I’ve heard, his biggest inspiration was the fact that he was slammed on Japanese television by the creator of Gundem of all things, and Shinkai used this as inspiration to basically create a film that would counteract the claim, that Your Name was film that wouldn’t be seen years after the fact.
Weathering With You is very much another run for the same crew. Shinkai returns to direct the film, the soundtrack’s once again been done with the RADWIMPS and the animation has been done at Comics Wave Studios again. So you can imagine my excitement going in to see this film. Fair note, I’m actually reviewing this on my second viewing of the film. I saw it the first time at the Scotland Loves Anime Festival, but as I mentioned in my best and worst films list, I don’t count Film Festival releases since you kind of have to be in the know that these films are playing – you can’t just show up at the cinema or turn on Netflix and come across the film. To play fair with the others that have to compete for attention, I leave it that way. So, this is me making up for that.
Weathering With You is the story of a perpetually raining Tokyo and Hodaka Morishima (voiced by Kotaro Daigo) who, leaving his hometown to strike out on his own, struggles in Tokyo working odd jobs for a magazine editor named Kai (voiced by Yûki Kaji), until he comes across a mysterious girl named Amano Hina (voiced by Nana Mori) who has the ability to make the sun shine whenever she wishes it to. Since she’s now financially dependent for her and her brother, she now pretty much is in a position to take on this job as a business, fulfilling requests from people to make the sun shine for them. Well, that’s the basic plot of the film but there’s actually quite a lot going on here. If you’ve seen Your Name, this film is going to be very similar – most of the plot beats are very similar. In fact, that’s Weathering With You’s biggest weakness, it borrows so much from Shinkai’s previous films that it often can struggle to stand on its own. And that’s a really bad idea because Your Name is lightening in a bottle; it’s simply something that cannot be repeated. The film does seem to constantly remind you about Your Name. In fact, it’s very explicit in that intent in two moments, which I won’t dare spoil, though I will say it got a massive gasp in the first audience I was in. But this is one of those films where I go: I don’t care – I really, really, really loved this film.
Shinkai really details a story about struggle and how your worst day can really feel. He manages to turn the rain itself into a character in this film, and that was something I found astounding. Not in a literal sense, but more in how the rainfall informs the environment. But Shinkai does this in brilliant ways. The animation staff do an excellent job. The rain can often feel very dark and grim, and the sun feels very comforting and assuring, which is very useful considering how in many moments of the film, the sun is used in a very minimalistic way, a plot point that we hear from weather reports indicate that this is a highly unusually rainy summer. But then, due to Shinkai’s writing and the animators working together brilliantly in tandem, we’re actually left to the moment later on in the film where he actually manages to reverse that in a brilliant way and it’s done excellently for the plot point that it’s working with. One of Shinkai’s weaknesses in his early films, in my opinion, was that he would put so much emphasis on the environment and it often would be at the expense of the characters. (See films like 5 Centimeters Per Second and The Garden of Words for prime examples of that.) But with this film and Your Name, it feels like Shinkai’s really learnt what a big difference really great, relatable characters are. Hodaka and Hina are excellently 3-dimensionally developed characters and I really liked spending time with them. You also sense the chemistry between them in their romance, and the cast as a whole is excellent.
I also really enjoyed the side cast in this film, which is actually one of the few things that was a little bit lacking in Your Name – in that film, it felt like the side cast was just a means to an end. Still, it was also kind of a strength considering it didn’t fail to overload the main characters. In this film, however, because it’s in a much more urban environment, it makes Tokyo feel more lived in. There’s a rather large cast this time: we have Hina’s brother as well as Takai, the police officer who’s investigating them who’s actually probably got the biggest stars in the dub, but I’ll get back to that later. But I think the biggest cast member to talk about is Suga who’s voiced by Shun Oguri. He’s pretty much the emotional support character for Hodaka in this film but he actually has his own arc to himself, which really to me took what was this one-dimensional comic relief character and turned it on its head. If there’s one thing to talk about as well, it’s that this film’s done by Comics Wave and that means the animation is once again stunning. This is a technically gorgeous film. It doesn’t have as many big set pieces to run as Your Name did. I think this is because the fantastical elements are rather reduced this time around, once again reserved for sparse portions, but this time they’re way more confined towards the latter portion of the film. Plus, the Japanese cast are excellent. I know there’s an English dub for this film which includes some bigger actors this time like Alison Brie and Riz Ahmed. I haven’t seen the dub at this point, though it will be my next viewing of the film. I don’t know if this film had any dub screenings, but it will likely be very accessible once the film comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD some point later this year.
Of course, I have to talk about the soundtrack. The soundtrack once again is rather minimal, only confined to certain sounds and versions of the main songs, which once again have all been written by the RADWIMPS who did the soundtrack for Your Name. While Weathering With You isn’t quite as good as Your Name’s soundtrack, it’s still another triumph. This film should have been nominated for best score and best original song. I’m not sure which song but personally, it could have either been Is There Still Anything Love Can Do? or We’ll Be Alright. This film’s soundtrack is so good I immediately bought it upon seeing the film, and each song capture their moments perfectly once again. They did feel very similar to the moments they reflect in Your Name. To put it some rather cryptic language that only people who have seen that film and have memorized that film will probably get, think of it as Is There Anything Love Can Do? is the sparkle moment, We’ll Be Alright is basically the song that plays during the credits and Celebration is pretty much Zenzenzense.
But as I said, does this film really capture the emotions that Shinkai really delivered with Your Name? Yes, it does, just not quite to the same degree. But it really can envelop the feels. I really kind of want to talk about one of the interesting aspects but I don’t want to give away spoilers. However, I will say that this film has been described as having a controversial ending, something which I didn’t actually notice on my first viewing and it had to actually be explained to me why some people thought it was controversial, a point to which I refute but spoiler talk for another time. If nothing I’ve said does it for you, please, when you can, see Weathering With You. In fact, preferably see it with Your Name in a double bill – they’re both excellent films. This film easily should have been nominated for best animated feature and possibly even best picture; it’s really that good of a film. The acting’s great; the animation is amazing; the soundtrack is brilliant. I frickin’ love the characters and the set pieces are amazing. Shinkai has proven with this film that he’s not a one-hit wonder. He does rely a lot on repeating elements of Your Name which does risk this film being in that film’s shadow but overall, I think he did an excellent job following up a masterpiece.
To put it in some terms, don’t go into this film thinking that this is the equivalent of AC/DC making Back In Black to follow up Highway To Hell; this film’s more like AC/DC making For Those About To Rock to follow up Back In Black, in the sense that it would probably be more appreciated if a really great thing hadn’t come before it. I think that’s going to be how we’re going to see Weathering With You in the future. But in Anime terms, if this is to be Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, people still look back on that film with a lot of optimism so I think time will tell. This film has already been a major success, topping the box office in America and, especially for a January release, that’s a big deal. See this film if you can, you won’t regret it. This is the standard I’m holding all films to that come out in 2020.
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