Weathering with You
Updated: Feb 9, 2020
A love so large it changes the world is pretty common in teenage movie romances. The Japanese animated fantasy Weathering with You (shown with English subtitles) is a story like that. The tale of a teenage boy who runs away to Tokyo and meets a girl who can control the weather, it is sweet, absurd, beautiful and a little too busy. Stretches work so well they make up for the parts that do not (most notably the overly complicated and unconvincing conclusion). The narrative is not quite as strong as the characters or animation, yet it is compelling enough to carry things along. The story may be slightly generic, but it is still engaging and likable.
Hodaka is a sixteen-year-old boy who has run away from home. After a rough transition to life in Toyko, he finds employment and shelter with Kei, a well-meaning, if not exactly fatherly, writer. As Japan experiences an incredibly prolonged period of massive rainfall, he meets Hina. She is a “sunshine girl;” she can stop the rain and bring sun over a small area for a short time. Of course, they develop a powerful connection that must endure through all sorts of obstacles.
Weathering with You (106 minutes, without the end credits) is at its best when it focuses on Hodaka’s daily life and his friendship with Hina. It is good at the human level. It is less fascinating when it deals with its plot on a larger level. Hodaka’s past and how it plays into the final act was both uninteresting and contrived. However, writer/director/editor Makoto Shinkai (who previously made 2016’s thematically similar, and much praised, Your Name.) does a very effective job crafting smaller details that paint a picture of Hodaka’s life, as well as those of the people around him.
Hodaka is a smart, kind, hard-working, kid, who was fully unprepared for the big city. The early section, showing him struggling mightily to find work and a place to live, introduces someone who did not know how challenging it would be, but is unwilling to give up. I already liked him by the time he met Hina, an eighteen-year-old who shares a lot of the same traits and works part-time while trying to raise her younger brother. Though he is wowed by her gift, Hodaka falls in love with Hina, not her weather changing ability. It is an important distinction because it allows Weathering with You to concentrate more on what they mean to each other than on what her skills mean to the world. It even takes the time to develop his relationships with Kei and his understanding friend Natsumi. I enjoyed all this stuff a lot and cared about what happened to these characters. That made it easier to get through the clunkier plot-heavy material because I was invested in the outcome.
The other significant strength lies in the animation. There are some good shots of shifting weather patterns; still, it is the more realistic things that really caught my eye: Hodaka trying to find his way around the lit-up streets of nighttime Tokyo, the looks he gives Hina that could never be properly expressed in words, characters walking or driving through flooded streets. The most impressive aspect of the animation is it does not call attention to itself until it is time for something spectacular. I appreciated the minor details of movement that made these characters individuals. It made the fantastical sequences all the more impactful.
Not many Japanese animated features get legitimate theatrical releases in the US. Weathering with You is a good example of what these movies can be. It is charming, nice to look at and has pleasant characters. While I thought they got overwhelmed a bit by the forces surrounding them (specifically, there is a subplot involving a gun that Shinkai would have lost nothing by omitting), my interest in their emotional journey never waned. It is not as good as Your Name., but Shinkai has a sharp eye for details. I eagerly await his next project.
3¾ out of 5
Kotaro Daigo as Morishima Hodaka
Nana Mori as Amano Hina
Shun Oguri as Keisuke Suga
Tsubasa Honda as Natsumi Suga
Sakura Kiryu as Nagisa Amano
Written and Directed by Makoto Shinkai