Walking into the packed cinema for Weathering With You I was struck not only by the number of people but also the wide variety of ages filling the seats and part of me didn’t understand why. The film started but before that, there was a short Q&A with director Makoto Shinkai in which he explained why he connects with the sky and the concept of weather in his movies. It seemed like a throwaway question. His answer, the fact that he spent his time as a boy staring at different skies, thinking different things, was nothing special, except it was. Not only did it turn the sky into another vital character, one with thoughts and feelings but it recontextualised his story as one that can relate to multiple generations, through something simple, like how we look up.
Telling the story of a teenage runaway Hodaka Morishima (Kotaro Daigo) who leaves his island home for Tokyo, working as a writer for a small magazine run by Keisuke Suga (Shun Oguri), who also allows him to live with him. When he is assigned a job looking into the urban legend of the ‘weather maiden’ he meets Hina Amano (Nana Mori), a girl with the ability to bring out the sun in a perpetually raining city. Together they make a business out of it until her power becomes a symbol of hope for a whole city.
Despite the fantasy plot that provides most of the narrative tension, Shinkai’s film is a love story about remembering first occurrences, be it first kisses or declarations of love. This breathes a simplicity into a bright and colourful story that feels wiser than the characters it follows. Intent on letting its audience know that despite the hardships we all face, there is always something bursting through the clouds, that glimmer of hope in the hopelessness. Be it cynical Keisuke hoping that the sun can let him see his daughter again or Hodaka hoping the sun can bring him closer to Hina, these characters live in forgotten side streets ignored, but their plights are cleverly linked to what’s happening above them, somewhere they wish they were.
All this is realised with some jaw-dropping visual splendour, with the opening shot firmly stating that you are in for something special with so much happening in one fluid shot. A mixture of hand-drawn animation and computer graphics make this Tokyo feel real and give credence to the varied weather phenomenons that take place. The simplest sight of raindrops splashing on a window sill outside a hospital room sets the tone and a sense of realism that, despite the fantasy, is hard to shake.
While sometimes there is a naivety that seeps from the characters into the surrounding story, Weathering with You is buoyed by some charming comedy elements from a recurring sight gag involving an all too human cat, to Hina’s playboy younger brother Nagi (Sakura Kiryu) and his varying female friends. The only time Shinkai’s follow-up to acclaimed feature Your Name stumbles is how it attempts to ratchet up the tension by forcing an unnecessary plotline involving a missing gun. While it links together by the film’s conclusion, it feels clumsy and plodding.
Fast-paced and empathetic, this Young Adult film feels like a call to arms for a community that has long ignored the ravages of climate change, but it is also a film about outcasts, the often ignored and forgotten orphan community that are left to struggle in our own forgetfulness. In a way it is a reminder that family can be something wonderful, even for the people that don’t have it.
While it might be easy to lose yourself in the fairy tale presented here, I found it far more enticing to concentrate on what links these two to reality, the innocence that keeps them grounded despite all the wonder that Shinkai evokes in the skies above. There is an impressive power to this vision and it is found in how you relate to it.