This review contains spoilers.
The verdict is out: Makoto Shinkai’s still got it.
If you’ve taken one look at the Weathering With You poster and rightly expected at least one of the characters to be flung up into the sky — falling and spinning through the air in a stunning, emotionally charged spectacle that anime really excels at — then get ready, because this movie will take your feelings for a ride. In this highly-anticipated story written and directed by Shinkai himself, we’re swept up into another fantasy world, one of tumultuous skies and young lovers caught up in a struggle against fate.
Tokyo is facing an unusually long rainy season, much to the distress of its residents. We see the city through the eyes of Hodaka Morishima, a 16-year-old boy who’s just run away from his hometown. Homeless and unemployed, he applies for a variety of odd jobs before stumbling on a small publishing company that covers strange phenomena. His big breakthrough comes when he runs into Hina Amano, an orphan girl with the ability to influence the weather at will.
When Hodaka creates a job post online promoting her as the “100% Sunshine Girl,” they’re flooded with requests to bring clear skies to all kinds of events. Soon, Hodaka and Hina, along with Hina’s playful younger brother, Nagi, form a charmed family spreading sunny skies wherever they go. That is, until a secret behind Hina’s powers brings unexpected consequences.
Shinkai’s animation is nothing short of breathtaking—all cityscapes and shifting skies rendered with loving detail. Here, the weather feels like a character in its own right. Storm clouds gather like dragons; rainwater swims up from Hina’s fingers like prismatic fish. It’s as one of their clients tells Hodaka, “The sky’s a deeper unknown world than the sea.”
When daylight breaks through the clouds and spills over the gloomy pavement, Tokyo springs to life again. Children play in the streets. Fireworks explode across the sky. You don’t want to admit it, but mentally you’re probably picking out sweeping vistas and thinking, yes, that will be my phone background, oh wait, no, this one.
It’s a testament to Shinkai’s craft that even the smaller moments, like watching Hina make a bowl of egg fried rice, made the audience groan out loud with envy.
Some might say that while Hayao Miyazaki likes to focus on wide-eyed adolescents on the cusp of growing up, Makoto Shinkai fills his movies with characters who are pensive about a feeling that has passed them by. It’s this palpable longing for something — or someone — that makes his works so moving to many people.
One of my favorite qualities of this Shinkai’s movies, at least, in his more recent works, is his recurring fascination for young people who are lonely and adrift, up against an insurmountable distance keeping them apart. Takaki and Akari. Taki and Mitsuha. Hodaka and Hina.
Weathering With You is no stranger to Shinkai’s distinct brand of wistfulness. While it’s a movie that deals heavily with, well, controlling the weather, towards the final act it also becomes about finding a bright spot in an otherwise bleak future; how holding on to the right people can help you withstand the hardships to come.
Weathering With You is a worthy successor that adds ambition to Makoto Shinkai’s filmography, despite a slightly rushed third act. It shares a few structural similarities with Your Name, so you might see certain scenes coming even before they happen, but the climactic scene alone is gorgeous enough to make you hold your breath in the cinema.
Not everybody is going to be pleased with how it ends — or the choices that were made to get there — but it does raise some interesting questions about what it means to inherit a world drastically altered by climate change, and how the citizens of Tokyo will have to maneuver their lives around the constraints of this near-apocalyptic rain. A silver lining tells us these kids are going to be alright, and that we have more to look forward to with Makoto Shinkai.