Saturday, January 7, 2023

Weathering With You

Note: This review contains spoilers for Weathering With You.

Back in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. put him on the map, with some critics hailing him as the next Hayao Miyazaki (whether or not this comparison is justified is up to you). At the time I had seen it, during a 2017 theatrical screening, I found myself not only loving it, but also curious in Shinkai’s other work, even if it would take me a while to do so. This would include his follow-up film, Weathering With You, which came and went in 2019 without quite the same level of fanfare. Still, my interest in seeing it didn’t go away and, three years later, I finally got my chance through the Blu-ray release, which, while enjoyable, ended up feeling like an odd step down from its predecessor.

First year highschooler Hodaka Morishima (Brandon Engman) runs away from home to Tokyo. During his trip, the ferry is struck by a rainstorm and he is saved by Keisuke Suga (Lee Pace), who gives him his business card and offers to help him out. As Hodaka struggles to find work in Tokyo without an ID, he meets Hina Amano (Ashley Boettcher), a McDonald’s employee who gives him food out of pity. Later, he finds a handgun and takes it, convincing himself it’s a toy. With money tight and no options left, Hodaka calls Suga and gains employment as an occult magazine writer. While researching a story about “sunshine girls”, Hodaka saves Hina with the aid of his gun and goes with him to an abandoned building, where he tosses the gun away. Hina shows Hodaka a shrine on the roof, as well as her ability to manipulate the weather.

Hina (Ashley Boettcher, right) shows Hodaka (Brandon Engman, left)
her ability to manipulate the weather.

For the most part, Weathering With You is well-written like Your Name. Hodaka and Hina’s relationship, while arguably repeating similar story beats with Shinkai’s previous film, develops at a good pace and the former’s actions have real, hard-hitting consequences, particularly the subplot involving the gun he found. Since weather plays a huge part in the film, it’s interesting how as Hina continues breaking up the rain with sunlight, the pattern of rain changes to compensate, as reported on the news. On top of that, Keisuke Suga, a middle-aged man, also goes through character development of his own, a bold choice for an otherwise teen-centric story. It certainly helps that all-around great performances from the English dub cast help bring out the emotional core of every scene.

That said, I was split on how to feel about Hodaka’s final choice in the film. On one hand, it’s nice that he reunited with Hina after her emotional sacrifice to cease Tokyo’s rain. On the other hand, he also doomed Tokyo to eternal rain, which almost completely submerges the city three years later and irreversibly alters millions of lives. What really confused me, however, was how people Hodaka talked to afterwards about his decision seemed to mostly justify the outcome as a good thing, since Tokyo was “returning to the way it once was.” Even if you love the rest of the story, the ending can very easily make or break the entire experience.

The best aspect of Weathering With You, however, is its animation. Backgrounds and weather effects, especially rain, are rendered in beautiful and loving detail, grounding the story in a realistic setting without letting the stylized character designs feel out of place. In fact, so many shots are arguably wallpaper worthy, which is no small feat on its own. Grounding the story in reality, however, also apparently led to a lot of very blatant product placement. The most egregious bit is the McDonald’s scene, which renders everything in such realistic detail, including an actual Big Mac that Hodaka said was the best thing he had ever eaten, that it almost feels like an ad for the fast-food chain.

This scene skirts the line of whether or not it's an ad.

Although Makoto Shinkai continues showing his strengths as a filmmaker through Weathering With You, it’s unfortunate that the end product falls flat compared to Your Name. If nothing else, you may find it worth watching just to see over 100 minutes of undeniably amazing animation.

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