Weathering With You is the latest film from Makoto Shinkai, the writer and director who shot to worldwide fame with 2016’s Your Name. Your Name was tremendous; it became the highest-grossing anime film at the time it was released. It was also the perfect distillation of Shinkai’s sensibilities: openly romantic, quietly profound, and every frame gorgeous. It’s tempting to compare Weathering With You to Your Name, since the films have many similarities. That feels unfair, though. Weathering With You is trying for something far more difficult.
The film takes place in a Japan beset by near-endless rain. Under a perpetually gray sky, Weathering With You follows Hodaka, a teenage boy who leaves home for Tokyo with no real plan other than getting away and trying to make it on his own. He falls in with Suga, a tabloid writer who gives him a place to stay in exchange for being his assistant. Throughout, he keeps crossing paths with Hina, a girl who we learn has the power to summon sunshine with a prayer.
Hodaka and Hina start a business, setting up a website where the denizens of Tokyo can request “the sunshine girl” come to their neighborhood so they can finally have a bit of blue sky for a day that means a lot to them: a wedding, a birthday party, a sporting event. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for this, one that neither Hodaka or Hina are aware of at first — and it forces them to make a terrible choice.
Makoto Shinkai’s films are easy to fall for. The director is fond of telling stories that intertwine light fantasy premises with overwhelmingly earnest love stories and, as Your Name shows, when both sides of that equation work together in concert, the result is intoxicating. Weathering With You does a poor job of balancing its supernatural weather story with its central romance. The former is far more compelling than the latter, largely thanks to it having a sense of subtlety the other lacks.
In Weathering With You, the climate apocalypse is already here, even though it’s never explicitly stated. It’s a story told almost entirely through the environment: buildings are overgrown with vines and greenery begins to creep into buildings abandoned by humans. Metal surfaces are beset with rust, and an overwhelmed sewage system leads to small floods everywhere.
The world of the film is in a state of utter disaster, but that’s rarely acknowledged by anyone. Nothing seems like it’s being done, shy of the gifted girl who prays for sunlight. Things ultimately feel helpless, and yet the Tokyo of Weathering With You moves onward.
There are real-world parallels to be drawn here, as Australian wildfires have raged for four months, a crisis that was both spurred by climate change and will ultimately result in further climate change. Strange, dramatic earthquakes are rocking the Caribbean. Record high and low temperatures are recorded yearly, as the time we continue to have a livable earth slowly starts to shrink. Doom is now mere background noise, unless you can’t afford to ignore it, because you are young, because you will be here. Because you will have to do something.
It’s true that the love story at the center of Weathering With You does not resonate when compared to its predecessor, but its tragedy is far more profound. In crossing paths with one another, Hodaka and Hina find out they can do something, and because they are young, because they don’t know any better, they only ever think of that something in personal terms. They can make money. They can make others happy. They can enjoy that happiness. But they also might lose each other if they keep wishing sunshine into the world.
In the end, they make a choice. It’s a choice the world has to live with, even though they don’t know it’s been made by two teenagers who must weigh the value of a blue sky and their feelings for each other. It’s not a fair one. The adults have let them down.