WARNING: THIS REVIEW DISCUSSES SPOILERS FOR WEATHERING WITH YOU AND MAGIC KNIGHT RAYEARTH.
Ever since Your Name, the fourth-highest grossing Japanese domestic film of all time, director Shinkai Makoto has gone from critical darling to household name. His latest movie, Weathering with You (aka Tenki no Ko), is a visually brilliant animated work that ends up feeling more like a transitional work—a stepping stone to this next project. As Weathering with You grapples with being the mainstream successor to Your Name, it also presents a vortex of ideas and themes that aren’t necessarily always cohesive but do leave a lasting impression of emotions and frustrations over how society treats its youth.
The story of Weathering with You focuses on Morishima Hodaka, a high schooler who runs away from home to Tokyo but ends up living on the streets, unable to find work, as the weather gets worse and worse by the day. A couple of chance encounters unites him with a girl named Hina, who he later discovers is a “sunny girl” whose prayers can call forth good weather. Hodaka gets the idea to turn Hina’s ability into a profitable venture, unaware that it could come at a price.
The pressure of being the follow-up to one of the biggest Japanese films of all time is all too real, and I could practically feel it in every name-brand sponsor that dots the Tokyo landscape in Weathering with You. Whether it’s Hodaka sitting at a McDonald’s only for Hina to give him the most lovingly animated Big Mac ever, or the many real shopping malls such as Mylord and Parco, this is a movie with real big sponsors who clearly had high expectations. It’s not a surprise, then, that Weathering with You is also a boy meets girl story with supernatural themes connected to the religion and culture of Japan. One big difference, however, is that the teens in Weathering with You feel much more “lost,” like they’re in a foreboding environment that they’re trying to scratch and claw against. There’s a certain sense of powerlessness that feels very sloppy and therefore very real in the process.
That powerlessness and frustration ties into what I believe will be of the most enduring debates about Weathering with You: whether its characters ultimately made the right decision, and how it ties into our current global crisis with respect to climate change.
Hina has the ability to bring about pleasant weather, but every time she prays, it takes a toll on her body. This is part of the “natural order” of sorts, that there will be people who can fix the weather at the expense of their lives. However, at the turning point of the film, Hodaka manages to rescue Hina and prevent her sacrifice, all while exclaiming that he wouldn’t be able to stand a world without her. In many films, this would be considered the heroic move, except we find out in an end-of-movie timeskip that Tokyo is half-submerged in water three years later. In a sense, Hodaka sacrificed an entire city for one girl, instead of the other way around.
There’s a part of me that wants to criticize Hodaka as being selfish. Right now, we live in a world where the actions of one person cannot truly change the losing fight we’re having with saving the Earth’s environment, and it’s tempting to wish we could magic it all away. However, the more I think about it, the more I find myself realizing that Hodaka and Hina aren’t supposed to be heroes. Sure, they’re the main characters of Weathering with You, but they’re just kids who are trying to do what’s right for them, who are struggling against the expectations their world places on them for being young. And while Hina could have solved the issue, is it right for adults to foist all that responsibility onto kids, and to have a system where one gets sacrificed to keep the weather at bay?
There’s a subplot involving a handgun in Weathering with You, and it can feel incongruous with the rest of the movie. Perhaps it ties into the above theme, placing this enormous amount of power into a kid’s hands, and the danger to himself and others that comes with it. At the same time, if that is what the film is saying, it’s not conveyed very cleanly, leading to some of the lack of cohesion. While Your Name is the obvious comparison, this sort of loose meandering reminds me at times of another Shinkai film: Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below.
After I saw Weathering with You, I made the joke that Zagato from the anime and manga Magic Knight Rayearth would love the film. He’s also a character willing to sacrifice the world for the one he loves—a world that puts all the burden of maintaining peace and order on the prayers of a single unfortunate soul. Hodaka and Zagato essentially make the same decision, but with the differences in setting (Tokyo vs. a faraway fantasy land) and role (protagonist vs. antagonist), I wonder if it changes how we perceive their decisions and their integrity.