Perhaps Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You (天気の子) faced some unfairly high expectations after the global success of Your Name. But while Shinkai’s stunning vision and creative storytelling is still present, something somewhere stumbles. And that leaves the film struggling to avoid comparisons and struggling to give itself its own memorable voice.
It goes without saying that the film features some beautiful and breathtaking animation. But narratively speaking, the film underwhelms. It seems to borrow story beats from Your Name and it lacks the signature sincerity and nostalgia from Shinkai’s previous efforts such as The Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second. Even Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai’s uneven homage to Hayao Miyazaki, felt a little more well put together in terms of ambition and scope.
Weathering With You focuses on high schooler Hodaka Morishima who runs away to Tokyo where he meets and soon falls for Hina Amano who somehow has the ability to momentarily control the weather. Tokyo has been inundated with nonstop torrential rain. Yet Hina, by praying to the sky, is able to stop the rain and allow the sun to shine through even if for only short amounts of time.
After turning Hina’s power into a small business enterprise, they soon have to go on the run when police come looking for Hodaka as a missing person and after he had threatened sex traffickers who attempted to lure Hina with a gun he had found in the trash. Accompanied by Hina’s younger brother Nagi whom she raises on her own after the death of her mother, they spend the night in a motel. And it is here where Hina reveals to Hodaka that she is slowly turning into water. Next morning, she disappears.
The final act of the film deals with police engaging Hodaka in a high-speed chase through flooded Tokyo streets as he searches for Hina and a way to bring her back.
The film’s use of Shinto beliefs presents a starting point for its general premise. But it unfortunately does not take off from there. The mystical and possibly supernatural aspect is half-hearted. Instead, the film somehow aims to serve some kind of equally half-hearted attempt at a climate change warning as a backdrop for a supposedly epic love story between two teens.
The meteorological phenomena feels more like simple summer blockbuster-type of mindless action (think The Day After Tomorrow, San Andreas or NBC’s American miniseries 10.5) instead of something deeper.
The film briefly touches upon the relationship between human emotions and the weather. But the loose “rules” of Hina’s power and the way it merely serves as a plot device to keep our protagonists apart for a couple of minutes undermines any meaningful discussion, realistic or metaphorical, of any such relationship.
A dynamic and kinetic Tokyo shrouded under gray skies is a triumph in aesthetics. The visuals are truly stunning. And where Shinkai’s previous films emphasize the contrast between urban and rural Japan, this film highlights solely the Tokyo metro area in all its own contrasting glory and blemishes.
But the story itself relies more on the big picture rather than on the characters. And Makoto Shinkai has become known for films that feature strong, engaging characters.
Even with the built-in opportunities for some emotional moments with the people enlisting Hina’s powers, like a woman wanting a few minutes of clear skies on the death anniversary of her husband, the film lacks that emotional punch.
Instead, they’re all treated as mere jobs. And in turn, even Hina’s own backstory involving her mother and the day she seemingly obtains her powers ends up becoming a passive moment that serves as a plot device instead of something that drives Hina’s character development.
There is a generally likeable cast of characters here. But none of them ever get the chance to breathe and let us know who they actually are beyond what can be related in a one sentence character description. The film has a plot driven story. But when the plot itself isn’t on the most solid of footing, it is troublesome. Especially when the characters aren’t strong enough to carry the slack.
Ultimately, Weathering With You is underwhelming. And not because of a direct comparison to Your Name, though Weathering With You certainly does not hold well in that case. While Your Name itself isn’t perfect, it is able to carry itself and redeem any of its shortcomings with several sincerely breathtaking story beats and its extra sense of adventure and character development.
Your Name is arguably not even Makoto Shinkai’s best film, even if it is the most commercially successful.
Weathering With You somehow feels like it looked more ambitious on paper and something was lost or missing in its execution. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to Shinkai’s other work. And it’s hard to avoid coming into the film with high expectations. But the film, while certainly still enjoyable thanks to its stunning animation, lacks the qualities that have propelled Makoto Shinkai to the position he is in today. He is no less talented now than he was before this film.
But it’s hard not to believe Weathering With You could have been something much more than this end result.