Weathering With You (Tenki no Ko) (Cert 12A)
Japan (2019) Dir. Makoto Shinkai
Okay so we all know that with great power comes great responsibility but what is less discussed is when the sacrifices for having that power are arguably greater than the power itself. Perish the thought, but maybe it isn’t worth having after all?
16 year-old Hodaka Morishima has run away from his tiny island home to Tokyo, which is experiencing unprecedented non-stop rainfall, with little money, no job, or anywhere to live. Luckily, he meets Keisuke Suga on the boat over, and after many nights of sleeping rough, Hodaka gives Suga a call and is offered a live-in role with his small publishing company, working alongside Suga and his niece Natsumi writing magazine stories.
Whilst on a job, Hodaka spies a girl who once bought him a burger, Hina Amano, with two older men, and thinking she was in trouble, rescues her using what he thought was a toy gun. Hina reveals to Hodaka she possesses the magical ability to summon the sun during rainy days, giving Hodaka the idea to make money from this. As Hina looks after her younger brother Nagi, she agrees but finds her gift comes with a heavy price.
Like many filmmakers before him, Makoto Shinkai has the unenviable task of following up a monster hit, in this case Your Name, with something that will hopefully repeat the box office success of its predecessor and meet the expectations of the audience. And, as such, opinion is divided over whether he has achieved the latter.
Because Weathering With You is another boy meets girl fantasy romance with a strong elemental motif per some of Shinkai’s prior works – specifically The Garden Of Words, which also features rain as an intrinsic part of its narrative – direct comparisons to Your Name will be made, but this is a rather churlish stance to take as Shinkai is hardly the first director to explore a variation on a theme.
The first act comes across as a visual love letter to Tokyo, through the stunning, detailed replication of the busy metropolis, from the neon lit landscapes of the city at night, to the crusty walls and grey aura of the suburban fringes. Wherever Hodaka is fleeing from, it is clear he views the bustling capital as the place to build his future, perhaps naively thinking the streets are pave with gold.
Instead, the reality is Hodaka sleeping doorways, being moved on by police, and having to shower in Internet cafes. Hodaka meeting Suga on the boat was fateful in finally affording Hodaka some stability for the first time since arriving in Tokyo. Less auspicious was his first meeting with Hina; Hodaka had fallen asleep in a McDonalds (name not altered this time) and as a worker there, she gave him a burger on the sly.
Upon learning orphaned teenager Hina has to look after her younger brother Nagi, the empathy shown towards Hodaka makes sense, and their eventual romance inevitable. For comic effect, Nagi might be a junior but he is already a ladies’ man, currently playing two cute girls off against each other, with a humorous pay off later in the film. With Nagi involved, the business venture begins and they soon reap the rewards.
Hina’s magical ability is based on Shinto belief concerning the way human emotions can control the weather through personality. Their tenet is an effusive and kind girl will bring sunshine whilst a darker, selfish girl brings rain, and despite the trials she has overcome, Hina typifies a Sunshine Girl, which is why she was blessed with her power by the gods at the abandoned temple she prayed at.
You’d think that Hina would be a national, if not global phenomenon from this, yet she somehow manages to stay under the radar of the mainstream media even after getting some big gigs in order to clear the clouds for a few hours. But, Hina also know when to quit; the physical toll on her body becomes apparent during one session and Hodaka insists Hina slows down, but the cruel irony is something less publicly visible ends their service, and turns the young trio into fugitives.
Anybody who has watched a Shinkai film, or indeed any fantasy anime, can expect some kind of abstract, existential journey to be taken by the main characters ahead of the big finale, and Shinkai doesn’t disappoint. The dream-like tangent is a genre staple and one that might very well be an overused one, but this doesn’t stop Shinkai from using it as the emotional zenith for the Hina and Hodaka relationship, and in crystallising the central message and themes of the story.
Shinkai drives these points home following an action packed and at times comical chase through the flooded streets of Tokyo that feels more incongruent than the mysticism of Hina’s powers but is still good fun. Even with the film being based around a fantastic premise, the real world grounding is up to Shinkai’s usual lofty standards of aesthetic and atmospheric verisimilitude through an efficacious blend of evocative sound design and astute observation of movement and detail.
Despite the exquisite beauty of the visuals and animation (which are stunning on the big screen) and the immersive pull of the story, some cracks in the plot are left unfilled, such as what it is Hodaka is running away from, how Hina’s miracles did not get noticed by the whole country, what were the strange fish things left in the rain’s wake, and why did it take the police so long to hunt Hodaka down after the gun incident?
But this isn’t worth losing any sleep over nor does it detract from the delightfully joyous, wistful, and enchanting experience Shinkai brings us with Weathering With You. Many might feel disappointed that it isn’t another Your Name but this is the wrong attitude to have – if you approach it without these high expectations, you’ll find it is a great film on its own merits.
Rating – ****
Man In Black