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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Weathering with You

This director of huge Japanese hit 'Your Name' returns with another delightful and gorgeous animated fantasy.
By Sarah Ward
August 27, 2019
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Weathering with You

This director of huge Japanese hit 'Your Name' returns with another delightful and gorgeous animated fantasy.
By Sarah Ward
August 27, 2019
  shares

To watch as Weathering with You roams around Tokyo, wandering through its alleys and roving beyond its well-known tourist spots, is to almost feel like you're walking through the sprawling city yourself. That's an uncanny achievement for an animated film, however it speaks volumes about the level of detail evident in Makoto Shinkai's first movie since his huge 2016 hit Your Name. The luminous lights, towering structures and Shibuya's famous scramble crossing all feature, rendered as vividly as they demand. Also present: the rows of nondescript buildings that stretch across the Japanese capital, its maze of laneways, the blue vending machines on every block, and everything from everyday cafes to love hotels to small markets. While Weathering with You serves up a mix of romance, fantasy and drama in its narrative, it is fiercely determined to steep even its most fanciful narrative leaps in a realistic setting — and that choice has an impact not just visually, but emotionally.

Three years after Your Name became the second-highest-grossing Japanese animated release ever around the globe — a feat that places it behind only Studio Ghibli's beloved Spirited Away — Shinkai's latest film once more ponders love, disaster and whether some things are just meant to be. Like the director's last movie, it also pits star-crossed teenagers against forces outside of their control, and aims for something offbeat yet insightful in the process. Themes of identity and self-exploration bubble to the fore again, albeit without Your Name's body-swap gimmick this time around. Instead, Weathering with You ponders societal and environmental changes, placing its high school-aged protagonists in the middle of both figurative and literal storms. If Hirokazu Kore-eda's Palme d'Or winner Shoplifters swapped actors for anime, added teen relationships and otherworldly elements, and examined global warming as well as life on the Japanese margins, it might actually look like this.

Introduced on a boat approaching Tokyo just as a typhoon hits (and just as he's saved from a grim watery end by a stranger), 16-year-old runaway Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo) is a fresh-faced arrival in the big city. He has nowhere to stay, no job and no way to scrape by, failing to even find work in seedy bars or to get a moment's rest behind bins in an alleyway. When he first crosses paths with the orphaned Hina (Nana Mori), she's a fast food employee who gives him a free burger. When they meet again, he saves her from an exploitative new gig. A connection springs, but it's Hodaka's new place of employment that intertwines their fate. Hired as a live-in assistant to the jaunty Suga (Shun Oguri), who runs an occult-focused magazine out of his house, the teen is charged with tracking down people who can reportedly control the weather — and, following an eventful visit to a rooftop shrine during a time of trauma, that's a skill that Hina happens to possess.

Writing as well as directing, Shinkai soon tasks his central duo with starting their own business to make the most of Hina's gift. As Tokyo's prolonged spell of unseasonable rain just keeps falling day after day, she brings sunshine to folks needing a reprieve — in small spots, only for short periods and for a fee. Of course, as many a movie has stressed, with great power not only comes great responsibility, but considerable consequences. It's here that Weathering with You starts weaving its various threads together — and although they don't all shine as brightly as the rays that Hina commands, the film still offers a smart and moving contemplation of one's place in, and impact upon, the world. That's true when it's poking into life at street-level and taking the planet's changing weather systems in a drastic direction, and remains the case when it's exploring individual decisions and influential relationships, too.

As he did with Your Name, Shinkai packages his tale with an upbeat pace, expressive character animation, delicate voice work and music from Japanese pop band Radwimps, with the group's songs given pride of place across the picture's many montages. Indeed, while the filmmaker helms his sixth movie (with Children Who Chase Lost Voices and The Garden of Words also among his credits), Weathering with You often feels like it's following closely in its immediate predecessor's footsteps. That's where the film's finessed use of detail not only proves pivotal, but makes an immense difference. Its gorgeous frames serve up more than just something vibrant to look at, although they easily tick that box. A strikingly lifelike, never-romanticised vision of Tokyo anchors the narrative's Shinto-inspired spiritual and supernatural leanings. More importantly, it gives weight to both Hodaka and Hina's sizeable struggles, and to the movie's musing on where massive weather events could take today's society. Embracing fantasy, yet always ensuring that it remains equally enchanting and grounded, the result is a dynamic, stunningly animated outsider story with a heart and a conscience.

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