Do you ever feel blue or I should say, under the weather sometimes? I know that I do from time to time. And what better way to pick me up than a movie about a girl who can literally control the weather? After his highly successful 2017 animated film Your Name, Makoto Shinkai set to make his next film the following year. And coming hot off the tails of the critically acclaimed Your Name, everyone was excited to see what Shinkai would make.
A sixteen year old boy named Hodaka Morishima (voiced by Brandon Engman) runs away from home by ship. One day during a terrible storm, he is almost swept off the boat only to be saved by a man named Keisuke Suga (voiced by Lee Pace). Keisuke and his niece Natsumi (voiced by Alison Brie) bring Hodaka in and hire him as a writer investigating the paranormal. One day, he learns of a phenomenon called the “sunshine girl”, someone who can control the weather. During his time with Mr. Suga, he comes across a girl around his age who is working under the Japanese mafia named Hina (voiced by Ashley Boettcher). He rescues her from her predicament and soon discovers that she is in fact, the “sunshine girl.” As the two spend more time together, they grow closer together. However one morning, Hodaka wakes up to find Hina gone without a single trace.
As with any Makoto Shinkai film, Weathering with You features absolutely beautiful visuals. Shinkai has a unique eye for emphasizing the natural while not detracting from the supernatural. Every shot combines photorealism with classic 2D animation to create this uncanny, yet surrealistic effect. For example, light, rain, inanimate objects and the cityscape of Tokyo are all drawn and animated as highly photorealistic. Each and every crack can be seen on every building, showing each individual building’s age and wear. Additionally, the way that the rain washes over the characters is nothing short of gorgeously satisfying to watch. This is nothing new, as it’s a staple in his films, most notably in Your Name and The Garden of Words. But perhaps my favorite shots are when Hina calls out the sun with her powers, causing the entire city of Tokyo to literally light up. It’s an ethereal shot that very few in the film industry can successfully pull off.
But besides the visual feast, I really enjoyed the voice acting in the English dub, particularly Alison Brie as Natsumi. She brings so much joy and energy into a side character that I can’t help but smile and chuckle every time she’s on screen. You can clearly tell Brie was having fun with the role and gave it her all. As a character, Natsumi is presented as your typical young woman trying to find her mark in the world. However, she develops a sisterly bond with Hodaka after taking him in and spending time with him chasing headlines for Keisuke. Meanwhile, Brandon Engman, who you may remember as Kamishin from Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle, effortlessly pulls off the ‘kid trying to be an adult’ feel that envelopes Hodaka. But the biggest surprise has to be Lee Pace as Keisuke Suga. Best known for his role as King Thranduil in The Hobbit Trilogy, Pace as Keisuke Suga is one of the more layered and nuanced characters in the film. Keisuke is a man in his forties who struggles with drinking and smoking after the death of his wife and tries hard to win custody of his daughter. And although he puts on a mask of aloofness around Hodaka, he truly does care for him almost as a son.
I remember Weathering with You being the talk of the year when it came out, with many claiming that Makoto Shinkai delivered another masterpiece on the same creative level of mastery as Your Name. However, I just don’t see that myself. While Weathering with You is a completely different story from Your Name, it’s still presented in the exact same formula as the latter, almost following it beat by beat. At times, it almost feels like it’s trying desperately to recapture that magical feeling of Your Name. Ironically, this sense of catching lightning in a bottle makes the film fall short. The Japanese band Radwimps return to sing the songs, which while a nice welcome, feels like Weathering with You can never break free from the shackles of its predecessor. Hell, Taki and Mitsuha from Your Name also make cameos! Makoto Shinkai is an extremely talented filmmaker who is capable of touching your soul with his filmography, yet Weathering with You feels more like an afterthought than the main course.
And this brings me to my next question: what was the message that the movie tried to tell us? Throughout the film, Hodaka wants to stay with Hina as long as he can. So when he finds out that she’s a human sacrifice that will disappear in order for the constant downpours to stop in Tokyo, he is understandably emotional. However, here comes the part that kind of pissed me off. Hodaka goes out of his way to bring her back, knowing that the rains will continue and eventually drown Tokyo should she return. And low and behold, that very fate becomes a reality. Three years later, Tokyo is completely submerged under water. So I guess he just inadvertently killed hundreds or thousands of people all for a girl he knew for maybe a week or two. And somehow, she’s also okay with his decision to let Tokyo drown?
By the end of the day, Weathering with You tries to do something different from Makoto Shinkai’s previous films, although the end product just feels like The Garden of Words mashed up with Your Name. While it possesses an amazing visual spectacle to fuel your inner art critic, the story just isn’t up to par with what Shinkai has told in the past. Despite not seeing his entire filmography, of the movies I have seen, I still think 5 Centimeters per Second is his best film, followed closely by Your Name. And although the songs from Radwimps are serviceable, they aren’t as emotionally hard-hitting as their songs from Your Name. Now, I understand that Weathering with You isn’t a film that depends on the quality of the songs like Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle, but the songs are supposed to add another layer of flavor to the movie as a whole, something that isn’t accomplished here. Overall, despite Weathering with You setting high expectations for the young filmmaker, the execution just wasn’t on par. And even though Hina is the “sunshine girl”, this movie failed to brighten up my day.