"Who cares if we can't see any sunshine? I want you more than any blue sky." The latest feature film made by acclaimed Japanese animation filmmaker Makoto Shinkai (of the beloved Your Name before this) is called Weathering With You (originally Tenki no ko) and it has been playing at film festivals after first opening in Japan earlier this summer. I just caught up with it and I have been looking forward to seeing how he would follow up Your Name. There are a few truly spectacular sequences in this film, which alone make it worth watching. I love Makoto Shinkai's style and animation and super cute storytelling. But this is one strange parable about weather and has such a peculiar message that I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.
Weathering With You is about a boy and a girl. But of course. Many Japanese animated films are about a boy and a girl who fall for each other. The boy is a teen runaway from a small island, who ends up in Tokyo trying to make money any way he can. The girl is a lonely one who one day discovers she has the power to change the weather and make the sun shine. The film takes place in Tokyo at a time when the weather has been strangely relentless - it has been raining non-stop for months on end. No one has any idea why or what to do. After randomly meeting each other, the boy and the girl decide to launch a little business pitching it as the "Sunshine Girl" where people hire her to bring sunshine and clear skies to their event. Sometimes it's a father who just wants to play with his kids, but sometimes it's for a major event like a market or fireworks.
At first I thought they might be using weather as a metaphor for depression (rain & clouds versus sunshine), but there are some pretty clear moments where it is obviously a nod to climate change. It is never outright stated or even mentioned in the background, but there are a few conversations about the cycle of the planet and why the weather might be like this. And the film's response to "why is the weather being this strange?" is very off-putting - entirely backwards. But I don't know if that's on purpose or maybe it really isn't about climate change? I don't know. It's hard to make sense of the exact context. On one hand, the idea that love is important regardless of what's happening with the planet is good. On the other hand, to dismiss the climate crisis and weather changes as just some natural cycle we can ignore is extremely frightening and dangerous.
However, I can't dismiss the film because of this. There's plenty to enjoy about it despite this questionable message. It is a story of young love, it is a sincere story about lonely strangers in Tokyo connecting, and it is about how sunshine and blue skies make people happy. The story is super sweet like Japanese sweets, but it's nowhere near as exciting as Your Name, unfortunately. I also adore the score by Radwimps, and all the visually stunning scenes, and the heartfelt love story, and so much about it. I love the way it plays these big pop songs from this Radwimps rock band during major moments, almost making it feel like a musical (even though no one is actually singing or reacting to the music - but it has that power). That isn't new, but it still made me smile every time and it made me want to stand up and dance awkwardly with anyone else nearby.
I also need to take a moment to comment on the beauty of the animation in this film. Much like Pixar, they seem to focus on one particular aspect of the animation that they can perfect and then build the rest of the film up around that. For this one, the one look they perfected is the intricate and realistic animation of rain drops and water drops. There are numerous scenes where it's just a close-up shot of rain drops splashing into water puddles, creating that shiny bloop. These shots alone are gorgeous, not to mention everything else in the film. There's also numerous shots where rain drops land on character's faces, and the water glides around their various features before dripping away. It's not easy to pull off, yet they've gone and perfected it with this film, achieving a breathtaking level of visual excellence that can be admired specifically on its own.
This one isn't going to be an instant classic loved worldwide like Your Name, but there is always something exhilarating about Makoto Shinkai films. He makes films that feel unique, borrowing from all the Japanese animation before it, then crafting something lively and vibrant in its own way. Weathering With You is more cute and charming than it is moving or profound, and the film gets too rough & tumble near the end. It still inspires plenty of good feelings with moments that will make you smile, just as when you open the window in the morning to discover a beautiful blue sky day. I do feel uncomfortable with how it addresses climate change as an issue we can't even try to solve. But perhaps that's not what this film is even trying to address.
Alex's SSIFF 2019 Rating: 8 out of 10
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