Weathering with You (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
When writer-director Makoto Shinkai hams up the drama, “Weathering with You” becomes an intolerable and exhausting experience. The final thirty minutes of this animated film involving a runaway fifteen-year-old boy who meets a girl with the ability to control the weather simply by praying to the heavens is so tonally schizophrenic, it is downright laughable at times. It is not enough that an unusual summer storm threatens to submerge Tokyo. Our protagonist is hunted by the police like a common criminal. A person is held at gunpoint. Somebody goes missing. A child is taken to a counseling center against his will. I sat back in utter confusion and disbelief; I couldn’t wait for the awkward and uncomfortable turn of events to finally end.
There are few good ideas here. During the first act, it is established that Tokyo is a place where outsiders can run toward and find belongingness, perhaps even family. The material comes from an optimistic perspective, but at least the themes it attempts to tackle possess a semblance of focus and clarity. It is not blind to the dangers of, for instance, a high school dropout having to fight for survival in a city where crime and destitution are prevalent. It is necessary that Hodaka (voiced by Kotaro Daigo) be shown sleeping in the streets and having nothing to eat at times. And so when he crosses paths with fellow outcasts who have come to embrace the city as home, we wonder about their own histories and how their pasts might shape how they view and treat the newcomer.
Although undercooked, I enjoyed the subplot involving Hodaka being hired as a live-in, part-time employee by Keisuke (Shun Oguri), a middle-aged man running a two-person publishing company. We observe their day-to-day routine. We notice the way Keisuke regards Hodaka, that perhaps the man considers the boy to be younger version of him. Or perhaps the boy is a substitute for another person whom Keisuke cares deeply about. Or both. In any case, this father-son, employer-employee, local-transplant relationship could have been so much deeper. I think that had the writer-director been not so adamant about the teen romance being the centerpiece, this newfound connection would be the natural focal point.
It cannot be denied that the story is rooted in drama despite the magical realism that is weather control by means of prayer. The story takes off when Hodaka learns about Hina’s ability (Nana Mori). Since the two are living on their own, with Hina supporting her younger brother as well (Sakura Kiryu), they are desperate for money. And so the two decide to use Hina’s ability in order to make a quick buck. Given that Tokyo is experiencing a record-setting summer rainfall, people are desperate for sunny days. There is believable humor in the duo meeting all sorts of folks with their own stories to tell (a wedding, a death anniversary, an outdoor market, a child who wish to spend time with her father in the park, among others). The weather control angle is simply a device to tell humanistic stories—and it should have remained that way for the rest of the picture.
Instead, viewers are inundated with Hodaka’s fear of losing Hina. According to legends, those granted the power to control the natural elements are eventually spirited away. The problem is, the writing fails to evolve the romance past the boundaries of a teenage crush. Hodaka’s feelings for Hina is treated like some sort of great love—which it very well might be but we do not experience the relationship challenged or grow in meaningful ways. In fact, a case can be made that interesting bits are lost among montages (coupled with pop songs) designed to denote passage of time. I got the impression that Shinkai wishes to show a romantic love so epic that it rivals natural disasters. However, the necessary substance is just not there. And so the romance comes across contrived.
“Weathering with You” boasts eye-catching animation. Images involving rain and fireworks made me blink twice—I found some enjoyment in differentiating among hand-drawn animation, computer animation, and a mixture of both. They feel so alive. Realistic. Having said that, animation is simply a medium. Although elements that can make a terrific story are present here, they lack the connective tissues required so that they function as foundation. The romance on offer here is far from special.