Makoto Shinkai releases his new anime blockbuster

Review: Fans of paperback teen fiction, Fall Out Boy and Conor Oberst will recognise the cloying tenor that characterises much of Weathering With You.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Makoto Shinkai, the writer, director, and illustrator behind Your Name, the highest-grossing anime film of all time, has a knack for expressing the aspirations of those edging into adolescence: the yearning for freedom, excitement and love. He paints innocent worlds, where the naive hopefulness, verve and empathy of childhood trumps all.

His latest film, Weathering With You, resonates in the same emotional register as his first. The film follows Hodaka, a teenager from a small coastal village. We catch up with him on a ship headed for Tokyo, where, having escaped school and his childhood home, he hopes to make it on his own. He stands at the bow of the ship, admiring the clear sky, before a single raindrop lands on his nose, followed by a deluge of rainfall that dumps down as if from a giant bucket in the sky. It’s understood that this abnormal weather event was caused by Hina, a young woman who, walking through a shrine at the top of a condemned skyscraper, activates an ability to control the weather.

Hodaka struggles to find his feet in Tokyo, he’s forced to keep a low profile to avoid being picked up by police on the lookout for unaccompanied minors. Huddled under an awning, he’s discovered by a cruel strip club owner, who forces him to leave, tripping him into the wet pavement on his way out.

Hodaka settles inside a McDonald’s, scrolling for job listings on his phone before passing out. He’s awoken by Hina, who takes pity upon him, handing him a cheeseburger. We eventually learn that Hina is also orphaned from her parents. She works two jobs to keep an apartment for her and her younger brother.

As in Your Name, the plot hinges on the teens’ fatalistic connection, driven by an esoteric, ancient magic. When Hodaka finally takes a job, he discovers the legend of Hina’s powers, relayed in a typical fantasy-exposition dialect by an ageing psychic.

In their second chance encounter, Hodaka spots Hina in the street, making a deal to work for the shady club owner. Hodaka intervenes, whisking her into the abandoned skyscraper from the beginning of the film. After chastising him for his reckless behaviour, Hina takes him to the roof and demonstrates her ability to clear the rain with a focused prayer.

Though Hodaka’s ill-formed masculinity befits his age, the film’s narrowing around his perspective makes it difficult to really get to know his love interest. We only see Hina through Hodaka’s eyes – vivacious, strong-willed, maternal, chaste and dreamy. Although he had only met her once before the chance encounter with the club owner, he is violently protective of her. His concern for her well-being in the sex-work engagement sends him into a blind rage (without giving too much away, he puts lives on the line). Hodaka’s behaviour, however well-intentioned, ignores Hina’s agency. It’s unclear the extent to which he acts in the interest of her safety, or in the interest of protecting her purity.

It’s doubtful, however, that this ambiguity was Shinkai’s intention, as he tends to paint the emotional dynamics between his two main characters in broad strokes. Fans of paperback teen fiction, Fall Out Boy and Conor Oberst will recognise the cloying tenor that characterises much of Weathering With You. Shinkai reprises Your Names habit of punctuating emotional climaxes with extended, jittery montages set to insipid J‑pop, denying the viewer time to properly process what’s happened. The script, perhaps poorly translated from Japanese, is nevertheless uneven; the dialogue at times feels contrived and over-determined.

Still, with its gorgeous illustration and its admirably naive, star-crossed lovers, Weathering with You casts an enveloping spell. It’s a film you want to like, and undoubtedly one that will be more easily enjoyed by its intended audience, kids Hina and Hodaka’s age. Hina is a profoundly likeable heroine, and the plot rests on what Hodaka is able to learn from her: her inherent kindness, her charity, her poise under pressure. The apocalyptically rainy Tokyo in which the story takes place is profoundly enveloping, rendered with brilliant watercolour drawing and detailed lighting effects.

Hina and Hodaka’s environment, and especially the rainy skies Hina works to clear up, plays a central role in the film. Shinkai casts the weather as a mirror to the inner worlds of Hina and Hodaka and the well-being of their society.

I realised how much the human heart is affected by the sky,” Hodaka remarks after Hina staves off the rain in time for a wealthy couple to enjoy their massive wedding. There’s a clear allegorical nod to climate change running through the film. By the end, the sea levels around Tokyo have risen so high that water floods the streets, sinking suspension bridges into the earth, and (spoiler alert) Hodaka is forced to choose between hanging onto his romance with Hina or allowing her to prevent the rain from submerging the city. If you agree with his decision, you’ll like the film. If you don’t, like me, it’ll be difficult to parse your affection for the beauty and charm of this film from its more problematic underpinnings.

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