Japanese director Makoto Shinkai made a name for himself when he released “Your Name” in 2016. The fantasy-drama about two teenagers who swap bodies achieved global critical acclaim and became the highest-grossing Japanese animated film of all time.
Shinkai followed this success with “Weathering With You,” released in Japan in July. It made its way to the Bay Area a couple of weeks ago. I was eager to see the film to witness what Shinkai and the team at CoMixWave Films had done.
There was plenty to love about “Weathering With You”—just not as much as I expected.
The story follows a 16-year-old boy named Hodaka who runs away from his rural hometown to Tokyo, which is experiencing abnormal amounts of rain. He hears the legend of a “weather maiden,” who controls the forecast, bringing sunshine wherever she goes.
“Weathering With You” is full of lovable characters, especially in Hodaka’s disgruntled yet kind employer Suga. The man hires Hodaka to work with the excitable Natsumi to write articles for his publishing company.
Hodaka and Natsumi investigate the “weather maiden,” who turns out to be a teenager named Hina, who lost her parents and now supports her younger brother. Hodaka, Hina and her brother decide to start a business: Hina makes “house calls” to city dwellers who are desperate for sun.
This sets off some wonderful montages, with the film studio’s gorgeous animation on full display. I often wax poetic about the beauty of hand-drawn animation—something that western film now seems to avoid but that Japan continues to embrace. The work put into depicting every single raindrop hitting dark city streets—or those streets themselves, with their many shops, crisscrossed electrical lines and neon signs—is incredible. I found myself leaning forward in my seat, eager to soak in every detail.
The humor scattered throughout “Weathering With You” is witty and well-timed, and possibly my favorite aspect of the script. Whether it was a wacky car chase or an alley cat’s transformation into a fat house cat over time, the script shined when it was aiming for laughs.
There were a handful of dramatic moments that stood out: You could feel the tension in the theater as Hodaka, scared with hands shaking, aims a shotgun at a team of detectives.
Unfortunately, the message of the film falls flat. And that may have been due to the fact that its main character never quite wins you over.
Hodaka has a big heart and is fiercely loyal to Hina. But his reasons for running from home were never believable. And his decision at the end of the film, which affected his entire country, came off more selfish than anything. I never could fully support the boy’s choices.
Whatever message the film was trying to send didn’t matter, because all I felt was anger towards Hodaka, who (I’m assuming) you are supposed to be happy for. There have been villains in film who were more sympathetic and understandable.
“Weathering With You” also seems unable to break away from the storytelling mold of “Your Name.” The second half suffered from Shinkai falling back on the former film’s narrative, which did not work for this story.
Overall, however, the film was incredibly beautiful and I found myself enjoying it more often than not. I am eager to see what Shinkai and his team will create next.
Runtime: 111 minutes
Now playing in select theaters.