Back in 2016, director Makoto Shinkai released Your Name, a film that ended up being more successful than anyone could have anticipated. Your Name became something of a pop culture phenomenon, not only was it the highest-grossing Japanese film of 2016, but it climbed the ranks of Japan’s box office to become the country’s fourth highest-grossing film of all time (keep in mind that Japan’s box office record holders don’t fluctuate year by year as they do in the west). Though it wasn’t Shinkai’s first feature, Your Name metaphorically strapped a rocket on the director’s back, suddenly ascending him to become one of Japan’s leading filmmakers.
The pressure was certainly on for whatever Shinkai decided to direct next. And in 2019, Shinkai followed-up his breakout Your Name with Weathering With You, which similarly captured audiences around the world. Like Your Name, Weathering With You became the highest-grossing Japanese film of the year, and climbed Japan’s all-time ranks (it currently sits at 12th place of all time, as of this writing). Though Weathering With You is a charming and sweet film in the same vein as Your Name – and is certainly visually captivating – it too often feels derivative of its predecessor, while never hitting the same emotional highs. Despite its merits, Weathering With You ultimately feels like a pale imitation of Your Name.
The story here centers around Hodaka Morishima, a high school student (this is anime, of course he’s a high school student) who has left his island home in search for a bigger, better life in Tokyo. Hodaka’s trip almost ends in tragedy as a storm thrashes the ferry he’s traveling on, nearly sending him plummeting to the sea below. Thankfully, he’s saved by a fellow passenger, Keisuke Suga, who gives Hodaka his business card in case he ever needs further help.
Hodaka doesn’t fare very well in Tokyo – which seems strangely trapped in a perpetual downpour – as he is unable to find work wherever he goes. The only solace Hodaka finds are in his encounters with a girl named Hina Amano, who works at a local McDonald’s.
It doesn’t take too long for Hodaka to take Suga up on his offer. Suga hires Hodaka as an assistant in his small publishing company, which also consists of Suga’s niece, Natsumi. Hodoka and Natsumi then begin investigating Tokyo’s unusually rainy weather, which leads to them discovering the legends of “Weather Maidens,” who are said to be able to manipulate the weather.
After Hodaka has another chance encounter with Hina and saves her from some lowlifes, she reveals to him that she is in fact a Weather Maiden, and can clear the skies by praying. Inspired by her abilities, Hodaka suggests they set up a business together, with Hina using her powers for people hoping for clear weather for special events. Together with Hina’s kid brother Nagi, they set up said business, and quickly find success through it. But Hina’s powers may come at a great price, which will also prove to test her and Hodaka’s relationship.
I really like the concept of Weathering With You. The idea of a girl being able to stop the rain by praying is both cute and intriguing. It’s just a shame that – whether by trying to repeat past success or being intimidated by it – Makoto Shinkai ends up turning the idea behind Weathering With You into a kind of Your Name Lite (or Diet Your Name, if you prefer). The supernatural setup may have changed – with the body-swapping of Your Name being replaced with the aforementioned Weather Maiden concept – but otherwise, Weathering With You seems to be repeating the same story beats as its predecessor.
Hodaka and Hina almost feel interchangeable with Your Name’s Taki and Mitsuha (who also have cameos in this film, further reminding you that this is Shinkai’s follow-up to his record-breaking picture). And the story doesn’t take too long before it starts treading the same ground as its predecessor. Young love is at the heart of the story. There’s a tragic element to the supernatural aspect that serves as the emotional crux in the two main characters’ relationship. Natural disasters ensue as a result of these happenings, and evoke the same real-world parallels that Japan faced in the early 2010s which Your Name also addressed (a perfectly reasonable allegory to make, but one that somehow just doesn’t work as well here).
Considering Your Name was a really good movie, Weathering With You’s similarities to it aren’t a horrible thing, but they do prevent it from becoming something greater than an echo of its predecessor. Certain characters are forgotten about for lengthy stretches of time, with Natsumi taking a backseat once Hodaka and Hina start their Weather Maiden business, while Nagi doesn’t seem to be of particular importance at all (his only real character trait being that he’s something of shameless flirt for his young age).
I’d like to reiterate that Weathering With You is a good movie, and a serviceable follow-up to Your Name. The problem is that Your Name was something special, so for Shinkai’s follow-up to merely be ‘serviceable’ is a bit of a letdown. Weathering With You may follow the same formula as Your Name, but somehow, it just doesn’t resonate in the same way.
Aesthetically, however, Weathering With You is every bit as beautiful as you would expect from one of Shinkai’s films. This is a film whose visuals you just wish you could soak in. There’s beauty and attention to detail oozing from every last frame. Weathering With You is a visually arresting work that is simply a joy just to look upon. And like previous Shinkai films, these outstanding visuals are complimented by a terrific musical score which helps elevate the emotion of the film (though admittedly I could have done without some of the vocal tracks, which seemed a tad distracting in certain key scenes).
Weathering With You is a good movie that I very much enjoyed while watching it, with its aesthetic pleasures particularly drawing me in. The issue I have though, is that it didn’t stick with me long afterwards like Your Name did just a few short years ago. It’s a good movie in the shadow of a great one, either too intimidated by that shadow or trying too hard to live up to it to find a voice of its own.