Weathering With You Review

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.

“Natsumi is best girl. She should be in this movie more.”

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 Namebut 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.

 

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Your Name Review

Your Name is the 2016 anime film by Makoto Shinkai that took the world by storm. Shinkai’s previous films were successful, but Your Name was on another level entirely, becoming the highest-grossing anime film worldwide, and the fourth highest-grossing film in Japanese history, behind only Disney’s Frozen, James Cameron’s Titanic, and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The great news is that Your Name is that rare kind of film whose quality actually warrants it’s rabid success.

The film tells the story of two Japanese high school students: Mitsuha Miyazumi and Taki Tachibana. Taki is a boy living in Tokyo who works at an Italian restaurant. He’s polite and kind-hearted, but has trouble expressing himself. Mitsuha is a small-town girl, the daughter of the mayor, who is tired of both her small-town life and being in her father’s shadow.

As the movie begins, however, neither Mitsuha or Taki are themselves, as they’ve each awakened in the other’s body.

At first, neither Taki nor Mitsuha know what to do in the situation, and think it’s some kind of dream. But as the day goes on, they manage to grow more accustomed to the bizarre situation, and even begin to enjoy it. The next day, both teenagers return to their respective bodies, but the strange phenomenon continues to happen every so often (a few days a week, they mention in one scene).

From here, Taki and Mitsuha – who were previously unaware of each other’s existence – begin to learn more about each other. They each manage to get a hold of the other’s cellphone number, with which they inform each other of their respective schedules, and set a list of guidelines for how to interact with their respective friends and family (which becomes increasingly important, as their memories of the other begin to disappear once they return to their own bodies).

Some liberties are taken by the two, of course, with Mitsuha improving Taki’s social life and setting up a date with his crush, while Taki turns Mitsuha into the most popular girl in her school.

Things aren’t all fun and games, however, as a revelation of an impending natural disaster threatens Mitsuha’s entire town, leaving the two high schoolers to try and figure out a means to utilize their unique situation to save the town and everyone in it.

What’s really striking about this story is that, although it does follow a number of traditions and obvious cliches of anime and high school dramas, it manages to make it all feel original and fresh thanks to its creative setup (which is something of a cross between Groundhog Day and Freaky Friday) as well as its well-written characters.

The fact that each of the two leading characters are often each other means we get to know one character through the other, which makes the relationship between the two something truly unique. By the end of it all, Taki and Mitsuha become two of the most believable and likable characters in animation.

Your Name also boasts a refreshing combination of genres, the type of which usually only seems to happen in smart animated features like this. It can get serious and dramatic, and is a fun high school movie in its own right. But it’s also strangely and beautifully romantic, and can be incredibly funny (the first two things Taki notices when he inhabits Mitsuha’s body are the exact two things a young man would notice if he switched bodies with a young woman).

What really surprised me about Your Name is how well it captures all these various emotions. Anime films are frequently interesting, but often at the expense of emotional resonance. A lot of anime films introduce audiences to intriguing worlds, and their efforts at more philosophical storytelling definitely feel different than what we usually see in western animation. But the world-building is often convoluted, and the philosophical elements can feel forced, which gets in the way of the story and characters resonating with their audiences. It seems only Studio Ghibli consistently finds the right balance of these elements.

Thankfully, Your Name gets it right! I’d even say that it successfully evokes its emotion better than any anime film outside of Studio Ghibli that I’ve ever seen. It’s sweet, fun, funny, sad and touching.

Another aspect of Your Name that I really appreciated is that the film never feels the need to explain why any of the body-switching is happening. There are a few hinted possibilities (a passing meteorite, a cultural ritual Mitsuha partakes in), but nothing that overtly explains it. Your Name wisely trusts its audience to be able to enjoy the story without needing to have the finer details spoon-fed to them.

Your Name is also a strikingly beautiful film, with some of the most outstanding animation I’ve ever seen. The character designs aren’t the most original out there, but their movements are as fluid and believable as any animated character. The backgrounds are stunning, and there’s a wonderful sense of detail in everything going on on-screen. The visuals are complimented by a similarly beautiful soundtrack, which captures the range of emotions of the film, without ever becoming overbearing.

The entire picture is just an aesthetic wonder. It’s a film you can’t help but be absorbed in, with its visual and audio beauty ultimately only complimenting what is a really heartfelt story.

2016 was a great year for animated features: Disney had the one-two punch of Zootopia and Moana, Pixar’s Finding Dory was a surprisingly good sequel, and Kubo and the Two Strings was a stop-motion wonder from Laika. Yet even with all that competition, Your Name ultimately comes out on top as the best animated feature 2016 had to offer.

I went into Your Name knowing of the success it’s had, and tried to keep my expectations at bay as to not end up disappointed. But Your Name ended up being that rare kind of feature that – once the last credit rolled and I could only then get out of my seat – left me feeling overjoyed and grateful for having seen it.

Your Name is simply a wonderful film.

 

9