Review of Weathering with You (2019)

Moving picture, 114 minutes

Shinkai Makoto (writer-director).

Seen in 2020.

Seen in a sold-out Bio Roy at GIFF 2020.

A runaway working for Mu, a marginal conspiracy tabloid in contemporary Tokyo, meets an informal miko tied to the weather.

The English-language title is unfortunate, but may have been chosen with a technically correct understanding of the language. “Weathering” usually means enduring a crisis, or changes to landscape (due to the atmosphere), or the craft of making props and sets look old. These meanings are all applicable to the plot or the production, but I assume the word was chosen with a more novel intended meaning: Making weather. The original title, Tenki no ko, is simply “weather child”, a person who can affect weather.

This is a fantasy film where anthropogenic effects on climate cause Tokyo to subside partly into the ocean over a period of four years. The mechanism is not global warming or the geology of Japan Sinks (1973) but an involuntary godhood, very much like that of Rob McKenna the lorry driver in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984), in concert with a Shintō-aligned but largely secular celestial ecology of ephemeral gaseous and liquid life forms. Lots of people dream about the supernatural events as they occur. The interface between nature and the supernatural is not more clearly defined, and the only word on science is from a climatologist who initially rejects Mu’s reporters but then gushes about his belief in the pop-mythological concept of hare-onna and ame-onna, girls who influence the weather.

One meteorologist has spotted the supernatural life forms in the clouds, but gets about 6 seconds of screen time and no attention. There is no information on whether space-based imaging can detect the green meadows on top of cumulonimbus clouds, or what the government is doing about the trillion-dollar destruction of Tokyo. There are ferries for local public transport, but nothing like Robinson’s New York 2140 (2017), and no sign of where the people went. Hina’s kamikakushi recalls Napier’s motif of the vanishing shōjo in Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle (2001/2005). It is apparently motivated by a notion of exchange, but nuanced by its reversibility. The school of atmospheric fish restore her but the bond remains in effect; Shinkai is not trapped by tradition. This is not good worldbuilding, but it’s definitely better than Your Name (2016). With the exception of Hina, the characters are also stronger and the plot significantly more elegant, despite similar basic flaws.

The depiction of outsiders—hustlers, school-skipping orphans and runaways, rare in Japanese animation—is better than Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and aided by the decisin to equate guns and magic as tools of last resort for the desperate. They are undermined, as in Tokyo Godfathers, by a certain glibness and tendency toward spectacle, including too many last-minute escapes and coincidences. Hina manages to tackle an adult twice her mass, on the ground, which is not physically plausible. On the other hand, as spectacles go, the years of steady rain seem like a productive place for climate change in the fantasy narratives of popular culture. It’s much more clever than bombastic apocalypses like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), in that it acknowledges what a problem gradual sea-level rise and altered weather patterns would be for human quality of life, without overselling them as an intractable, existential threat and thereby discouraging action.

As I noted in my review of Your Name, the main character of that film says he wants to work with making the city beautiful because you never know how long it’s going to be there. Weathering with You takes that strand to its logical conclusion. Just like I did after Your Name, I rode my bike home over Föreningsgatan with a head pleasantly full of impressions.

The pop music and brand-name burger porn are boring, but there are juicy brand-name burgers in Pom Poko (1994) too. The downhill side of the script following the high point of Hina’s removal goes over the top, but this film is both clever and bloody gorgeous. It’s got literal Ghibli talent at the virtual lightboard, made mobile by the dismantling of that studio. I highly recommend seeing it in a theatre. The effects animation is absolutely amazing and the realistic urban art direction is the best I’ve seen, with the exception of a lack of rubble where the final showdown happens. Many, many shots are just rainy Tokyo streets and cityscapes, rendered so well that they pick out the beauty even in resource-poor and over-commercialized urbanity.

References here: Taket på Yoyogi Kaikan, Suzume (2022).

moving picture Japanese production animation fiction