The films of Makoto Shinkai have always boiled down to one very simple idea: that love is transformative and conquers all. From the cherry blossoms of 5 Centimeters Per Second to the red string of fate in Your Name, love is as much of a character as the people themselves. It pulls and pushes, driving the plot, slumping into itself at the lowest points, and blooming into beautifully animated life at the highest. Never has this been more accurate than in Weathering With You, a rich climate change-inspired fantasy-romance-drama where the weather doesn’t just reflect emotion, it is emotion.
The film begins when a 16-year old by the name of Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo) runs away from home, stowing away on a ship headed for Tokyo. Upon arrival, his dreams of a new life filled with bountiful opportunities are quickly crushed. Employment is not so easy to come by when you’re a runaway with no ID, and Hodaka quickly finds himself jobless and homeless. To make matters worse the weather is terrible, the temperature is freezing, despite it being mid-August, and the city has been experiencing a near torrential downpour of rain for two straight months. Desperate for anything, Hodaka hunts down a man he met on the ship journey to Tokyo, Mr. Suga (Shun Oguri), and lands a job as an office-assistant-cum-general-roustabout at his tiny publishing company that specializes in urban legends.
While working at Mr. Suga’s publishing company, Hodaka receives a tip-off about a miraculous “sunshine girl” who is able to stop the rain for short periods of time through the power of prayer. That description, Hodaka realizes, matches that of a girl who gave him food while he was homeless and jobless, and he becomes determined to find her. He crisscrosses back through Tokyo until he does: the sunshine girl’s name is Hina (Nana Mori) and she, like Hodaka, is living parentless. The two becomes fast friends, although it is clear that their relationship is destined to grow beyond that, as Hodaka convinces Hina that she should turn her “gift” into a business, selling brief bouts of good weather to Tokyo’s sun-starved citizens. Their venture is a massive success, but Hina’s “gift” comes at a cost, as continuing to use it attracts unseen forces — of the governmental and fantastical varieties — who begin to circle our adolescent protagonists.
Weathering With You is Shinkai’s most straightforward work in years, and also his most beautiful. His traditionally complex narrative structures are abandoned for a story that relies on stunning visuals over intricate plotting. And it cannot be overemphasized just how beautiful the visuals are, the rain has never looked this wondrous before. Despite its simplicity, Weathering With You is still distinctly a Shinkai work, which makes a comparison between it and his 2016 smash success Your Name almost inevitable. Rather than shy away from these comparisons, he embraces them, doubling down on the core ideas of Your Name. The themes of tension between hopeful youth and jaded adults are still present. So too are the ideas of Shintoism being interwoven with modern culture.
Returning also is the rock-band Radwimps, who manage to be both the films greatest asset and hindrance. Their purely instrumental work on the soundtrack is lush and distinct, and on par with some of the best films scores of the year. This, however, makes the J-Pop singles, which play over montages and a few emotionally big moments, all the more overbearing. This is indicative of the viewing experience on the whole. Weathering With You is a maximalist approach to Shinkai’s distinct formula. The result is that he loses some of the narrative clarity present in his earlier work in exchange for intoxicatingly powerful high moments. The themes of environmentalism, for instance, are not as precise as Your Name’s references to Japan’s 2011 earthquakes. But what it lacks in clarity it makes up for with sheer bombast. This is easily the biggest scale Shinkai has operated on to date, and the sheer size of the story often compensates for its less nuanced approach.
The effectiveness of Weathering With You will ultimately come down to how ready you are to buy into the broad emotion strokes that Shinkai is painting with. The story does not make sense if you think about it for more than a few seconds, but that’s not really the point, nor has it ever been with his films. Weathering With You operates in the realms of high melodrama, where feelings dictate the story and love always triumphs. It is an emotional rollercoaster that’ll fill your heart and leaves you dizzy. If you come willing to be swept off your feet, Weathering With You can guarantee you will be.