I am, at most, merely an intermittent sort-of-fan of Makoto Shinkai’s works. I recommended Voices of a Distant Star some years ago, and the few movies with his name on that I’ve seen since are decidedly hit (Your Name) or miss (5 Centimeters Per Second). (For the record, The Place Promised In Our Early Days is somewhere in the middle.)
I noticed that one of his recent films, Weathering With You, showed up on HBO Max and figured I’d give it a whirl. Only, whoops, I couldn’t find a Japanese audio with English subtitles viewing option. The only way to get English subs was with the English audio. Hey, HBO folks? Are you… at all familiar with how anime is consumed in this country?
So, anyway, a Blu Ray purchase later (hey, it seems to be well-regarded, and I got it on sale) I was finally ready to give it a watch.
Right off the bat I’ll say that it’s an absolute visual feast, with one minor fussy caveat. As usual, Shinkai loves him some cloudscapes and in a movie with the word “weather” right in the title, you know you’re going to get a lot of those. Which is great! Mostly. Also, as usual, every scene of a home environment is cram-packed with detail. Every place looks inhabited.
The caveat: Early on you’re going to get a scene where the sun comes out from behind the clouds and the scenery transitions from damp grayness to dazzling color, usually paired with an overhead shot of the circle of sunlit space surrounded by the damp overcast all around that space. It’s a neat effect, and I hope you really like it because you’re going to see it a lot. A lot a lot. As in, “We figured out this neat visual trick and by all that’s holy we’re going to use the heck out of it.”
It’s a minor fussy caveat, as I said. But at a nearly two-hour runtime, the movie might’ve spared us a few of those shots. Possibly.
I might not have noticed the amount of time I spent watching the movie but for the fact that I couldn’t really get invested in what was going on… partly because, outside of the main boy-and-girl plot arc, I had no earthly idea what was going on.
(I’ll go into spoilers at the tail end of this post. I’ll let you know when to stop reading if you haven’t yet seen the movie and intend to.)
In comparison to my favorite of Shinkai’s movies, Your Name, the “gimmick” of the plot is laid out relatively quickly. But where that movie engages you fully with all the elements at play, Weathering With You seems to just throw events at you and they’re supposed to make sense somehow. More than once along the way I found myself thinking, “I have so many questions.” Not about the metaphysical stuff! You take the main plot gimmick at face value in these movies. But about several mundane(-ish) events and situations along the way.
Weathering is also bad about surprise reveals that are, I suspect, supposed to be funny and/or shocking that just didn’t really land. “Oh, so X is actually Y’s Z?” Oh. Huh. Okay. Moving along now. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, and my American brain doesn’t make the right connections for the joke to land. I’ll grant that’s a strong possibility!
The film’s primary perspective is that of Hodaka, a teenaged boy who has no clue or plan and gets by on sheer grit and occasional charm, so it kind of makes sense that he later learns facts that he finds surprising. That’s fine! My issue is that the movie sees some of them as such “gotcha!” moments but they feel unearned and, of course, they’re out of left field. (Admittedly, one of the “reveals” isn’t that much of a surprise to anyone but our erstwhile protagonist.)
Since we’re talking perspective, let’s talk characters. Hodaka is what some anime fans would refer to as a “potato-kun,” a bog-standard hapless protagonist boy person with basically no redeeming or interesting characteristics beyond that he’s generally nice, and maybe has some kind of mildly dark backstory element that drives him to be somewhere other than his home town, and… no, that’s it. That’s what he brings to the table.
Hina is there to be The Girl Who Does The Thing (oh, and love interest, obviously) and… she’s fine. She’s nice, she’s okay, she’s not quite a “sexy lamp” but. Hmm. The fact that I’ve already run out of things to say about the other main character of the film is telling, isn’t it. Honestly, Hina’s brother Nagi is vastly more fun and interesting than our two leads. I want his movie. Senpai for the win.
The erstwhile adults, such as Suga (who saves Hodaka from a freak rainstorm event on the boat they’re on heading to Tokyo at the start of the film) and his office assistant Natsumi such are definitely more fleshed out and have more going on. This actually makes sense; actual adults have had more experience and they have actual lives to live, unlike the rugrats. I was far more invested in Natsumi’s job search efforts than in most of the other side plots, at least. Full marks for the non-police adult characters here.
My problem isn’t really the characters, who range from “serviceable archetypes” to “actually interesting” except for the two main cops who are nearly caricatures, complete with distinctive hairdos. It’s with the way things just kind of… happen. And continue to just happen. Getting the main pair’s business venture off the ground felt like it’d be interesting, but it just… happens, and it just works. It’s fine. No trouble at all, really. I kept waiting for the moment the plot would “kick in” and it kind of never actually did. You know, the moment when the movie tells you what needs to happen, who needs to do it, and what obstacles will need surmounting to get the job done.
When this does actually arrive, the movie’s mostly over. The ensuing chase scene is fun, it’s fine, it happens, huzzah. And it ends with another hoary old anime trope: The protagonist, potato-kun though he may be, running breathlessly for ridiculous amounts of time to reach some distant physical location to Do The Thing. It’s… fine. It’s an okay trope. I don’t hate it, I’m just bored with it.
There’s a whole lot of belief suspension involved in everything around the main metaphysical hoozawhatsit. Like, okay, fine, movie, you can have the “weather actually works like this” part. But everyone who finds out and/or is involved with the weather-working shenanigans is just… fine with it? Thanks, here’s your money, at absolutely no point will you be questioned by any authority figures whatsoever about anything that’s going on! Eh?
Well. Police are involved, just not because of anything metaphysical. But… more on that in the spoilers.
I’ve been at this a while, so let me sum up: Weathering With You is an absolutely gorgeous piece of visual art with a few good-ish characters and an overall plot which… doesn’t stand up to much thinking about. If you’re the kind of person who puts movies on “in the background” so there’s visual distraction available, I heartily recommend it. Otherwise… it’s worth watching once, but I’m unlikely to go back to it again, because…
Hmm. I guess it’s that time.
Stop reading now if you’re spoiler-averse.
Seriously. The meat of the review is done.
Beyond this point there be dragons. I mean, not dragons, more like cops and guns and such.
Had I the chance to change one major thing about this movie, I’d take out the damned gun. It’s tonally jarring by comparison to all the mostly-sweet “100% sunshine girl” stuff, more than once it makes our boy Hodaka look either like a dangerous tool or an utter idiot (or both), and it leads to a police investigation subplot that hints at some darker stuff, then never delivers. It’s pointless. It’s needless. And I could’ve done without the scenes of Hodaka pointing a gun at people, let alone directly at the “camera.” Why? Did Hodaka, the hapless well-meaning potato, need to be edgier for some reason all of a sudden?
Heck, you can keep the police involvement! There are minors running around the streets of Tokyo, and authority figures find that troublesome! You can absolutely investigate Hina’s and Nagi’s living and employment situation, let alone Hodaka’s! That can still elevate dramatic tension and lead to chase sequences! Just… lose the damned gun.
Then there’s the whole “how did the authorities not immediately grab Hina and demand that she fix the weather for good” question. It’s not like there aren’t cameras everywhere so they could see who’s doing the thing, as we know from Hodaka’s shooting incident footage! Heck, they even almost lampshade this with the televised fireworks show bringing too much attention to Hina. The lampshading stands up to precisely zero scrutiny but hey, they kind of tried, I guess. Or, if you want to go with another option, how are mad scientists not excitedly converging on her location, competing to dissect her and find out what makes her tick?
But, no, everyone’s blissfully okay with letting this one young lady make spots of sunshine while the rest of the city is nearly drowning.
The cable stays responsible for holding up my suspension of disbelief long ago snapped, is what I’m saying. Weathering With You is a fantasy fable at its core, but if you’re going to put in this much effort to ground the story with elements like, say, gun violence and child protective services and failing infrastructure and asthmatic children and such, you’re asking a lot of the viewer to keep that all separated and especially to not think about it in the slightest.
Oh, and everyone who saw the “Hina’s noble sacrifice” thing coming almost immediately, go on and raise your hands. Yup. That was her purpose: Bring sunshine, be The Caring & Capable Love Interest, and do a noble sacrifice. Cute kid, but could’ve been given more to do.
And, finally, I’m 99% sure that’s not what would happen to Tokyo in the end, but hey, I’m not a climate scientist or city planner or anything like that. It just seemed like an excuse to envision a mostly-flooded city. Meh.
Seriously though: What is Nagi’s secret? We stan a legend.