There’s a lot riding on Makoto Shinkai’s latest film. After the extraordinary success of Your Name (2016), currently the highest earning anime of all time, many of his peers urged him to do something more ‘meaningful’ with his next feature. Perhaps that’s why the subject of climate change is what fuels Weathering With You. The problem is, it’s hard to know what the animator’s views on the subject actually are. Comments made by some of the older characters here feel suspiciously like climate change denial, while the actions of its younger ones come across as pure selfishness – and that’s a worry.
The story takes place in Tokyo where the seasons have been disrupted into one long bout of torrential rain. Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo), a teenage boy from the country, has run away from home and is eking out a precarious existence in the Shinjuku district of the city, where he struggles to find ways to support himself. He meets up with Hina (Nana Mori), a girl who claims to be a little older than him and who is living a similar hand-to-mouth existence. The two of them strike up a friendship.
Hodaka soon discovers that Hina is a ‘Sunshine Girl,’ able to influence the elements through prayer to create short spells of fine weather. He also realises that there are people out there who would be prepared to pay handsomely for her skills, so the two of them set up a business together, one that quickly begins to pay dividends. But a Japanese legend suggests that Hina must eventually pay a terrible price for possessing such powers – and, when the weather continues to worsen, the couple are presented with a difficult decision.
The first thing to say about Weathering With You is that it is every bit as jaw-droppingly beautiful as its predecessor. The depictions of the rain-ravaged city are extraordinary, finding a kind of ravishing beauty in the power and fury of nature. Some of the scenes here are almost photo-realistic, while Shinkai is also adept at focusing on tiny details that capture the essence of a scene. Furthermore, the story is peopled by a selection of fascinatingly flawed characters, who take the viewer into the kind of edgy territory where the likes of Disney would fear to tread. Throw in some exciting chase scenes and a long suspense-laden sequence where Hodaka attempts to reconnect with Hina and you’ve got an undeniably compelling slice of cinema.
So it’s a pity that the ending feels so fudged – the subject of climate change is vitally important and I’m left unsure about Shinkai’s position on it. Is he saying that humanity is too selfish to ever remedy the situation? Is he suggesting that the younger generation are so consumed with their own agenda they fail to see the problem? Or does he believe that climate change is simply a natural process, unaffected by the excesses of humanity? As presented here, all of these answers are possible – and none of them is satisfactory.
It’s this nebulous quality that denies Weathering With You the knock-it-out-of-the-park satisfaction of Your Name. That said, lovers of quality animation will have to look very hard indeed to find a more eye-popping example of the art.