In the summer of 2005, I made my monthly trek to Best Buy to peruse their DVD section. I was 15 years old then, and usually I’d have a stack of movies to choose from by the end of my hunt before whittling my options down to one. But on that day in the summer of 2005, only one movie caught my eye: The Place Promised in Our Early Days. There was just something about it. The title. The cover. It felt important, somehow. Different from other anime films – different from other films in general. And it was.
I can still hear the film’s soundtrack when I think about it. Still see the almost photo-realistic, yet still anime train as it passes by the tower reaching up towards the sky. The movie has stuck with me throughout the years. And it compelled me to dig up all of the others works from the director, Makato Shinkai. At that time, I only found Voices of a Distant Star and She and Her Cat. Later on, there would be 5 Centimeters per Second, and one of my personal favorites, The Garden of Words.
Shinkai and his works became even more closely tied to my memories with the release of Your Name in 2016. Your Name holds an especially dear place in my heart as I saw it on my first date with my wife, who was just my girlfriend at that time. Needless to say, we loved it. Who could resist the perfect balance of characters, humor, story, and that wonderful soundtrack by RADWIMPS. Your Name thrust Shinkai beyond the anime world, where he was already well-known, and to the spotlight of the mainstream.
Now in 2019 he returns with his newest film Weathering With You. A film that checks many of the same boxes as Your Name, such as a main character moving from a small town to the big city, a romance blossoming between two teenagers, a mysterious power at force behind the scenes, and some other similarities I won’t get into. I also noticed a humorous callback to The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
You would think given my history with Makoto Shinkai’s work, that I would have had high expectations for Weathering With You. On the contrary, I dreaded seeing it. I feared that there was no way he could outdo himself, and based on the trailers I was also worried that Weathering With You might be too similar to Your Name. Especially with his higher profile now, I was concerned Shinkai might drop the ball with this one – and while I’ll always be a fan, I still don’t want to see him criticized by others or looked at as a one-trick pony when I know he isn’t. I was afraid that I might even have to become that harsh critic and be the bearer of bad news that Shinkai had misstepped.
Thankfully, however, I won’t need to do that. Within seconds (5 centimeters per second, to be exact… get it?… I’m sorry), like the rain prominent throughout the film, Weathering With You washed away all of my concerns. As my wife and I sat in the theater with our daughter, we laughed and cried. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. The film, clocking in at 111 minutes, is the perfect length. Shinkai paces it perfectly with the right amount of exposition for a very strong story that is supported by a lot of heart-wrenching moments, and even some disarming moments of comedy. And yet it all feels so natural. None of it is forced. None of it comes across as melodramatic.
The story has a lot of fantasy elements that are perfectly woven into the rather realistic coming-of-age narrative for its two protagonists, a young runaway boy named Hodoka and an orphan girl named Hina. They’re supported by a large and endearing cast of characters ranging from Hina’s wise little brother, to Hodoka’s untidy yet kindhearted employer Mr. Suga. Yukari Yukino from The Garden of Words even makes an appearance. The interactions between these characters always feel real and true to their natures. The fairytale elements never overshadow the human elements, and are explained more clearly than in Your Name.
I may also be unfairly biased towards loving Weathering With You because so much of its plot overlaps with personal experiences and hobbies of mine. Brushes with wacky conspiracies, late nights singing karaoke with friends, writing articles for a small media outlet – the list goes on. Not too mention the age of the main characters matches up with my own age when I was first introduced to Makoto Shinkai. Everything just felt right with this movie. Shinkai is still able to tap into the human condition like no other filmmaker I know. Even the supporting characters are fully layered human beings with stories of their own that would make for great movies. I feel like some of the ideas here were concepts that got scrapped from Your Name, but Shinkai knew these concepts were too good to leave in the dustbin.
Beyond the story, it should go without saying that the artwork and animation are gorgeous. Shinkai’s films have always been on another level visually; still, I have to say if anything he is improving. Early Days was beautiful, but kind of stiff compared to his more recent works. The character animations in Weathering With You are the most expressive he’s ever had in his films. I’m glad that Shinkai has loosened up the animation style without sacrificing the realism. Actually, the occasional outbursts of over-exaggerated mannerisms and some of the whackier designs like the comical anime hair style worn by one of the police officers add to the realism somehow. It feels more alive that way.
The soundtrack is also strong. Shinkai has always understood the power of music in his films, and Weathering With You is no exception. The music carries you along throughout the journey, pulling you in deeper to the fictionalized Tokyo on display. RADWIMPS provides a musical score that you will want to listen to outside of the movie. Is it as good as Your Name‘s music? Honestly, it’s best not to compare them because while there are similarities, both films are trying to accomplish totally different things. For what it was trying to accomplish, the soundtrack of Weathering With You is as good as that of Your Name‘s. But Weathering With You doesn’t rely on music as much as Your Name did, so don’t expect to have as many tracks to revisit.
In the end, Weathering With You is a more than worthy addition to the Makoto Shinkai library. It reminds me of not just what good anime should look like, but what good cinema in general should look like. Just make sure you eat a nice meal before you watch it. As is tradition, the food in Shinkai’s films looks more delicious than real food and it will make you hungry. That’s the only thing even remotely bad about it.