Weather can have a profound impact on our mood and our very way of life. A sunny day can make even a difficult situation easier to bear, while gloomy clouds can ruin an otherwise perfect morning.
So what if it’d been weeks since you’d last seen the sun? What if it only rained, day after day, with no sign of letting up… until you met someone who could make the sun peek out again, even for a few precious minutes?
Today we’re reviewing Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Weathering with You.
This review will contain spoilers for
Weathering with You
Year Released: 2019
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Running Time: 112 min.
Weathering with You follows the story of a runaway, Hodaka, who’s so desperate to escape his suffocating home situation that he’d rather live homeless on Tokyo’s streets, struggling to find a job and make a living in the glistening metropolis. Through a few kind acts from some future acquaintances and allies, Hodaka eventually creates a new life working for a tabloid clickbait-style magazine all about local rumors. The job certainly isn’t glamorous, but the owner offers him room and board and companionship, which is all Hodaka ever really wanted. But even this quaint new normal gets shaken up when Hodaka investigates rumors of a “100% Sunshine Girl”: a young woman who can make the unrelenting rain plaguing Tokyo dissipate with a prayer. As it turns out, this is no quack rumor but a genuine supernatural occurrence, and Hodaka and the “Sunshine Girl” Hina—both in desperate need of money—decide to start up a business bringing sunshine to people. However, it isn’t long before they learn that nothing in life comes without a cost.
Weathering with You and Breaking the Rules
The film’s intriguing premise combined with Radwimps’s incredible soundtrack immediately piqued my interest. But Makoto Shinkai has been known to make controversial storytelling decisions. Weathering with You is no exception, as it breaks several key Western storytelling “rules.” But does this lack of slavish adherence to Western narrative conventions help or hinder Weathering with You?
Let’s find out.
Breaking the Rules: Theme Troubles
Many Western storytellers say a theme adds meaning and value to a story. But themes are a bit tricky to find in Weathering with You—not due to a lack of them, but because the film can’t seem to take a stand on any of the ones it presents.
Theme: Personal Responsibility…?
While there are moments where characters encourage Hodaka to act responsibly by doing what society expects him to do (that is, returning home to his parents), the movie never states what’s the “correct” choice.
When Hodaka’s employer Suga—the man who owns the tabloid magazine—tells Hodaka to go home, Suga is painted as a villain, whereas when he later relents, he’s portrayed as a hero and ally. This seems to suggest that it was a good idea for Hodaka to leave home and forge his own path, even if it appeared irresponsible to others. But later Hodaka does end up returning home, and to some degree reconciles with his parents—at least enough to finish high school so he can return to Tokyo without anything holding him back. So was Hodaka leaving home for Tokyo a good thing or a bad thing? A necessary adventure in life or an irresponsible mistake? The movie doesn’t care to comment.
Personal responsibility is important to the narrative; it’s one of “Sunshine Girl” Hina’s best qualities. She works tirelessly to care for her younger brother, Nagi, working as their sole provider after their parents’ deaths. Hina not only sacrifices her own time and wellbeing for Nagi; she’s even willing to sacrifice her very life so the constant rain over Tokyo—which is beginning to flood the city—will finally stop.
It does seem like Hina suffers from one area of irresponsibility, however: monetizing her supernatural/spiritual abilities to ward off the rain. This initially appears to be an abuse of her powers. After all, each time she prays, the rain may clear up in one area of the city, but another receives an unnatural deluge of excess water—presumably displaced from Hina’s prayers. This causes property damage and even nearly kills Hodaka on his initial trip to Tokyo!
However, Hina and Hodaka are only making enough money on the Sunshine Girl business to make a living. The film never once suggests they’re in the wrong for attempting to monetize Hina’s gift. In fact, Hodaka and Hina willingly end the Sunshine Girl business when she becomes too popular, turning down what would have likely been millions of dollars. Clearly they weren’t doing this out of greed.
So while the film makes it clear personal responsibility is an important trait, it never tells the viewer what does and does not qualify as responsible living. This leaves its stance on the theme of personal responsibility somewhat unclear.
Theme: Man vs. Nature…?
Another unclear theme present in the film is the conflict of Man vs. Nature. Upon initial examination, the film seems to imply that nature—even unusual weather—creates a normal or natural state: that even when terrible storm patterns crop up, it’s simply nature doing its thing. Nature is neither good nor evil; it’s a neutral force. It swings out of balance not out of supernatural vengeance for how humanity treats it, but simply because its ebb and flow—like an ocean current—is just the natural order. Tokyo may be flooded, inconveniencing the populace, but this is simply nature returning to its original state. Therefore, people adjust to this new normal accordingly: they move to higher ground and create bullet train-like ferries to taxi people around. Humanity and nature continue to peacefully coexist despite the torrential never-ending rain.
But herein lies the problem: while all of that seems to indicate the rain isn’t actually a bad thing, this is overtly debunked by Hodaka and Hina. Both of them comment how the weather affects people; indeed, if the film has one consistent theme, it’s the profound affect the weather has on humans. The rain aggravates a little girl’s asthma to the point where she can’t play outside except when it’s sunny. An elderly woman wishes for sun so she can light a fire so the soul of her deceased husband can find its way back to her house. Sunny days make people feel happier and more satisfied; rainy days bring a slough of other emotions. The rain may not be inherently bad, but it has far more negative consequences than positive ones… which means the rain isn’t necessarily quite so neutral as the rest of the film seems to suggest.
So is nature good or evil? Is the rain a neutral force people just need to live with, or is it something that negatively impacts people that needs to come to an end? The film simply isn’t clear.
Theme: True Love Conquers All…?
But there’s still another inconsistent theme present in the film. This being a romantic film, we expect it to explore the “True Love Conquers All” theme. However, even this isn’t presented clearly! While Hodaka and Hina both find themselves happier than ever when they’re together—and they do get together in the end—the actual state of Tokyo is still no better off than it was at the start of the movie before these two found one another. This is especially problematic for a “True Love Conquers All” theme because Hina is directly linked to the rain.
Not only does Hina have the ability to clear up the rain in part of the city (effectively shifting it to another area); there’s a strong implication it is Hina’s prevailing sense of sorrow that perpetuates the rain. While Hina watched her mother suffer on her deathbed during a period of several days of rain, Hina prayed with all her heart for the rain to let up. When Hina left the hospital to take a walk and stumbled across an abandoned shrine on a rooftop, she made the same prayer, desperate for some relief and sense of hope for her mother and herself. As soon as Hina’s foot passed the threshold of the wooden torii gate that marked the shrine, her life as the Sunshine Girl began, connecting her to the rain as nature’s selected “Weather Maiden.” According to an elderly Shinto priest, the Weather Maiden serves as liaison between the world of the sky and the world of man, and that in order to ensure good weather, she would have to be sacrificed to the sky. Not only does this prove Hina’s connection to the weather, there’s even an implication her emotional state directly affects it. The endless rain continues as Hina mourns the loss of her mother and struggles to make ends meet for her and her brother. Later, when Hina, her brother, and Hodaka are at their most desperate and most vulnerable state, the weather reflects her fear and lonely helplessness by severely dropping in temperature—turning the endless rain into snow.
So if the rain is caused by Hina’s sorrow, then her state of mind does not improve when she’s reunited with Hodaka when he returns to Tokyo. At the end of the film, our protagonists are happily together, but… the rain still doesn’t stop. Obviously, true love has not conquered all, because it has not cleared up the rain, nor has Hina’s state of mind been mended through her relationship with Hodaka, because the rain (a symptom of her sorrow) still has not relented.
While I never want a film to feel preachy, Weathering with You had constantly contradicting themes that left me feeling a bit confused and unsatisfied, a sensation that was only exacerbated by its additional writing “rule breaking.”
Breaking the Rules: Unresolved Plot Threads
Western storytelling advocates resolving all plot threads. Though this may not be accurate to real life, it creates a more satisfying story for the audience. Unfortunately, Weathering with You contains many unresolved plot threads and some characters that feel completely extraneous.
For instance, Hodaka works on the magazine alongside Natsumi, Suga’s niece. While Natsumi plays a minor part in helping knit the core characters together (and helps Hodaka rescue Hina in a pretty cool scooter chase scene), she feels extraneous to the overall plot, especially since she has a character arc that’s never resolved. Natsumi wants to escape her dead-end job working for Suga and is trying to make it in the real world. She applies to job after job, but she never seems to land one no matter how hard she tries. By the end of the film, we don’t get to see what happened to Natsumi; she simply vanishes over the course of a three-year time-skip. Did she finally get a “real job” like she wanted? Did she realize she didn’t want one of the boring desk jobs she’d been applying for and had instead decided to follow her free spirit into something more exciting? I couldn’t tell you. The film never shows her again.
And while perhaps not egregious as Natsumi, there are two other plot threads that are never resolved. During the film, we learn Suga has a strained relationship with his mother due to some of his life choices. Suga’s young daughter is in his mother’s care, though he rarely gets to see her. While Suga seems to take some steps to patch things up with his mother, we never learn if he succeeded. This seems like a particularly strange choice since Suga was such a key character in the overall plot.
And speaking of key characters, we’re also never shown why Hodaka wanted to leave home. Though this isn’t necessary to understand the plot, it must have been a rather big reason for Hodaka to be willing to endure literal homelessness and danger in Tokyo rather than return home. I as a viewer would have liked to have seen the justification for such a huge life-changing choice… but we never do.
With so many loose ends and confusing themes, this film certainly could have benefited from a revision.
But honestly? I wasn’t focused on that while watching the film. Because despite its flaws, Weathering with You is a beautiful movie.
Breaking the Rules… but Beautiful Anyway
From gorgeous visuals to a soundtrack I have not stopped listening to for months, this movie is steeped in beauty. Part of that beauty lies in the quality of its visuals, soundtrack, and characters; part of it rests in the pervading juxtaposition of otherworldly elements and earthy ones.
Beauty in the Visuals
Shinkai’s films rarely disappoint when it comes to breathtaking visuals, and Weathering with You is no exception. Shinkai juxtaposes supernatural scenes of mystical dragons sailing through cloud-dotted blue skies with the everyday frantic bustle of city life in Tokyo. It feels as if every location is hand-crafted with equal love and intimate familiarity, lending everything a sense of realism and groundedness. This is particularly necessary for a film that contains teenagers plunging head-first from the sky before waking up perfectly fine lying on a concrete rooftop. In a film that explores such abstract concepts as spiritualism, relationships (with nature and each other), and ill-understood topics like the weather, it needs something to keep it grounded; the attractive, detailed visuals do just that.
Beauty in the Music
This soundtrack is not only a delight to listen to; it also perfectly sets and matches the tone of each scene, elevating the audience’s emotional experience and resonance with the film. Radwimps created a soundtrack that bounces from peppy pop tunes during upbeat montages to ethereal melodies that perfectly encapsulate the sensations of hurt, loneliness, confusion, wonder, and strangeness that this film encompasses. Soaring songs perfectly match the sailing emotions that accompany the film’s climax. Every track works to perfectly set the stage for its scene, further drawing the viewer into this gorgeous sensory experience.
Beauty in the Characters
While the writing may have its flaws, the characters are so charming you may not even notice during your viewing of the film. The supporting cast are all fun, entertaining, genuinely funny and endearing characters. Still, it’s Hodaka and Hina that truly shine and who make this film work in spite of all its broken rules.
Hodaka is a down-to-earth, good-hearted kid you immediately want to succeed, even if you don’t know why he wants to escape his hometown. His pervasive loneliness (and possible situational depression) is so exquisitely and clearly displayed through the detailed visuals and the haunting soundtrack that you immediately connect with him. When we’re introduced to Hina, who is even more sweet and endearing and spunky and tender, well… Let’s just say all I wanted to do was wrap these two kids in my arms and make sure everything turned out okay for them.
It’s not just the characters but the entire mood of Weathering with You that is so down-to-earth and relatable. While its themes may be muddy, its portrayal of the human condition and the heart are not. The film might not preach a clear message, but it sure does an incredible job awakening your senses and emotions.
Beauty in Feeling
Despite the story’s meandering subplots and themes that seemed to contradict more than they explained, this film made me feel. I felt Hodaka’s anguished loneliness and pain in a big city—still better than his old life. I felt Hina’s despair as she attempts to sacrifice herself to make a happier world. I felt the sweltering humidity of a rainy summer day. I felt the cool, refreshing raindrops sizzle on hot pavement. I felt the warmth on my face from the first sun that peeks through the clouds in a week. I felt the chill of snow when the temperatures drop 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the span of 24 hours.
I felt young love and the desperation to find work to make sure you don’t get swept away in the current of life. I felt the need to make a difference for someone else. I felt the sweet warmth of the tiniest act of kindness that is the biggest act of all in a moment of desperation. I felt the anguish of three years’ exile from the person you most want to see, an eternity that rushes past you without anything truly happening because you’re at a standstill.
Breaking the Rules: Is It Worth It?
Makoto Shinkai may not excel at telling an efficient story. But he succeeds in evoking specific feelings: to crystallize something about the human experience through the way his films sound, look, and feel. I would argue Weathering with You succeeds at this the most out of almost any of Shinkai’s other works, despite what Western storytellers would consider flaws.
And you know what? While I think Weathering with You could have used a little more work on the narrative, I still found myself enjoying the film because of that intense focus to evoke emotion.
Perhaps this film was never meant to be a clean, efficient story. Perhaps each rambling subplot and seemingly extraneous character were there not to tell a story but to evoke a feeling. Or many feelings.
Maybe as many as there are drops of rain.
Interested in reading my thoughts on more of Shinkai’s work? Check out my article on The Place Promised in Our Early Days here!
All photos taken from Wikipedia.com unless otherwise specified. All images are property of their respective owners and are used under US “Fair Use” laws.
Weathering with You and all related terms are the property of CoMix Wave Films Story Inc. / Toho. And I am not affiliated with them.
Review format adapted from Curtis Bell’s Iridium Eye. If you’re bored of the usual flicks on Netflix, check out Iridium Eye for a medley of movies and shows I guarantee you’ve never heard of.