You who is reading this: do you remember the world you live in? Do you remember the blue sky and how easy it is to fall in love when you’re 16 in the sunshine? Weathering With You, the latest animated drama from Japanese director Makoto Shinkai, is a wondrous celebration of human life in the face of incontrovertible catastrophe. The film tells the story of two teenagers— Hodaka, a runaway who’s left his rural home behind for Tokyo, and Hina, an orphaned “sunshine girl” with the ability to briefly make the weather beautiful and sunny— as they grow closer and eke out a living by offering Hina’s services as a sunshine girl to the people of Tokyo.
This utterly charming story of teenage love and ambition sits on top of several semi-submerged narrative arcs. Hodaka is evading police capture for discharging an illicit firearm and running away. Hina’s magical abilities come at a cost to her well-being that will (we are told) inevitably lead to her death/sacrifice. And, greatest of all, there is the specter of generalized climate disaster, the auspice under which this whole film takes place. The film contextualizes human-made climate change within the broader history of climactic shifts while also recognizing the particular destruction posed by this era of climate upheaval. While the film occasionally strains under the character and narrative specifics of its themes, it expresses a full-throated denial of the idea that the appropriate response to climate change is social nihilism and indifference to the world. It does so through richly layered narrative vignettes, poetic narration, a fun soundtrack, and gorgeous animation that swings from the richly detailed mundane world to the expressive and fantastic— I’ve never seen weather animated so magically.
I urge everyone to see this movie, but especially those with a minimal acquaintance with contemporary Japanese animated cinema outside of a few Hayao Miyazaki movies. While the American animated cinema is the most successfully profit-oriented animated film industry in the world, its mostly unchallenging, Family Friendly products seems positively anemic compared to the aesthetic, narrative, and thematic boldness that has characterized so much of Japan’s animated cinema. Weathering With You is another towering success for Makoto Shinkai and for Japan’s animation industry.
There are certain films that come into the world and reacquaint us with the eternally renewed freshness of life. Weathering With You reminds me of why I love the sky, why it’s good to have friends that are older than myself, why it’s fun to stay in a hotel room, why, even a decade out of the pattern of school holidays, I am still intoxicated by summer’s arrival. Weathering With You is a tremendous accomplishment of filmmaking that should be seen by anyone who cares at all about film, but especially anyone who loves animation and its unique capacity for telling stories, producing images, and evoking emotion.