Makoto Shinkai delivers a stunningly beautiful and dense animated feature with a refreshing and unconventional message
WEATHERING WITH YOU comes at a particularly interesting time for animated features, especially in the United States. Coming with prepackaged, politically correct messages and often too convenient themes such as saving the world, trusting oneself, helping others – all positive and important themes to reinforce but ones which no longer create a true discussion due to their abundance. The reliance on the notion that children are the true target of animated films has somewhat reinforced the need to inject animated fare with positive messages that can teach young viewers something about the world – a noble and mostly well-intentioned process that has made films such as Pixar’s stellar output all the more resonant and warmly welcomed stateside and around the globe.
But it’s quite rare to see a film that does not pander to young audiences or opt for grandstanding statements that prioritize correctness over character development, nor attempt to seem smart, important or timely when what it is really trying to do is to build a world of unique characters and give us a message that makes perfect sense in the context of its dense, layered story that goes against traditional narrative tropes and clichés.
While it may not be a widely shared opinion, particularly among anime fans who consider Shinkai’s previous film, YOUR NAME., his best ever feature, WEATHERING WITH YOU is an even better feature, thanks to an uncompromising vision and a more complex story that is deceptively simplistic but is anything but. In both films, the world building is stellar and the narrative has a unique mix of freshness and cultural resonance. But while YOUR NAME. is an emotional story about love and destiny, WEATHERING has more ideas on its mind than just a love story.
On one level, this is a story about a boy who falls in love with a girl who can change the weather – a ‘sunshine girl’ as Japanese culture – a pitch that may draw parallels to Shinkai’s other works. But on a deeper level, it’s a story that tackles with the consequences of the choices we make, thanks to or despite of, love. Toying with several interesting themes related to individualism, unconditional love and whether one should pursue their happiness or attempt to save the world on the expense of their own, Shinkai asks whether love is selfish – and more importantly – what happens when this so-called selfishness, inspired by love, clashes with harsh realities that could potentially be changed if we sacrifice love. Can we live without love but with perfect weather, or is a sunshine in our hearts far more enduring and lasting in a cold, troubled world that doesn’t need saving? And is choosing a bright spot in a troubled reality actually the better choice or do we seek to alter reality?
Drawing several connections between climate and emotions, Shinkai moves the action to Tokyo where life is expensive and emotionally cold. With impeccable world building and characterization, he introduces us to characters looking for belonging, love and happiness while dealing with loss, selflessness (a refreshing theme in an animated feature) and struggling with hard choices. Many will link the film with climate change and may debate its stance on it, but Shinaki isn’t interested in crafting political statements nor landing his film more heft on the expense of its characters. He chooses to make narrative choices that perfectly fit his characters while keeping the story deceptively simple to appeal to viewers looking for escapism.
As with his previous work, the film is stunningly beautiful with just the right dose of emotion, comedy and music to take us on a journey beyond our world as we know it. And when the final moments bring the film full circle, it truly soars.
Verdict: A denser and more layered film than the already iconic YOUR NAME., Shinkai crafts a genuine, convincing, beautiful and refreshing film that will create conversation and inspire audiences to gain new perspectives.
This review is from the 44th Toronto International Film Festival. Weathering with You will receive a limited release in 2019 from GKIDS.