Perfect Storm

Monica Uszerowicz on Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You (2019)

Makoto Shinkai, Weathering with You, 2019, DCP, color, sound, 112 minutes. Hodaka and Hina.

FOR HOW MANY EONS have humans looked to the firmaments—for dreaming, for communion with the departed—while they were really looking within? A third of the way through Weathering with You (2019), a film of remarkable beauty by anime auteur Makoto Shinkai, we’re gliding through Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival, as each CGI explosion sprinkles twinkling lights like pixie dust over a lambent, lifelike Tokyo. The film’s two teenaged leads, runaway Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo) and orphan Hina (Nana Mori), are in love. “The way the sky looks can move you so much,” Hodaka says.

The night is so clear because Hina is a Sunshine Girl, capable of praying away clouds. If the weather becomes chaotic, a fortune-teller reveals early on, more Sunshine Girls are born, who maintain a lifelong spiritual connection to the sky. Their meddling brings balance, until it, too, must be corrected—Sunshine Girls and Rain Girls, or weather maidens, belong ultimately to the heavens. Weathering’s Japanese title, Tenki no Ko, translates to “child of weather,” and Shinkai has repeatedly told interviewers that the story, though not intentionally didactic, was inspired by climate change. Above all, it’s a romance, guided by the besotted Hodaka. “I want you more than any blue sky,” he declares to Hina, who, alas, exists mostly through his gaze. “The weather can stay crazy.”

Shinkai traffics in such stories of youthful love either across, in spite of, or sweetly subjugating time and space. Here, devotion is permitted to travel the inconceivable distance between heaven and earth, while science fiction and quotidian incident are in visual unison. His characters’ interdimensional dreams, talismans—such as the Japanese teru teru bōzu dolls that are said to invoke sunny days—and microwavable snacks are all limned with sublime details almost true enough to touch. This twinning of obsessive realism with real magic is Shinkai’s specialty, and it has secured the critical and commercial success of his films. Your Name, released in 2016, is the highest-grossing anime movie ever; as of last week, Weathering, which received an Oscar nod for best international feature, is the sixth highest, and the fourteenth highest-grossing non-English film ever. Weathering’s landscape is based on the psychogeographies of its director, who still draws his own storyboards; a crew mapped the city by helicopter, and a four-story McDonald’s, located in the Kabukichō district, features prominently. When Hina prays for sun until it finally sets the skyline aglow, the verisimilitude holds.

Makoto Shinkai, Weathering with You, 2019, DCP, color, sound, 112 minutes. Hina.

But this is also Shinkai’s darkest iteration of Tokyo. At the beginning of the film, the capital is besieged by a constant, record-breaking downpour, and is sunlit only in patches—and only by Hina’s magic. Hodaka is introduced with a bandaged face, a clue pointing to either his difficult home life or his impulsivity (we never find out). He nearly dies on a ferry to the deluged city. “Tokyo is scary,” he repeats, temporarily homeless. Temperatures drop; food prices increase; the metropolis begins to sink. It rains so hard, Hodaka names his new cat Rain. Hina, though underage, nearly takes a job at a sex club. The clouds, alternatingly confectionary and tenebrous, seem to be characters themselves, mimicking the ebb and flow of Hodaka’s emotions.

When Hodaka takes a job at an occult magazine whose editor proves a gruff father figure, he meets Hina. The clouds break. The Sunshine Girl and her younger brother live cozily by themselves, scraping by on the margins. With Hodaka’s encouragement, she parlays her supernatural skill into a business, parting the heavens for weddings, flea markets, and meteor showers, leaving in her wake arcane, levitating pools of watery light—and more rain. The increasingly mercurial climes are, we learn, the unwitting consequence of her sorcery. Ensuing low-pressure systems, typhoons, and summer snowfalls shock the city into stillness, its trains stalled and businesses closed. Climate change is this tale’s pretext, but its effects are yoked solely to Hina’s meteorological interventions. If Hina’s power must flood Tokyo, so be it; the two are game to sacrifice the city for their own love. The Anthropocene, in Shinkai’s script, is merely—or, refreshingly—a backdrop for adolescent desire, one infused with selfish compassion. “Who cares if we don’t see the sunshine again?” asks Hodaka. It’s not really a question. Still, when Hina is spirited away to a storied world between heaven and earth—as is the fate of weather maidens—it’s done so in a manner so gorgeous, so startlingly earnest, that my companions and I were moved to tears.

Her departure restores normalcy to the skies, however fleeting: Hodaka won’t allow her to stay away for long. When he finds her again, she’s underneath the rain, hands clasped. Only they know the reason the storm continues ceaselessly. Where once Hina and Hodaka prayed for the sun, the two now pray for themselves, for each other.

Weathering with You opened in the US on January 17, 2020, and was released in Japan on July 19, 2019, as Tenki no Ko.