Depending on how the next decade of life on Earth goes, people may one day look back on writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s offbeat animated fantasy-romance Weathering With You as one of the most prescient movies of its era. If we’re lucky, it’ll be seen as merely quaint. Or if we’re extremely unlucky, this sweet, imaginative film might be criticized for downplaying whatever humanity-eradicating disasters may lay ahead.
Shinkai is best-known for his 2016 feature Your Name, a similarly visionary metaphysical love story, about two very different teenagers—one from the country and one from the city—who learn a lot about their respective worlds when they mysteriously swap bodies. Weathering With You is also about a couple of mismatched adolescents—a small-town runaway named Hodaka Morishima and a mystically powered orphan from Tokyo named Hina Amano—who form a bond in the not-too-distant future, when Japan is swallowed up by rising sea waters and near-constant rain. Shinkai seems more concerned with Weathering With You’s supernatural elements and its love story than he is with delivering any kind of warning to his audience about climate change. If anything, the movie seems to accept a permanently flooded Tokyo as an inevitability.
As with Your Name, the main characters are remarkably well-drawn. Hodaka (voiced by Kotaro Daigo or Brandon Engman in the respective Japanese- and English-language cuts being released in the States) is a poor kid who burns through his money during his first few days in Tokyo, but is rescued by a couple of unlikely guardian angels: Hina (Nana Mori or Ashley Boettcher), a fast-food cashier who slips him hamburgers on the sly; and Keisuke Suga (Shun Oguri or Lee Pace), a muckraking journalist who hires Hodaka to chase sensational stories alongside his vivacious assistant, Natsumi. It’s on one of those assignments that Hodaka crosses paths again with Hina, who’s rumored to be a “sunshine girl,” capable of manipulating the gloomy weather over the city and offering neighborhoods a few hours of warmth and light.
Hina, meanwhile, has been living on her own with her younger brother ever since their mother died. The smitten Hodaka helps his new friend make a good, off-the-books living from her ability to bring temporary blue skies. But the more she uses the power, the more disconnected she becomes from the physical world, and the more chaotic the weather subsequently becomes. Making matters worse, the authorities are closing in on both these kids, trying to force them back onto the grid. Weathering With You is at its best early on, when it’s the dreamy tale of two unsupervised teens, bopping around the big city, spreading joy and dodging the law, barely worrying about tomorrow. Shinkai and his animators have a way of turning even the most mundane details of architecture and commercial design into a staging ground for moments that are wondrous, exciting, and at times thrillingly beautiful.
Down the stretch, the movie becomes more of a blockbuster action picture, with car chases, gunplay, and magic. And throughout, it’s hard to pin down exactly what Shinkai means to say about the world to come. The way the story plays out—in its epilogue in particular—seems to suggest it’d be better for all of us if we just adjusted to the challenges of a warming, water-logged planet, rather than to try to fix it. Still, once again Shinkai presents a relationship that’s easy to root for, because it’s so easy to identify with what these youngsters want. In the opening scenes, Hodaka struggles just to find a warm, dry place where he can sit for an hour and eat a steaming bowl of noodles. Later, while they’re on the run, Hodaka and Hina use some of their black market money to take refuge in a luxury hotel, where they gorge on snacks. These two have pretty attainable goals: security, companionship, junk food.
This is what ultimately makes the movie’s climate-change backdrop more poignant than perplexing. By the end of Weathering With You, this has become a story about two people with their whole lives ahead of them, navigating their way through a future where they pine for things we all take for granted. Like, say, the simple pleasure of a sunny day.