In 2016, Your Name brought smiles and tears to audiences around the world with its story about a teenage couple separated by space and time. The film’s acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai is back with his long-awaited feature Weathering With You, another anime movie that bounces between romance, sci-fi, and fantasy.
As Weathering With You’s name suggests, weather plays a big role in the story—the film is set in a near-future Tokyo experiencing an unprecedented summer rainstorm.
We’re quickly introduced to our main characters: teen-aged Hina, orphaned with her kid brother after her mom died, is a so-called “sunshine girl”—a legendary girl who can cast away the rain simply by praying. We also meet Hokada, a runaway from a remote island who tries to survive on Tokyo’s streets.
Hokada’s first couple of days on the streets are rough. Because he is underage, he can’t even find a job in Tokyo’s notorious water trade, let alone more legitimate work. He ends up calling Mr. Suga, a man he met on the ferry ride to the city. Mr. Suga runs a somewhat questionable ghostwriting firm covering stories ranging from psychics to astrology. Hokada starts working as a grossly underpaid “intern” for Mr. Suga—and he ends up covering a story about so-called “sunshine girls.”
After a chance encounter at a McDonald’s where Hina takes pity on the starving Hokada, Hokada saves Hina from a rather unsavory hostess club owner. The two quickly become friends, and Hokada discovers that Hina is a real “sunshine girl.” The pair starts falling for each other as they take on the world together—two teenagers struggling to survive in an adult realm.
Climate Change Over Love Stories
It’s easy to try drawing comparisons between Weathering With You and Your Name, considering that both films involve teenage lovers. Some other publications have gone as far as calling Weathering With You a “follow up” to Your Name.
Sure, both films share the same blend of traditional Shinto elements with sci-fi characteristics, and Shinkai’s characteristic dream-like animation style—but the two couldn’t be more different beyond that. While Your Name was a romance movie set in the backdrop of a natural disaster, the romance in Weathering With You is actually an allegory for how humans perceive and grapple with climate change.
A central plot element in Weathering With You is the rainstorm in Tokyo—and how weather affects, and can be affected by humans. In Weathering With You, rainstorms threatens to flood Tokyo, disrupting its infrastructure and endangering its residents, much like how climate change will threaten the very existence of Tokyo over the next few decades.
Various Tokyo residents seek Hina’s help to pray for sunshine at key events in their lives—be it farmers markets or weddings—because sunshine improves people’s moods. While this mood effect is rooted in scientific fact, the aversion that Tokyo residents have towards rain may well be a reference to the pain and suffering that come from climate change’s aggressive weather impacts.
Hina’s ability to affect the weather also parallels to how humanity has an opportunity to avert the worst-case outcomes of climate change. Throughout the film, Shinkai makes it obvious that Hina has the ability to prevent an ecological disaster for Tokyo by casting away the rain storm.
Unfortunately, Hina struggles with her powers much in the same way that contemporary society struggles with addressing climate change. While Hina has the ability to solve the environmental catastrophone facing Tokyo, she has to sacrifice significant parts of her relationship with Hokada in order to save the city—a sacrifice that Hokada is unwilling to allow Hina to undertake. Without giving too much away, the tension between doing what’s best for society, versus doing what’s best for the couple more selfishlessly, is a major point of tension throughout the plot of the film. Most movie-goers will see this tension as part of a broader romantic drama, but we see it as part of an allegory for how society must choose between short-term selfishness and long-term selflessness in order to address climate change.
Dreams or Nightmares?
Allegories aside, Shinkai’s ability to create dream-like worlds is even more evident than before in Weathering With You. Mysterious fish-shaped beings appear throughout the movie, and there are spectacular scenes of Hokada and Hina flying through the sky while they fight dragons made of clouds.
Part of what anime allows versus CGI-heavy live action movies is an elevated suspension of disbelief—the fact that anime is not expected to be based on “real life” lets storytellers explore worlds a bit more removed from reality. Throughout Weathering With You, I never questioned whether any character or scene was realistic, whether it was an anthropomorphic kitten that Hokada picked up, or more surreal scenes where storms become Shinto spirits rather than natural weather systems.
Shinkai previously inspired viewers using worlds filled with bright colors and loosely optimistic scenes—however, in Weathering With You, we see dreams filled with grey from rain and clouds. While in Your Name the scenes of metropolitan Tokyo were vibrant and full of light, Weathering With You features the grimier and seedier underbelly of the city.
On the surface, Weathering With You is a touching love story, and certainly many people who watch the film will find themselves emotionally moved. However, to simply regard this as a Shinkai romance anime cheapens the significance of the film. Weathering With You is a dire warning to humanity on the future of our world if we don’t take drastic actions to reduce our impact on the environment. Enjoy the love story while you watch, but take some time afterwards to think about how inaction on climate change might doom us all.
“Weathering With You” is in theatres across Japan and Hong Kong, and will be released across Asia later this year. The movie is coming to the US and Canada in early 2020.
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Weathering With You (Japanese: 天気の子) —Japan. Dialog in Japanese. Directed by Makato Shinkai. First released July 19, 2019. Running time 1hr 54min. Voices by Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori.