Although Makoto Shinkai has been a prolific manga artist, animator and filmmaker for over two decades now, his first real breakthrough came with the gargantuan success of Your Name. The 2016 romance-fantasy anime was a metaphysical mind-bender and an emotional whirlwind – following the tribulations of a pair of star-crossed teenage lovers, separated by time and space. Not only was it a critical darling, it was also a massive commercial hit, becoming the highest grossing Japanese film of all-time during its initial release.
Now three years later, Shinkai has parlayed that enormous goodwill into his latest feature, Weathering With You, which is already outpacing Your Name in the domestic box office. Set in Tokyo during a seemingly endless rainy season, this film first introduces us to young runaway Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo). Upon arriving in the drenched capital city via ferry, Hodaka finds life on the streets rough going. During a time of need, he encounters Hina (Nana Mori), a sweet teen orphan who offers the homeless and hungry boy a free burger.
Eventually, Hodaka accepts a low-paying job as an office assistant at a small-time occult magazine run by the raffish Suga (Shun Oguri). On one of his assignments, he’s sent to help colleague Natsumi (Tsubasa Honda) investigate the far-fetched urban legend of “sunshine girls” – supernaturally gifted women who can conjure clear skies by praying for it. To his amazement, he discovers that Hina is a genuine “sunshine girl”. Together they set up an online business, monetising her special power by responding to good weather requests.
In a town of torrential downpour, sunshine is hard to come by, which is why their enterprise takes off immediately, attracting clients ranging from outdoor parties to flea markets. As they continue to brighten events with sunny weather, their burgeoning friendship blossoms into adolescent romance. But as the young lovers will soon discover, their freedom and Hina’s continued use of her gift comes at a steep price. It’s a heartbreakingly tragic cost that forces them to choose between personal fulfillment and the greater good.
Much like Your Name, Weathering With You draws us into a compelling love story, backdropped by traditional Shinto elements with fantasy characteristics – before tearing our hearts asunder. Hodaka and Hina’s relationship is easy to root for, while the film’s themes of environmental concern explores why humans might be unwilling to sacrifice to stem ecological disaster. The tug between rain and sun, selfishness and selflessness, is dazzlingly animated with Shinkai’s gorgeous blend of photorealistic cityscapes and magical sequences.
Perhaps its bravely dystopian climax and vague messaging might prove divisive – but this film’s stormy love story, unexpected humour, and stunning imagery (alongside yet another killer RADWIMPS soundtrack) will almost certainly sweep you off your feet. Visually and emotionally, Weathering With You is a triumph, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heady complexity and transcendent heights of Your Name. That being said, Shinkai’s latest absolutely deserves to be Japan’s first anime submission for the Best International Film Oscar in over 20 years.
Weathering With You opens wide in Singapore cinemas on 12 September. Sneak previews are available from 7 – 11 September.