With a beauty that is patronising and an intensity that’s vacuous and frankly rather annoying, this is a film so cute you want to punch it.
Hodaka is a high-school kid who jumps class and heads off to Tokyo with no money. He makes friends with an older man who gives him a job as a journalist. Then he meets Hina, a girl a couple of years older than him, who has the supernatural ability to change the weather.
Hina and Hodaka see local commercial opportunities in Hina’s superpower, which comes in handy as Japan is facing extreme weather events.
Are these extreme weather events due to climate change or part of a mythical Japanese folk legend being played out over the centuries? Climate change deniers will like the film’s answer to this question.
And, given that Hina and Hodaka are both teens on the run, how long can it be before the police catch up with them?
Shinkai’s early features The Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimetres Per Second have an affecting touch of the ineffable, even the sublime, about them.
Weathering …, like the film that brought Shinkai to a wider Western audience, Your Name, replaces that signature feeling with a focus on story and explanation. With Your Name the story was so complicated that my attention wandered. That’s not the case here, but the experience was no more pleasurable.
The visuals are beautiful and crystal clear, especially the sodden Tokyo streets. But the characters don’t come to life, they are stereotypes: the very intense teenagers, the suitably world weary older adults. And the Sunshine Girl, who can bring the sun out by force of will … well, that’s cliché of the lowest order.
The Sunshine Girl is a concept that might just work, but it doesn’t here. Any character development is going to struggle against the triteness of the original idea. Anyway, I’m not convinced that narrative or character complexity is often successful in Japanese animation.
The power of Japanese animation comes from the disjunction between beautifully rendered backgrounds and the minimal features of the characters. You project your sympathy onto the almost blank faces of successful characters like Princess Mononoke and Setsuko.
Or else, and this was Shinkai’s move in his early films, audience sympathy projects onto the gap or difference itself between the characters and the background. This made key scenes in those movies a proper sublime experience.
Most anime – in fact most narrative cinema – does what Weathering … and Your Name do. It fills in the gap between background and character, as well as the function of the anime face itself, with dialogue.
Dialogue suggests the emotions that an audience then looks for in the anime face. But owing to the relative blankness of the anime face, it’s a losing battle to read those complex emotions there, unless you already feel them.
The question becomes: who is the most appropriate target audience for Weathering with You?
I imagine the film will be both too nostalgic and too “intensity-by-numbers” for teenagers. I know it is too cutesy for at least some of the older audience that tends to like Studio Ghibli films.
Given the importance of the older, male “donor” character in among the hormonal teenagers, is it preposterous to suggest that the ideal audience might be a group of ephebophiles?
Weathering with You is out on DVD, Blu-ray and a Collector’s Edition Steelbook on 28 September 2020.