***This article originally appeared in the January ‘20 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 296)***
Weathering with You, which debuted earlier this year in Japan, is Makoto Shinkai’s first feature since he dazzled audiences on both sides of the Pacific with Your Name. in 2016. An intriguing, complex film, Your Name. combined elements of a body-switching teen romcom with a profound meditation on the trauma the Japanese people are still suffering from what they call the Great East Japan Catastrophe and Westerners refer to as Fukushima.
Shinkai had already won a devoted international following for his earlier features, The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) and The Garden of Words (2013). But none of them approached the runaway success of Your Name., which became the number one box office hit in Japan that year ($361 million) and the sixth-highest grossing film of all time there. It was the first animated film not directed by Hayao Miyazaki to gross more than ¥10 billion ($92 million).
Weathering with You was produced by Genki Kawamura (Mirai, Parasyte, The Boy and the Beast) at Tokyo-based CoMix Wave Films with the 2D animation created with Toon Boom tools. The movie is another critical and financial success, earning over ¥12.72 billion ($117 million), making it the 18th highest grossing film in Japanese history and the top grosser of 2019. It received a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and was chosen as the Japanese submission for the International Feature Oscar — the country’s first animated candidate since Princess Mononoke in 1998. It also won the top prize at Hollywood’s Animation Is Film festival in October.
As the film opens, teenager Hodaka Morishima comes to a rain-sodden Tokyo: he has run away from his island hometown, hoping to find more interesting life. Unlike the sensible, artistic Taki in Your Name., Hodaka is impetuous and impractical: He has very little money and doesn’t carry the student ID card that would enable him to get a part-time job. While living on the streets of Shinjuku, Hodaka meets Hina Amano, an appealing girl who treats him with kindness. He discovers she’s an orphan, struggling to care for herself and her younger brother, Nagisa.
But Hina also possesses a power out of legend: She can call to the sun to part the clouds and shine on people – -for a brief time. Hodaka hatches a scheme to exploit her talent, which brings them happiness and more money than they’ve ever seen in the hardscrabble world of the post-Bubble Japanese economy.
A Boy, a Girl and a Water Disaster
“I don’t really think of this as a boy-meets-girl story,” Shinkai commented during a recent interview at Animation Is Film. “A boy does meet a girl, but I didn’t write it as a love story. It’s more about an adolescent boy finding someone who is really important to him, then what he goes through with her.”
Shinkai explained that the inspiration for the film came from the meteorological and geological threats the Japanese people face: “Every summer, there’s a water disaster of some sort. But in recent years, there have been more disasters, more earthquakes, more water disasters — and in October, Typhoon Hagibis struck. Living in Japan, I’ve seen a lot of disasters, so the film probably reflects that fact.”
In Hodaka’s Tokyo, it rains constantly, flooding sections of the low-lying city. Commentators have interpreted the unceasing rains as a metaphor for climate change. Like other young people around the world, Hodaka and Hina feel trapped in the rapidly warming, increasingly inhospitable planet previous generations have left them.
“In Garden of Words, I used rain as a visual challenge,” Shinkai said. “Having done that, in Weathering with You, I wanted to use the rain more emotionally. It’s always raining, just as there’s always this peer pressure members of the young generation experience: People have to be a certain way. All these emotions keep accumulating, just like the rain accumulates. I wanted to express that with the rain.”
“Also, Tokyo is a city full of black asphalt, and when it rains, it gets really black,” he added. “I imagined an image of a girl wearing a white sweatshirt standing on the black asphalt and the light just spreading around her.”
Knowledgeable viewers have noted that if anyone needed to reconstruct early 21st century Tokyo, they could use Weathering with You as a template. Shinkai’s depiction of the city is meticulously and accurately detailed. The metropolis almost becomes another character in the story.
“I wanted to make Weathering with You really relatable for Japanese audiences,” Shinkai said emphatically. “This is the city that we live in, this is the city we see on the screen. So there’s a McDonald’s in Shinjuku — just as there is in real life — and we use real corporate logos in the film, unlike most animated features.”
The director felt is was so important to have Hodaka and Hina meet in a real McDonald’s, rather than one of the obvious spoofs in other anime, he met with McDonald’s executives in Japan and eventually persuaded them to grant permission to use the famous Golden Arches.
The rock band Radwimps wrote and performed the music for Your Name., drawing praise from critics and fans. Shinkai wanted to work with them again for his new film.
“For Your Name., Radwimps did a wonderful composition, but in Weathering with You, they actually changed the story,” he recalled. “I wrote the script, but when I sent it to Radwimps, lead vocalist/songwriter Yojiro Noda wrote the lyrics to accompany the film. His lyrics made me better understand the characters of Hodaka and Hina better, so I changed certain scenes and some of the dialogue. Radwimps aren’t just composers now: They really got involved in the storytelling.”
As Your Name. broke so many records, following up its success could be daunting. But Shinkai approached his new film with his accustomed modesty: “Your Name. was a hit, but Weathering with You was only my first film after it. When I was making Weathering, I thought about how to make the film more enjoyable to a larger audience, because the audience for Your Name. was so much bigger than for any of my previous films. I wanted to make something that would really deserve the attention of so many people.”
GKIDS will release Weathering with You in theaters on January 17, 2020.