The Michigan Theater debuted Makoto Shinkai’s “Weathering With You” last Thursday. The director’s name alone made the screening an event.
The Theater’s main auditorium seats over a thousand, and by 8 p.m., when the showing was set to begin, there were hardly any seats left. It was the most packed I’ve seen the theater for anything that wasn’t “The Room.” My co-reviewer and I shoved ourselves up against the balcony railing. There was nervous chatter throughout the theater as anticipation grew, one that was well-warranted. “Weathering” is Shinkai’s follow-up feature to his 2016 record-breaking “Your Name,” which beat “Spirited Away” to become the highest grossing anime film and Japanese film of all time. I’d venture to guess that everyone in the auditorium had seen it.
Since before I started going to school here three years ago, the Michigan Theater’s featured themed months based around famous directors, movements or time periods. They’ve also had quite a few anime nights. Their recent series, titled “Icons in Anime,” will show international anime staples like “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Ghost in the Shell,” “Akira” and the aforementioned “Your Name” spread out through the entire semester.
The theater’s host made a point of mentioning all of this before the start of “Weathering” on Thursday, which, while an understandable move, struck me as being a bit funny. “Your Name" is the highest grossing anime film of all time, and it felt as though, by screening its follow-up “Weathering” to a crowd of 1,400+ anime fans eager for its first Ann Arbor area screening, they were pushing their anime slate in the hopes that the crowd will adopt a new tradition of Michigan-Theater-Anime-Showings on Thursday nights. But it’s not like they were advertising their slate of anime debuts in the upcoming semester. It seems like anyone in the audience who wants to has probably already seen “Spirited Away.”
A hush fell over the crowd when the opening credits began. A short burst of applause broke out at the title. One hundred and eleven minutes later, a hush fell over the crowd when the title came back on to end the movie. A pause. Waiting for something more. Then something of a patronizing rumble of cheers from around the auditorium. With “Weathering,” Shinkai isn’t going to break the record for highest-grossing anime film again.
Unfortunately, “Weathering With You” fails, in almost every measurable (and immeasurable) way, to live up to the astronomically high expectations set by the success of “Your Name.” Its plot structure is less elegant, with a tepid love story, irrational characters and forgettable ending. Its supernatural elements are strangely institutionalized and unimaginative. Its politics on climate change and rising sea levels are subdued but problematic. Its animation is lacking. Its one saving grace is its humor, but even that might not be enough.
It’s hard not to see the film as riding the coattails of the massive success of “Your Name.” Both of the main characters from “Your Name” show up in little cameos at different points in the movie. Moments before I even knew who had just appeared on the screen, sections of the auditorium were bordering on hysterics. We won’t see that type of love for “Weathering”s protagonists if they ever make their way back up onto the silver screen.
— Stephen Satarino, Daily Arts Writer
Regardless of one’s opinion on the quality of “Your Name,” its meteoric rise to the top of the box office and the unstoppable phenomenon it has become, both in Japan and abroad, is undeniable. Teenagers flocked to the multiplexes to see it once and then see it two, three or even four more times. Comparisons to Studio Ghibli maestro Hayao Miyazaki were inescapably abound for director Makoto Shinkai. My friend saw it with his parents, who had no idea what an anime was, and they all loved it. Though I missed the boat to see it in theaters, after watching it on a sleepy winter night with my girlfriend, sharing laughter and tears, I immediately understood the hype.
So, scrolling through my social media feeds one day sometime last year and seeing a trailer for the new movie “from ‘Your Name’ director Makoto Shinkai,” I was sold. I didn’t even need to know what it was about; the trailer’s lovely visuals were the only pitch I needed. On Facebook I responded “Going” to the Michigan Theater’s special one-night only screening of “Weathering.” The months passed and the seasons changed. Suddenly I found myself hurrying down the stairs from the balcony seating to grab some napkins (the Dr. Pepper Stephen bought me exploded upon opening) as to not miss the start of the movie.
Whereas “Your Name” told a fantastical body-swapping tale in the guise of a love story, “Weathering with You” is a love story hiding under its fantasy drapery. It’s more direct in intertwining the lives of its two leads: Hodaka is a high school-aged runaway who’s come to Tokyo to make a new life for himself, and Hina is a teenage girl struggling to provide for herself and her kid brother after their mom’s passing. Tokyo is swamped with unseasonable summer rains when Hodaka arrives, so strange and lasting that its citizens find comfort in myths and legends to explain this freak weather.
The film quickly brings those legends to the forefront as we learn Hina is a sort of “weather maiden,” a girl who is able to briefly control the weather through her prayers to the heavens. Just as Hodaka begins to find stable footing thanks to the kindness of a man who runs a small pulp publishing company with his niece, his life becomes intertwined with Hina’s by chance. After learning of her secret miracles Hodaka convinces Hina to start a business clearing the rainy weather for people on special events with him and her brother Nagi.
From there the film wanders into a story as tragically downcast as rain itself, but like Hina’s power, it still allows for pockets of sunshine and rainbows, humor and levity. In these moments “Weathering with You” shines. The film knows exactly how long to sustain a joke without it becoming stale, and recurring bits like Nagi’s exploits as an elementary school Casanova or Hodaka’s reliance on Yahoo Answers for help with his most pressing questions never failed to make the theater laugh.
But the theater was laughing too much, as the greatest flaw of “Weathering with You” is its failure to let the audience sit with its most solemn moments. The romance is engaging and had me rooting for Hodaka all the way through, but it peters out in the most contrived (and, with the questionable stance it meekly takes on climate change, confusing) fashion possible, so much so I had to look up the specifics of the ending again while writing this because I thought I had forgotten something beyond “guy finally ends up with girl.” I didn’t. The film just ends. It introduces these heart-rending backstories and arcs for its characters, but never seems concerned with delivering on them.
We don’t learn the circumstances of Hodaka’s home life that drove him to run away in the first place, and the death of Hina’s mother seems more like a scripted afterthought than a defining moment of grief. Though “Weathering” could have suffered by directly fleshing out these points of the narrative if executed poorly, the best movies are like mystifying pools of water, with stories that expertly glide over the surface. They give the audience glimpses of what emotional intensity lies below but never outright plunge underneath.
The rains of “Weathering with You” leave behind tons of these tiny, shimmering (and delightfully animated) pools. They’re alluring at first, with an intriguing depth unknown to the audience, but at the end of the day, they’re just puddles. The movie walks straight through them without even making a splash.
Perhaps the saddest thing about “Weathering” is how strangely relatable it ended up being, not only in how the main character (uncannily like me) sort of finds a career in writing after leaving his (assumedly shitty) family behind, but with how the film plays out. It puts such lofty expectations on itself, under the weight of which it can’t help but struggle. “Weathering with You” tries to soar over “Your Name” yet fears even the slightest tiptoe outside of its shadow. I’ve been there, wanting to one-up the popular kid at school by becoming the class clown, but attracting attention that is ultimately shallow and at the cost of shoving down my emotions. “Weathering with You” could be and at times almost is a gorgeous film in its own right, but its beauty is diminished because it can’t stop trying (and failing) to one-up its predecessor.
The worst part is that we see all this unfold in real time, and we can’t stop the movie from imploding on itself in pursuit of this conceited dream. “Your Name” was a brilliant spark that lit a towering flame. “Weathering with You” doesn’t understand why you can’t build a fire in the pouring rain.
— Cassandra Mansuetti, Daily Digital Culture Editor