Is love strong enough to control the weather? The latest GKids animated adventure, “Weathering With You,” sure thinks so. Directed by Makoto Shinkai (“Your Name”), “Weathering With You” presents a grand romantic adventure that travels from Tokyo to the outer stratosphere of Earth. While the characters take their romance to the sky and beyond, the film doesn’t quite rise to those same heights. There’s beauty in the design and the optimistic nature of the piece. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite stick its ambitious landing.
Teenage Hokada (Kotaro Diago) has run away from home and ended up in the bright, glorious and overwhelming Tokyo. The city’s chronically bad weather only makes matters worse. He soon finds employment at a small magazine run by a man named Keisuke Suga (Shun Oguri). His work here affords him a lifestyle in the city that crosses paths with Hina (Nanu Omri), another runaway. As their friendship blossoms into a budding romance, Hokada discovers Hina’s unique power. She is able to control the weather and is the reason for Tokyo’s unrelenting gloominess. As she uses her powers to grant relief and happiness to people around Tokyo, Hina notices that she loses her life force with every use of her power.
As with “Your Name,” the previous film by Makoto Shinkai, “Weathering With You” functions on a wavelength of pure, heightened teen-love drama. There’s something euphoric about the cataclysmic stakes in both films. The drama of Hina’s mortality collides with the pressure of police chasing after runaways like Hokada and Hina. Their love always drives the conflict and story. However, their story also reflects beautifully on the city of Tokyo. Even in torrential downpours, the film uses Hina’s powers to showcase the beauty of the city, even in animation. There’s something intimidating, yet warm. One feels why Hokada would risk everything to journey to Tokyo in search of a better life.
Though blessed with similar levels of beauty, “Weathering With You” never reaches the narrative highs of “Your Name” from back in 2016. Sure, they both deal with star-crossed teenage lovers who can’t be together for supernatural reasons. Yet, “Weathering With You” takes its “love at all cost” message to new extremes in a third act that doesn’t fully work. The enormity and all-consuming nature of young love become literal in a way that seemingly lacks maturity.
While the ending may rob the film of some of its mysterious beauty, the concept itself uses mysticism in interesting ways. Hina’s powers are defined just enough to give the audience understanding of them, but vague enough to not limit her. The relationship between humans and nature, particularly as it pertains to weather, feels unique. It finds a beauty in the bad weather, while acknowledging our powerlessness at the hands of Mother Nature. This symbiotic relationship sits at the core of the plot and fuels this interesting take on the “star crossed lovers” fable.
Japan has submitted “Weathering With You” as their submission for Oscar’s Best International Feature category. Both “Waltz with Bashir” and “Persepolis” were animated submissions for Foreign Language Feature. The Academy nominated “Bashir” for Foreign Language Feature, but not Animated Feature. Meanwhile, they flipped this for “Persepolis,” nominating it for Animated Feature, but not Foreign Language Feature. It remains to be seen how “Weathering With You” performs in either category. If anything, the film’s beautiful animation deserves to be recognized. Hopefully the animation branch takes notice. The much more competitive International Film category might be harder to crack. Still, Shinkai has crafted a resume that makes him heir apparent to the Studio Ghibli fare that defined the past two decades of Japanese animated films.