MAKOTO SHINKAI’s “WEATHERING WITH YOU”: Young LOVE Under ENDLESS Rain

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When one watches romantic movies and TV shows regularly for a significant part of their lives, they will come to perceive that perhaps every possible variation on a love story – the meeting, the interactions, the character dynamics, the obstacles, and the resolution – has pretty much been told to meta death. In that case writers tend to spice up the romantic narrative by blending it with another genre; for instance, romantic fantasy where the love story is enhanced, possibly even rooted in a mysterious magical element or too. One of the best in the Japanese media industry at doing that is none other than Makoto Shinkai.

Nowadays Makoto Shinkai might be hailed by the anime industry and dedicated fandom as a “new-generation” Hayao Miyazaki, making remarkable anime films, some of them teen/young-adult romances particularly the 2016 (modest) international blockbuster “Your Name.” For my part I got to know him as a college student in the 2000s when I saw his short movie “Voices of a Distant Star.” Not being able to watch “Your Name” has been one of my regrets where anime is concerned. But now I get to catch up with Makoto Shinkai’s work by seeing “Weathering with You” and writing my impressions on it.

Shinkai has a flair for spicing up stories of love by adding a larger-than-life element to them. There is the alien invasion angle to the story of two sweethearts from high school separated by light-years of interstellar distance. There is the quirk of “body-switching” between a Tokyo city boy and a country town girl living three years apart in “Your Name.” “Weathering with You” dips into the well of very old Shinto traditions, proposing the quirk of present-day Tokyo and Kanto region being soaked in a strange period of non-stop rain, along with a girl who could somehow make the sun shine in such weather.

So begins the converging story of Hodaka Morishima, a first-year high schooler from a small island town who runs away from home to go to ever-rainy Tokyo, and city resident Hina Amano. As a minor and a runaway he cannot legally apply for a job to support himself, although he manages to find work anyway thanks to Keisuke Suga (Shun Oguri), a minor publisher of “urban legend” fluff pieces who saved Hodaka from being blown overboard his Tokyo-bound ferry by a freak squall. But his most important encounter in the big city is with Hina.

Hodaka and Hina first know of each other when she, noticing him eating multiple nights at the McDonald’s where she works as service crew, sneaks him a free Big Mac. He repays the favor somewhat by helping her escape from a sleazy club owner’s proposition. Hina then reveals her secret to Hodaka: by praying hard enough she can make the rains stop and the sun shine in any localized area of Tokyo. Hodaka inspires her to go into business, with his help, as a makeshift Shinto “weather maiden” providing sunshine services for special events. While this enables Hina to make ends meet for herself and her little brother, Keisuke’s article research on girls who can control weather hints that such power comes at a price.

Once again, Makoto Shinkai demonstrates his mastery at getting into the headspaces of young people falling in love, as well as how they respond to and cope with the larger craziness wherein their love chooses to develop in. Hodaka is a high school freshman with no more experience in the bigger world, while Hina has been forced by circumstances to mature and care for her only surviving family. He is naïve, she is worldly; and yet they find common ground.

The other characters in their life also serve to liven up the narrative with their own levels of wacky craziness and parallel dramatic issues. What is perhaps most interesting is Shinkai’s own admission in an interview leading up to the film’s Japan premiere, explaining that Keisuke Suga, voiced by actor Shun Oguri, is his own character study on his own life as he grows older (he was in his 30s when I saw “Voices;” now he is 46) and raises his own child. Keisuke’s backstory as a widower whose asthmatic young daughter is under his mother-in-law’s custody makes a nice contrast to Hodaka and Hina’s own travails in the film.

Making up the ranks of the cast is model-actress Tsubasa Honda as Natsumi, Keisuke’s publishing assistant who takes Hodaka under her “cool big sis” wing. Hina’s brother Nagi (Sakura Kiryu) is another source of comic relief thanks to his characterization as a kid Casanova who not only scores plenty of girls but somehow manages to make them get along together with him as focal point. And these moments of levity are quite the counterbalance for the more emotional moments of “Weathering with You,” particularly involving a pistol that Hodaka finds in the garbage, in a magnificent example of Chekov’s gun.

All told, Makoto Shinkai definitely crafts a beautiful package in “Weathering with You,” delivering yet another coming-of-age romance set in the backdrop of fantastic superstition and a splendid setting of Tokyo, drenched in rain as it is. Not for nothing perhaps was it selected to be the Japanese entry for “Best International Feature Film” at the 92nd Academy Awards, some 22 years after Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” (1997, not nominated). The nomination of “Weathering” itself is still up in the air, but such a distinction might somehow help to remove the film from the looming box-office shadow of “Your Name.”

There have been some other reviewers of this Makoto Shinkai movie that think his 2016 work should have been given the Oscar shot. But when one simply takes the time to watch “Weathering with You” and not think about all the Shinkai productions that came before, they will feel that this new story of love in a magically crazy world stands out on its own. Anime fans looking beyond the usual fare have got to give this film a shot.

Image from The Jakarta Post

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