Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Review | Weathering With You | 2019

Makoto Shinkai's 2016 film, Your Name, remains one of the great achievements in animation of the new century. A deliriously imaginative and deeply moving romance about two young people who fall in love across the gulf of time and space, Your Name managed to push the boundaries of the animated form and achieve a rare kind of humanity, using its science fiction premise to create a work of singular beauty and emotional resonance.

Having created something of a cult hit with Your Name, there has been quite a bit of anticipation for his follow-up, Weathering With You. Opening as a Fathom Event in theaters nationwide this week from GKIDS, Weathering With You follows a very similar template as Your Name  Clearly not wanting to stray from a formula that works, Shinkai plays the hits with another lovely animated love story about a high school runaway named Hodaka who moves to Tokyo and takes a job as a writer at a tabloid that "investigates" supernatural phenomena. It is there where he learns the myth of the "sunshine girl," young women who can control the weather and stop the rain. It is while he is working on this story (while evading the authorities who seek to return him to his family) that he meets Hina, a mysterious young girl who seemingly has the power to stop the rain.

Fascinated by her unusual abilities, the two of them start a business together where people can hire Hina to offer a brief respite from the unrelenting rainstorms plaguing Tokyo. They bring sunshine to parties, weddings, and people's homes. But there's another part of the myth of the sunshine girl - that use of her power will inevitably lead to her destruction, and the two star-crossed lovers soon find themselves on the run from the authorities, determined to stay together against all odds as the cold reality of the world around them begins to close in.

There's an undercurrent of environmentalism that runs through the film that is often a through-line in Japanese animation. But while uncontrollable weather patterns and severe shifts in climate provide a backdrop for Weathering With You, Shinkai is less concerned with the politics of climate change and more with matters of the heart. Much as he did in Your Name, Shinkai creates a world where matters of the heart supersede all else, where reality dissolves into an isolated world that belongs only to the central lovers, and outside forces exist only to keep them apart. This heart over head approach has an often intoxicating effect, often overwhelming the viewer in a deluge of emotions that clears away rational thought - it's as if he's evoking the very idea of love on screen, enveloping us in a bright ray of sunshine surrounded by a gray and rainy world. Even though the world is drowning around us, nothing else seems to matter but the connection between these two people.

It's a wonderful feeling, an enchanting expression of the all-encompassing passion of young love - unfortunately for Weathering With You it stands in the shadow of Your Name at nearly every turn. Perhaps it will have a different effect on an audience unfamiliar with Shinkai's previous work, but it hews so closely to its predecessor's emotional beats that it never quite achieves the same overpowering sense of emotion that made Your Name such a profoundly affecting experience. Perhaps its unfair to judge it against Shinkai's last film, but it's hard not to compare the two when Weathering With You seems like more of the same, but with diminished returns. On it's own, it's a lovely and often quite beguiling love story about impossible love in a time of great environmental upheaval, characterized by dazzling animation and a rapturous score by Japanese band, Radwimps, providing a rapturous showcase that's quite frankly better that most contemporary American animation even if it's squarely in Shinkai's comfort zone. But fans of Your Name may find themselves in quite familiar territory that, no matter how beautifully crafted, never quite lives up to the film that came before.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)


WEATHERING WITH YOU | Directed by Makoto Shinkai | Voices of Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri, Tsubasa Honda, Sakura Kiryu | Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, some violence and language | In Japanese w/English subtitles | Opens Wednesday, Jan. 15 for special fan screenings, and everywhere on Jan. 17 from GKIDS via Fathom Events

No comments: