「天気の子」 (Tenki no Ko)
“Weathering With You”
It’s always kind of been the case with Shinkai Makoto that his movies can be interpreted through many different lenses. From his early days working virtually solo on his Mac, where his work was the virtual private property of hardcore anime fanatics, to becoming the most powerful anime director in the world (that’s an argument to be made at least), Shinkai has always sparked intense feeling. There’s a real irony here in that the man who made his mark appealing to the most inside of audiences wound up taking anime to more viewers outside its circle than anyone since Miyazaki.
After Kimi no Na wa. became the highest-grossing anime film ever worldwide (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi barely held it off in domestic box office), whatever Shinkai did next was going to be one of anime’s biggest event films ever. In some sense, Tenki no Ko is a relatively safe follow-up. This is squarely in Shinkai’s comfort zone (and more importantly, his audience’s) – young romance at its most bittersweet, magical realism, soaring pop insert songs. But in choosing to take on the most pressing issue facing the world (though it’s never treated as such, lacking the immediacy of a pandemic), climate change, Shinkai opened himself to analysis – and criticism – on an entirely different level.
Weathering With You is the story of a 16 year-old from an unnamed island who runs away to Tokyo, Morishima Hodaka (Kotarou Daigo). Hodaka’s backstory – like much in Weathering – is left relatively unexplored. He found island life “suffocating”, but as he’s fleeing to Tokyo by ferry his face is covered in bandages – was he beaten by his father? Bullied at school? On-board ship he takes great pleasure in a freak rainstorm, but is almost washed overboard – only to be saved by a passenger named Suga Keisuke (Oguri Shun). Having seen something of himself in Hodaka Suga-san knows the basic score, here, and offers the boy his business card in case he gets in real trouble in Tokyo.
In many ways, the scenes where Hodaka tries to scrape by in Tokyo are the strongest part of the movie. They feel very real, and one gets a strong sense of Hodaka’s euphoria over being at the center of the world being worn down by grim reality. At his low ebb he hasn’t eaten for three days, and a kindly MacDonalds girl named Amano Hina (Mori Nana) takes pity on him and gives him a Big Mac (both types of Mac are omnipresent in Tenki no Ko – product placement is out of control in Shinkai world at this point). Eventually Hodaka randomly finds a gun a local hoodlum has dropped (which seems unlikely), which he uses to rescue Hina from what looks like an organized enjo-kousai ring (run by the same guy), and winds up taking refuge at Suga’s live-in office.
In this sense, everything is textbook Shinkai, as noted. All his fetishes are here – trains, clouds, snow (eventually), a cat. As opposed to Your Name, Weathering With You turns Shinkai’s impressionistic eye almost entirely on an urban landscape. And this vision of Tokyo is very different from the idealized one in Kotonoha no Niwa. This Tokyo is all about love hotels, rail yards, host clubs, wire fences, and rusted-out abandoned buildings. Visual beauty is pretty much a given with Shinkai-sensei, and Tenki no Ko delivers. If anything, it’s fascinating to see Shinkai use his considerable powers on gritty cityscapes, and they take on a hard-edged beauty that’s something quite different from what we’re used to with him.
Things get pretty complicated from here. Hina has a little brother named Nagi (Kiryu Sakura), who’s a hilariously adept grade-school Lothario, and she’s been lying about her age (including to Hodaka) to get work. She’s supporting Nagi after the death of their mother (wither Dad is another of those missing background details). Suga has a daughter living with his mother-in-law after the death of his wife, and his adult niece Natsumi (Honda Tsubasa) sticks close to him in order to try and keep him tethered to the real world. And then there’s the hook – the strange Shrine on top of an abandoned building in Shinjuku, and the stranger bargain Hina apparently makes there on the day of her mother’s passing.
The mystical conceit behind Weathering With You is going to be one of those YMMV elements, I suspect. Shinkai keeps this all pretty vague – there are mumblings of old priests and fortunetellers and mysterious 13th-century ceiling murals, but the gist of it seems to be that Hina is trading her life for every sunny day her prayers manage to procure. Which is quite a few, after Hodaka sets the trio (with little Nagi as a walking teru teru bouzu) up as a “Sunshine Girl” business. Just why Tokyo is mired in virtually non-stop rainfall to begin with is never really made clear, but this is perhaps mainly done in service of the symbolism which Shinkai is aiming for with Tenki no Ko.
I’ve seen this interpreted in many different ways. Unlike, say, the debate over whether Anno Hideaki’s Shin Godzilla is a pro-nationalist propaganda piece (it is, plainly) Weathering With You’s dots are harder to connect. I don’t think Shinkai intends it as a climate change dismissal, as some have charged. But neither does he seem to be making a profound case for climate action. The words of the old woman Tachibana Fumi (Baisho Chieko) – who seems to be the grandmother of Your Name’s Tachibana Taki (both its protagonists have cameos here) – may come closest to revealing Shinkai’s intent. She talks of a Tokyo of 200 years earlier, before so much of the bay was filled in – “In some ways, it’s just going back to how it was”.
Again, I think this can be interpreted in multiple ways. Hina and Hodaka are making a choice – her life, or a climate that submerges much of the capital. Hodaka, not knowing the truth, believes they can have it both ways. Eventually he does learn the truth, and chooses Hina over the world. Is Shinkai, as some have charged, arguing that it’s better for us to choose the practicalities of the modern world over something we can’t really change anyway? Is he preaching fatalism? I can see the case, but it doesn’t quite resonate with me. I think, rather, that Shinkai is trying to frame global warming through the lens of small heartbreaks – fireworks festival cancellations, rainy days at the park – rather than through slow-motion global catastrophe. He’s asking us to reflect on our place in nature – not resign from it.
To be sure, one could easily take away from Tenko no Ko that Shinkai sees climate change as something beyond our control. Indeed, he does consign much of the power over it to the shadows of Shintoism, and seemingly diminishes our responsibility for it (or at least, for arresting it). One thing he certainly doesn’t offer is solutions – mainly, I suspect, because he doesn’t have any. Maybe that is fatalism, but rather than telling us that we’re powerless, I think Shinkai is telling us to worry about the things we can change rather than the things we can’t.
A further irony, then, is that while this is Shinkai’s most socially-conscious film and that it takes a broadly pessimistic slant in that arena, in terms of romance it’s arguably his most innocent and optimistic. Hodaka and Hina are much more straightforward characters than Taki and Mitsuha, and the obstacles they must overcome – while formidable – much more straightforward as well. There are some definite misses on the plotting side – the whole recurring bit with the revolver and the cops fell flat for me, for example. But I really liked Hina and Hodaka, and I appreciate (as always) seeing actors almost exactly the same age as their characters in this sort of story. Both Kotarou and Mori are wonderful in these roles, and that’s a saving grace for the personal and romantic story in Tenki no Ko.
I won’t say anything so trite as “what you take away from Weathering With You depends on what you bring into it”, but it’s definitely a film that leaves much to the interpretation of the viewer. Strictly as a movie it’s certainly less polished and ambitious than Your Name, but for me it’s also more unpretentious and emotionally honest. I think Shinkai in his last few films is too obviously trying to deliver what he thinks his audience expects a “Shinkai movie” to be. He’s largely succeeded (he’s gotten very good at it) but has lost some of his authenticity and personal touch in the process. Rougher and more awkward, less accomplished than its most recent predecessors, Weathering With You to me feels like a half-step in the opposite direction – and for me, that half-step is a positive one.