Director Makoto Shinkai has, wow, another No. 1 hit anime movie that just made a brief, yet memorable run in packed American theaters. After the phenomenal success of Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.), expectations for his succeeding picture were astoundingly high, and thankfully, I can add my accolades to those of more noted critics.
Tenki no Ko (meaning ‘Child of Weather‘) was released in Japan last year, and has enjoyed a few screenings in the US, most recently by Fathom Events; in English it is aptly billed Weathering With You. It’s a tender love story with endearing characters, an interesting premise, and thoughtful plot development.
High schooler Hodaka Morishima, age 16 and a runaway from a small, quiet Japanese island, is about to arrive in Tokyo by ferry, when a towering wave nearly cuts his journey short, almost sweeping him from deck! Thankfully an adult man saves him, and gathering the situation hands Hodaka his business card should he need work.
Hodaka arrives in the midst of unprecedented, unending rain showers. We see little of the home life Hodaka found so constraining, and never shown his parents, but whatever he expected, whatever he departed for—perhaps The Runaway Guide-style cheap living in a city to explore—he underestimates the challenges of life on Tokyo‘s streets. Unable to find a job without revealing his identity, when near bottom he sleeps awhile in a McDonald’s, and on waking a kind young girl employee given him a sandwich (the most delicious he ever tasted, he says; there is a Wayne’s World level of product placement in this picture). At that point he pokes his head in at the business on the card, and takes a job researching and writing for a sensationalist magazine specializing in the supernatural, urban legends, and the like.
The city being desperate for sunshine, Hodaka is assigned to look into a rumored “sunshine girl”, able to make a clear sky appear at will. In searching out the scoop, he sees a man attempting to coax the kind girl from the McDonald’s into working at more-or-less a “gentleman’s club”, and pulls her away, only driving the man off by pulling, rarity of rarities, a handgun discarded by criminals that he finds by chance, and firing a shot. The girl, Hina Amano, brings him to her home, where she lives with her primary school-aged brother Nagi. Hina reveals she is the very sunshine girl Hodaka is seeking out! Explaining how she received her power, and making a demonstration, cash-strapped Hodaka sets up a website for a “100% Sunshine Girl” to bring good weather to your event, and in minutes they have requests. The events are successes, and the service becomes a lucrative occupation, such that Hodaka mostly ignores his writing job. However, Hina’s powers do not make the news; she and Hodaka keep from notoriety, the clientele limited to those who happen upon the small website (an official, fun English-language facsimile here https://sunshine-girl.us). The decision to keep her supernatural powers mostly a secret makes the moral questions surrounding the sunshine girl personal decisions rather than public affairs.
Thus far so good, so charming, but as much could have been guessed from the trailer. About half the movie is through before the plot moves past the premise, and the eventual conflicts brings out some interesting questions for viewers to consider. Fundamental to the story: Hina got her powers a year previous, as she walked through a torii gate on a neglected rooftop shrine, praying for one last sunny day to spend with her dying mother. Although, in an interview shown after the picture in theaters, Shinkai deflated the real “sunshine girl” urban legends, also describing prayer at shrines as irrational, and its use in the movie as a ”gimmick”, the Shinto element to Weathering With You appears just as seriously taken and thoughtful as in Your Name. An elderly priests explains that, in the past, it was common for each village to have its own Weather Maiden (tenki no miko), who played a role in controlling the weather—but, in times of extreme or erratic weather, could be made a human sacrifice to restore equilibrium. Sure, Hina brings sunshine here and there, for a short time, but unbeknownst to Hodaka, her prayers are taking a toll on her, and as the weather crisis worsens, she suspects that her presence may be tied to the continual rainfall. Will a sacrifice be needed? Unlike in some other media, there is no element of mob passion introduced, no scapegoating, so our protagonists can ponder these questions without reference to popular sentiment. Meanwhile, the police, led by an officer with maybe anime’s first subtle pompadour, continue to hound Hodaka, Hina, and Nagi about their living situations and a possible illegal firearm, souring their affections for a city they might just preserve from the weather, as their trials bring them closer.
Necessarily for a contemporary tale about the weather, Weathering With You was crafted, Shinkai confirms, while thinking about anthropogenic climate change, and often portrayed the weather as aggressive (though as the weather was never much personified, I didn’t see that). If so, it has an unexpected message, coming from a country often enthusiastic for climate activism. Many environmentalists advocate population control to reduce harmful emissions and overconsumption, whereas the message of this movie does not seem to be that immense personal sacrifices are justified in seeking calmer, more welcome weather. The Shinto priest also reminds us that much “unprecedented” weather has happened before, before recorded history, and that Tokyo may simply be returning to the bay it once was before much of the land was reclaimed.
Much appreciated: a cameo from cosplayers doing Cure Black and Cure White from the original Pretty Cure series. Also, Nagi is simply a lovable character. An elementary schooler, and often somewhat demure, he is already a sort of harem king, jr., with primary school girls eager to see him on the bus, and ready to help him out of tough spots. Surely the envy of all lolicons, he elicited peals of laughter from the audience in the theater I visited, and is a real strong spot, another reason to see this magnificent animation.