This is Best Movie of All Time, an eternal search for the greatest film ever. Read the full archives here.
I don’t really watch much anime these days, but that really depends on your frame of reference. If you watch no anime, ever, then I guess I watch a lot compared to you. I’ve featured two so far in this series, the mind-bending Paprika and the almost-a-love-story-but-really-something-else When Marnie Was There. It feels weird to talk about anime at all. It’s really impossible to get past the reality that it’s a very weird world with a high barrier for entry. I’ve never been to Japan and don’t know that much about it, but a lot of the best anime really does ask you to know some very specific things about very specific places.
Today we’re talking about Weathering With You, the 2019 follow up to the 2016 film Your Name. Both were written and directed by Makoto Shinkai and Your Name was one of the most successful films in Japan ever, not even just among anime. If you haven’t seen Your Name and you have any interest in doing so, I really can’t recommend it strongly enough. It’s probably the best anime from the last ten years, if not the best ever, and it’s certainly the one I’d recommend if someone was only going to watch one. It’s a romance for the ages and a concept that deserves more space than we have today. Go and do this thing.
But if you were going to, you probably already have, right? Your Name was a mega hit, as much as an anime can be, and the follow up was going to work no matter what. If anime isn’t your thing, you’re just going to have to trust me when I say this was big. The way we watch things has subdivided people’s attention to the point where the size of an audience is rarely, if ever, an indicator of quality, but Your Name really took off and deserved the success it found. How do you follow that up?
You apparently go much riskier, which is what Shinkai did with Weathering With You. It’s a story about climate change hidden in a teenage love story, but “hidden” might be overstating it. Hodaka Morishima runs away from home and wants to experience big-city Tokyo. Hina Amano is a girl who gives him a hamburger when he’s at the end of his rope, but more importantly she’s a magical being who controls the weather. One of the most fascinating elements of Weathering With You is how they treat this, with most characters doubting her but then coming around once they see her clear up the sky on command. This is the central magic that makes the movie go, so it’s really important to understand how other characters engage with this as a reality. Really bad anime messes this up more than almost any other detail, and it’s really critical that you see that she actually is magical, it’s not a coincidence or a trick they might double cross the viewer on later, but also just how that fact reads to her fellow man.
It rains in Tokyo all the time. It snows in the warmer months. It’s an apocalypse, but it’s also just another work day. This is another thing I want to spend what may seem like too much time on, but the world is really ending, at least how we know it, and it’s a bold choice to not have the end be an action movie. It’s just raining, more and more, and slowly but surely, everything will be unusable. This isn’t shown through catastrophe, it’s just something you pick up on given how everyone lives. By the end it scales up, sure, but even though the magical “sunshine girl” is the love story plot, this is really a movie about how climate change impacts us very slowly and it doesn’t really matter if we accept it or not. It won’t happen just like this, but it will happen, which allows for a non-moralistic depiction of something we don’t like to think about.
Hodaka and Hina set up a small business to use her ability to clear up a small area’s weather. People want to have a nice day at the park or to ensure a public event goes well without rain. These are small potatoes, but they really matter to the people living their lives. The world is slowly ending, filling with water and becoming more hostile to humans, but there are brief moments of respite. It comes at a cost to Hina, which drives the plot and complicates the love story, but my favorite parts of Weathering With You are these glimpses into the larger world.
Your Name is a much better film and was a much bigger success. One review said the only problem with Weathering With You is that it came second. These are good problems to have, but I think it’s a little lazy that most reviews haven’t really found a way to even talk about what this is, just what it isn’t. The love story here is less central to the plot, but also that allows for a bigger world. No one we meet in Your Name is nearly as memorable as the side characters in Weathering With You. They’re completely different films, and where Your Name owes so much to romances that came before it, Weathering With You feels like a love letter to some classic anime genres.
The art is gorgeous and impossible to overstate. Perfect Blue is one of my favorite films of all time and one wonders if people who were making anime several decades ago could have even imagined a film like Weathering With You. If you don’t watch a lot of anime you may not notice or care, but some of the landscapes may make you look closer at other drawn and constructed art. It’s crisp and almost photorealistic, which is a very different direction than the Pixars of the world are headed towards. Obviously this is a preference thing, as is your choice to watch the subtitled or English-dubbed version (the leads won’t be voices you know, but Alison Brie and Riz Ahmed play supporting roles, which is fun) but I found myself really struck by the thing as a whole.
You owe it to yourself to watch this movie and to not expect Your Name 2. If you’ve avoided anime in general, I’d recommend Your Name as a starting point, though I think both films are worthy of your time.
Is it better than the last movie we looked at? I love Touch of Evil and I can’t really say this is better. I don’t really want to know what Orson Welles would have thought about this comparison.
Is it the best movie of all time? No, still going to side with Persona. I didn’t turn on this movie expecting it to dethrone a classic, but I really have to say again that I was surprised by how much I liked it. I’d read the reviews saying it was a letdown as a follow up to one of the most beloved anime films of the last decade, and maybe if that’s how you evaluate things, it is. But why live your life like that? I guess this series is the answer to my own question: because every question is a grand one if you let it be.
You can watch Weathering With You on HBO Max (subscription required). You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ gmail.com or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.