'Weathering With You' ('Tenki no Ko'): Film Review | TIFF 2019

Courtesy of TIFF
Mostly sunny.

Top-grossing Japanese anime director Makoto Shinkai of 'Your Name' returns with another romantic fantasy film about a teenage girl who can control the weather.

A runaway boy from an island, Hodaka, and Hina, a city girl who has the ability to change the rain to sunshine, join forces in Weathering With You, Makoto Shinkai’s long-awaited anime follow-up to his 2017 Your Name. That smash hit, which became the second-highest-grossing anime film of all time after it topped $357 million worldwide, is a hard act to follow. But all things are relative: The new film has already grossed in excess of $100 million since it came out in July and is expected to top Disney’s live-action Aladdin to become Japan’s biggest theatrical release of 2019.

Weathering With You is also headed for the voracious Chinese market and is the country’s 2020 Oscar submission. GKIDS is handling North American distribution after its Toronto bow as a Special Presentation.

Once again, Shinkai takes sure aim at the teenage market and its taste for romance and magical realism. He works with many of the creators of Your Name, including producers Noritaka Kawaguchi and Genki Kawamura, animation director Masayoshi Tanaka who designed the characters in the earlier film and the Japanese rock band Radwimps for the bouncy, blasting score. All the pieces are in place for a charming tale of magical powers and the price of using them, and once again the ending revolves around an environmental disaster.

Adding it up, the film has the same charming characters and delightfully detailed pastel artwork of its predecessor, but in exchanging Your Name’s sci-fi component for a mythical-magical story, it loses a bit of quota.

Hodaka (shrilly voiced by Kotaro Daigo) is an idealistic 16-year-old who runs away from his parents’ rural home and heads for Tokyo. He is on a ship about to be swept overboard by the typhoon he foolishly braves when a hand reaches out to grab him. Thus he meets Suga (Shun Oguri), the dashing, ironic editor of a magazine of weird tales who offers the penniless boy a job and a roof over his head.

Following the lead of Suga’s young assistant and possible girlfriend, Natsumi (Tsubasa Honda), Hodaka races around the city doing interviews with people who have had strange experiences worth writing about. Eventually he tracks down the orphan Hina (Nana Mori), a girl his age with pigtails and a gentle personality — and an uncanny ability to make it stop raining by praying. She soon becomes known as the Sunshine Girl and goes into business with Hodaka selling her power to people having weddings, family picnics or whatever else requires clear skies. It keeps food on the table for herself and her cute little brother Nagi (Sakura Kiryu).

Astounding aerial views of Tokyo vie with huge cumulus cloud formations in the sky when Hina does her tricks. In every instance, the thunderstorm clears away and rays of bright sunlight break through.

This fantasy of teenage omnipotence is countered by a warning, however: Hodaka learns that Hina’s powers are those of the mythical Japanese “Weather Maiden,” who was used in ancient times for similar purposes but who was actually a sacrificial victim. Part of her life force was used up every time she cleared the skies and let the sunshine in.

With this threat hanging over their heads, Hodaka, Hina and Nagi find themselves in new trouble because they are living without an adult guardian. Pursued by the police and the social services (shades of Shoplifters!), they flee across the city seeking shelter from the incessant rain and cold. One of the film’s most exciting scenes, taken from action movies, is Hodaka’s daredevil escape through the streets of Tokyo on the back of a motorcycle driven by Natsumi.

This is a dark and frightening part of the film, in which fantasy dies and the stark realities of the adult world shake the defenseless young people. Hodaka proves his mettle as a fearless street fighter fixated on his goal of getting Hina back, whatever the cost. And Shinkai’s story does make him choose between dire options: the weather, or the girl he loves. Hodaka and Hina are given a trip to the clouds, where sky-bound poetry alternates with a frightening free-fall back to earth.

There is also an unmistakable environmental message for young audiences to embrace: Messing with nature has its cost. For Hina, who has been given her powers at a prayer shrine, nature is sacred. The music swells every time it looks up at the expressive, ever-changing sky with its freak weather, snow in August, flooded rivers, water bombs falling from the sky, pedestrians being knocked out by giant hail stones and a perfect storm that tears through buildings and ruins half the city. The incessant rain even threatens to turn Tokyo back into the bay it once was.

Perhaps the convention Westerners will find most difficult to adjust to is the way the dialogue is shouted with an explanation point, and Hodaka is especially irritating in his groaning gasps and hysterical demands. But the fast-moving story includes some finely conceived humor, like when Nagi’s elementary school girlfriends help him escape from child custody by switching clothes with him.

Production companies: Toho Co., Story Inc., CoMix Wave Films
Cast: Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri

Director-screenwriter-editor: Makoto Shinkai
Producers: Genki Kawamura, Yoshihiro Furusawa
Executive producers: Minami Ichikawa, Noritaka Kawaguchi
Director of photography: Ryosuke Tsuda
Production designers: Hiroshi Takiguchi, Masayoshi Tanaka
Animator: Atsushi Tamura
Music: Radwimps
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentation)
World sales: Toho Co.

111 minutes