Anime gem reflects on the relations between climate harmony and humankind’s wellness
by Alberto Sclaverano for Citiplat
Japanese director and writer Makoto Shinkai has gained a great reputation over the last two decades. Having been very passionate about manga and novels since his childhood, he chose to study Japanese literature at Chuo University. After graduation, he worked as a video game designer and animator, but his true passions concerned creating manga and short animated films. One of them, She and Her Cat (1999) was very popular in festival circuits and won several awards. Shinkai’s first movie, Voices of a Distant Star, was released in 2002 to positive critical reception. It was followed by The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), 5 Centimeters per Second (2007, an anthology animated movie that consisted of three short films), Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011), The Garden of Words (2013), Your Name (2016), which became the third Japanese highest grossing film of all time, Weathering with You (2019) and Suzume (2022, fourth Japanese highest grossing film of all time). All these films, especially the last three, were met with universal critical acclaim both in Japan and abroad and were also extremely successful at the box office. The director is known for using animation to explore themes like friendship, love, and loss. His stories are often characterized as deeply romantic, visually beautiful coming-of-age tales. They frequently involve magical or supernatural elements, but these are only exploited as means to explore the characters’ feelings and emotions. The success and popularity of Shinkai’s films in Japan has reached a level that at this point can be compared to Hayao Miyazaki, putting him among the most important living authors in the animation field. Shinkai movies are also an example of modern Japanese animation and the post-Miyazaki resurgence of “deep content” anime cinema. They are not adult-oriented anime (such as Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, 1995, or Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, 2006), nor are aimed just at kids. Instead, Shinkai like Miyazaki uses animation to create movies that people of every age can appreciate and in which everyone can find an emotional connection.
Weathering with You (2019) contains all the central elements of Shinkai’s artistic vision, but it also touches on the theme of the climate crisis. When high school student Hodaka Morishima arrives in Tokyo, after having escaped the small island where he grew up, he finds the metropolis hit by very bad weather, especially in the form of heavy storms and continuous rain. He befriends Hina Amano, a young girl who seems to have the power of controlling the weather and bringing sunshine back by praying. But this gift comes with a sad consequence for her. Many things will happen to the two young protagonists, and these events will change them forever. The story is at the same complex and simple. It uses magical realism and surreal elements to create a tale about friendship and redemption. But it also contains a powerful allegory to the ongoing climate crisis. In the film, the weather is directly connected to people’s feelings and happiness: Shinkai establishes a link between mankind’s emotions and the environment. It is an effective metaphor, that can be read in both directions. There is of course a reflection on the main characters’ psychologies, and the weather reflects it, but it is also clear that there is a message about climate change. As humans, we cannot be happy in an environment devasted by a climate gone mad due to our own mistakes and incapability to act quickly. There is also a sad meditation about the contrast between individual and collective wellness.
Hina can save the city and change the weather, but at the cost of her own life, at least on Earth. Hodaka is torn by this dilemma: he can help save others by encouraging her to use her powers, but he will lose her forever. The film asks a simple question: to save our planet how much each of us can accept to sacrifice?
The film is also filled with connections to traditional Japanese Shinto spirituality, and the images of the modern big city ravaged by torrential rains (a sad spot-on message if we read today’s news from all around the world) allude to the disastrous consequences that mankind risks to suffer if we disrespect nature. It is important to underline that, while they are very different authors with their specific poetics, this theme is a common point between Shinkai and Miyazaki. Weathering with You is a beautiful film due to the unique quality of its animation, which aims to create hyper-realistic images as in other films by Shinkai. This makes it a pleasurable experience for both the heart and the eyes. Like other Japanese animated classics is highly recommendable to both kids and adults. Watching it also as a reflection on climate change can add another interpretation key to this visually striking and moving masterpiece.