In 2016, a modestly successful anime director named Makoto Shinkai released Your Name, a stylish, supernatural teen romance. The movie was a sensation in Japan, where its box office is the fourth-highest in the country’s history, just behind Spirited Away, Titanic, and Frozen. It also connected with viewers, especially teenagers, internationally, and $359 million later, it’s the most successful anime in history.
Your Name is unabashedly romantic, its moody star-crossed lovers gasping and crying and ever yearning, even as cruel fate keeps them apart. Its cliffhanger ending (spoilers at that link, of course) is legendary, the subject of innumerable tributes and explainer videos. It’s also gorgeous, a hand-drawn combination of photorealistic landscapes and evocative, expressive anime characters. As Emily Yoshida put it in her rich-with-context review for Vulture, Your Name was the film that finally connected Shinkai’s “blissful sunsets” and “cosmically emo screenwriting” in a satisfying way.
This week, Weathering With You, Shinkai’s follow-up, comes to the United States. Warmly received in Japan, if not the phenomenon that Your Name was, it’s more lighthearted and comedic than its verging-on-solemn predecessor. But it’s not exactly a departure: Once again two teens fall for each other amid supernatural hoo-ha, and once again it’s set against a backdrop of swooning, Instagram-ready beauty. I loved Your Name, even as I recognized I was not the ideal target audience for it, and that’s why I watched Weathering With You with that ideal target audience: a gaggle of teens.
It turned out this was the exact right decision. My daughter and her friends died a thousand deaths during Weathering With You. They screamed and gasped and yelled angrily at the screen. They argued about whether plot developments were inspired or clichéd while those developments were still developing. When the movie’s hero, overwrought high-schooler Hodaka, produced a gun, they all yelled “No!” in unison. (They also did this when another character lit a cigarette.)
Weathering With You brings small-town runaway Hodaka to big-city Tokyo, all low clouds and shiny streets after months of rain with no relief. After some nights on the street, Hodaka stumbles into a job at a trashy magazine, helping to interview psychics and cranks. It’s while working on a story about “sunshine girls” that he meets Hina, who in the absence of her parents is taking care of a younger brother and scrambling to make ends meet. When she demonstrates that she is a sunshine girl—able to make the rain stop and the clouds part by praying—he proposes a sunshine-on-demand business, taking orders from desperate party planners, elementary schools, and brides.
After a sprightly first half, the movie gets a little bogged down in its feelings. “Whoever uses too much weather power gets spirited away,” a character darkly warns, and while I laughed at the Hayao Miyazaki pun inserted either by Shinkai—who idolizes the anime master—or the film’s translator, I also wished for a little more of Miyazaki’s energy, his characters’ stubborn unwillingness to stew in their dilemmas. But fans of Miyazaki will nevertheless find plenty to love in Shinkai’s bolts of sunlight through swirling clouds, his soaring flights of fancy, and his unexpected, perfectly observed details. One utterly ordinary shot of Hodaka eating at McDonald’s made me laugh with delight when he opened up his Big Mac box and the bun, freed from its cardboard constraint, poofed up ever so slightly.
I don’t know if the teens noticed that, but they definitely noticed the brief appearances of Your Name’s hero and heroine, funny shared-universe cameos that don’t resolve the ending of that film. Weathering With You’s ending is less precarious for its characters, though more precarious for the Earth, as the film embraces the climate change parable it’s been flirting with throughout. My daughter and her friends had a lot to say about that. Weathering With You is a pretty good film that becomes a glorious movie-watching experience if you can do it right. Embrace your inner emo teen. Bring your child or niece or next-door neighbor to your local theater—or if you don’t have a teen in your life, skulk into the movie yourself, sit near some teens, and try not to look too creepy. It’ll be worth it.