Let’s get the elephant out of the room straight away. This is Makoto Shinkai’s first film after the huge hit Your Name, and it’s not as good. But that’s a bit like saying gold is not as good as platinum. I mean, they’re both quite nice, aren’t they. Following Your Name with something even remotely comparable was a near-impossible task, but why compare? If Shinkai can be faulted it would be for not doing something different enough, although it’s far from being just more of the same. Studio Ghibli sidestepped the problem of following Spirited Away by doing something completely different, but then again Studio Ghibli nearly always does something completely different. Shinkai has favourite themes he likes to explore and a trademark visual style, and that’s a perfectly valid approach. In particular he has often made use of the weather to help tell his stories.
A quick rundown of the story here, which is much simpler than Your Name: Hodaka Morishima is a runaway teenage boy from the countryside, who has fled to Tokyo. His backstory is barely sketched in and is dealt with deftly by Shinkai. I have seen complaints that the reason for Hodaka running away is unexplored in the narrative, but I think that denies Shinkai the credit he deserves as a writer. There are enough clues to make it clear enough that Hodaka is fleeing from an abusive background, but Shinkai treats his viewers as people with brains who are capable of joining the dots without being led by the hand to the obvious conclusions.
In Tokyo, Hodaka meets Hina Amano. She’s another teen struggling to make a life for herself on her own, after the death of her mother. Her lack of money is leading her down a dark path, until she discovers an incredible talent. She can make the rain stop. This happens during a period of time when Tokyo is experiencing an extraordinary amount of rainfall. From here on in there are going to have to be a lot of spoilers, so if you’re just wondering whether to watch this film then my advice is to go ahead and then come back when you’ve finished. If you just want to know if it’s something worth watching, then the answer is yes.
Hina becomes known as the “sunshine girl”, which is really cute, and with Hodaka’s help starts up a little business, bringing out the sunshine when people need it (e.g. a wedding). It’s a lovely idea but there’s always a price to pay, isn’t there. The incredible amount of rainfall turns out to be a result of Hina’s status as a sacrificial lamb of sorts, and each time she stops the rain she loses a bit of her physical form, steadily turning into water herself. Completing the sacrifice will end Tokyo’s period of extreme weather, but Hodaka doesn’t want to lose the new love of his life. The way this concludes is exciting, brave, visually stunning, and challenges our assumptions about what really matters in life.
There are not many secondary characters, but the main ones are a lot of fun. There is Keisuke Suga, who is a jolly nice chap who takes Hodaka in and gives him a job, and the mysterious girl who lives with him. Hodaka’s misunderstanding of their relationship is an amusing aspect of the story. Then there’s Hina’s little brother, who isn’t introduced into the film until late in the game, but is so well written that he becomes an important and likeable character almost immediately. Perhaps because the plot is more simple than Your Name, Shinkai throws in a few extra elements, some of which are a little clumsy, particularly the gun Hodaka finds. It’s never clear where it came from (which doesn’t really matter) or why he keeps hold of it (which does).
I love a soppy romance, so I’m just the right kind of viewer for a film like this, but even if you’re not a fan of romantic anime I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. If nothing else, it’s worth a look for the visuals, which are as stunning as you would expect from Shinkai. You may also find Shinkai’s attempted (I think) allegory about climate change to be an interesting aspect of the film (i.e. the decisions of one person can make a difference), but I’m not sure the message comes across very clearly or is particularly well-integrated, in comparison with, say, the ecologically-themed Hayao Miyazaki classic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Miyazaki is still the king of allegory in anime movies.
Hina’s talent is an enviable one, though. I write these posts a couple of months in advance, and as I type it’s a dark and wet winter day, in the midst of a national lockdown. We might not have Hina’s powers, but all we can do is try to bring some sunshine into our lives. Watching anime, especially a film as beautiful as this one, is not a bad way to do that. RP