Arguably the Shinkai-est anime yet, and perhaps the beginning of a connected Makoto Shinkai cinematic universe?

If you were going to describe the style of anime director Makoto Shinkai in a single word, “wet” would be a pretty good choice. The creator of Your Name has made a shimmering color palette his visual calling card, and his storytelling is ceaselessly emotional, with dry logic always being washed away by the characters’ passions.

So when Shinkai makes a movie with rain as one of its primary plot points, it’s safe to assume you’re going to be seeing his wettest story ever. Seriously, a pit stop in the restroom before you go into the theater is a must, and you might want to reconsider your planned purchase of a large soda (or, if you’re watching in a Japanese theater, a draft beer). Steady drizzles? Heavy downpours? Thunderstorms? Shinkai’s latest anime, Weathering with You, has them all, accompanied by torrents of longing, regret, desire, and desperation.

Shortly after it starts, the film introduces us to male lead Hodaka, a teen who’s run away from his home in rural Shikoku. After hopping on a ship that takes him to Tokyo, he meets Keisuke, a slightly suspicious Tokyo magazine publisher with a bit of a slacker streak, who nonetheless offers to lend Hodaka a hand if he ever needs one in the big city.

It’s not long before Hodaka realizes his plan of living in an Internet cafe while looking for work has serious flaws. As a minor and a runaway, even shady yakuza-run bars in Tokyo’s sleazy backstreets won’t hire him, and soon he can’t even afford the Internet cafe, and switches to loitering in fast food restaurants and sleeping on the streets.

It’s in one of these restaurants that Hodaka meets an employee named Hina, Weathering with You’s female lead. After deducing that Hodaka is a runaway, she sneaks him a free burger, but not everyone Hodaka meets during his homeless nights is so kind, and after a dangerous encounter with a low-level street thug, he realizes he’s got no one else left to turn to and calls up Keisuke, whereupon the sleepy-expressioned magazine man offers to take the teen on as combination writer/assistant/housekeeper, providing him with free room and board at the converted bar he lives in and works out of.

Hodaka isn’t the greatest writer, but he’s enthusiastic and hard-working, and he, Keisuke, and Natsumi, a beautiful and outgoing college student who also works part-time for Keisuke, form something that feels a little like a family unit. Then, while running down leads for a story, Hodaka hears about a girl with the magical power to make the rain stop, something that’s of particular interest since Weathering with You takes place during a summer when Japan is even rainier than usual (it’s also an uncanny parallel to real life, as 2019 has been Japan’s rainiest summer in several years).

It turns out that this girl is Hina, but her and Hodaka’s paths cross again due to a separate chance incident. Hodaka is startled to find out that the rumors are indeed true: By clasping her hands and praying, Hodaka can cast away rain clouds and call out the sun. Having lost her job and in need of a new line of income, the tech-savvy Hodaka helps her set up a web-based business selling her services to event organizers, party planners, couples with important dates, or anyone else who wants a respite from the rain, so that Hodaka, whose parents are out of the picture and has to support both herself and her elementary school-age brother Nagi, can make ends meet, and it’s here that Weathering with You’s story begins in earnest.

If that sounds like a long windup for the plot to get going, it feels like that when watching the movie too. So it’s a good thing that pretty much every frame of Weathering with You looks stunning. No one really expected Your Name to be the massive hit it became, but this time it’s immediately obvious that Shinkai had all the resources he wanted to create a film that looks exactly the way he wants it to, and there’s constantly something to admire on-screen, even when the story isn’t really going anywhere at that particular moment.

Aside from Shinkai’s expected loving treatment of the sky, streaks of sunlight, and raindrops, Weathering with You’s interiors are constantly amazing, with so many dishes, books, decorations, and other assorted furnishings that it’s easy to forget that the film isn’t taking place in an actual person’s house, and that the artists and animators had to draw every single “prop” you see.

Speaking of items in the real world, there’s a startling amount of product placement in Weathering with You. Internet portal Yahoo!, Internet cafe Mamboo!, convenience store Lawson, and instant noodle maker Nissin are all among the real-world companies represented in the film, and the fast food restaurant Hina initially works at is an actual Tokyo McDonald’s branch. That said, with pretty much the entire anime taking place in the real Tokyo neighborhoods of Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Yoyogi, and Kagurazaka, it might have seemed even weirder to see such heavily commercialized districts devoid of any and all real-world logos, and if you’ve ever wondered what a Big Mac would look like in the world of Makoto Shinkai, you’ll know once you’ve seen Weathering with You.

Hina’s service turns out to be a hit, and soon she, Hodaka, and Nagi (who sidesteps the initial feint of being a jealous brat and turns out to be a precocious but level-headed kid) are running all over Tokyo for various rain-stopping gigs. Things start out small, but soon Hina is being called to make sure some of Tokyo’s biggest events go off without a hitch.

A lot of this takes place during a musical montage, set to a catchy song composed by Japanese rock band Radwimps, which mirrors a similar sequence in Your Name where that anime’s male and female leads are supposed to be getting to know each other. Weathering with You gives us a closer look at how exactly Hodaka and Hina’s relationship, and attraction to one another, is developing, though, since we actually see them directly interacting with each other. Before starting her rain-stopping business, Hina was simply working to make the money she needed to take care of herself and her brother, but in providing sunshine for clients and brightening their hearts, she’s found an energizing, soul-lifting purpose, and the way she and Hodaka both get joy from making other people happy speaks to a shared set of values and ideals, which just might blossom into something bigger than platonic friendship.

If this is once again sounding a little light on momentum, it is. While he’s been directing anime for about 17 years now, Shinkai still hasn’t created that many full-length feature films, and sometimes Weathering with You can feel like it’s spinning its wheels in order to put some blank space between its dramatic beats, lest the story wrap up too quickly. But again, those spinning wheels are gorgeous to look at, and the mesmerizingly meticulous recreation of actual Tokyo locations make it almost function like an anime travel promo for Japan’s biggest city. And while it only has a minimal bearing on Hodaka and Hina’s story, it’s during our ride-alongs on Hina’s weather-controlling gigs that the movie nonchalantly yet explicitly tells us that Weathering with You takes place in the same world as Your Name, in some sort of Makoto Shinkai cinematic universe where remixed versions of Shinto mythology are genuine forces that can shape people’s lives.

But just like the rain clouds keep stubbornly coming back after Hina pushes them away, we slowly start to see shadows at the corners of this happy life our teen protagonists have created for themselves. Despite the convenient trope that anime series have been employing for decades, minors in Japan really aren’t allowed to live by themselves, and that, along with other legal troubles, cause Hodaka, Hina, and Nagi to go on the run during a freakishly powerful storm. The three eventually take shelter and spend a night of innocent bliss singing karaoke, pigging out on junk food, and acting like silly, carefree kids, during which Hodaka silently says, “Please, God, don’t give us anything more, and don’t take anything away. Let us stay like this forever,” and it’s a heartbreakingly bittersweet moment, as by this point the narrative has finally picked up steam, and it’s painfully apparent that this simple happiness is unspeakably fragile.

Things eventually come to a series of kinetic confrontations, and it’s here that a bit more insight into just why Hodaka has run away from home would have been nice. It’s clear that Weathering with You’s primary purpose is to tell the story of how Hodaka and Hina change each other’s lives, and yes, it’s obvious that the major reason he wants to stay in Tokyo is because of his feelings for Hina. But the drastic, and even violent, measures Hodaka is willing to resort to in order to keep from being sent back to his parents in Shikoku are hard to mentally and emotionally process without anything other than “I didn’t like it in Shikoku, and I don’t want to go back,” and knowing the specific nature of what caused him to leave would make it easier to sympathize, or at least understand, why he was willing to come so close to irrevocably damaging not only his own life, but others’ as well.

To that same effect, Hina’s central conflict, whether she should continue affecting the weather or not, could also be more sharply defined. We eventually learn that by using her powers she’s also courting great danger, but the pressure she feels to continue stopping the rain, beyond her desire to make people happy and earn a living, is a critical point that we’re largely made aware of after the fact. As with Hodaka, the choices she’s faced with will potentially put both her and others’ lives in danger, and since the entire story hinges on her decision, a clearer picture of what’s at stake would make the turmoil she’s dealing with more compelling in the moments when it’s taking place, as opposed to something the audience might have to most largely feel retroactively instead, especially since her eventual course of action ends up having a catastrophic cost, even if no one could find fault with her for choosing as she did.

As with Your Name, Shinkai not only directed Weathering with You, but wrote the film’s script as well, and maybe a second pair of eyes could have suggested setting up those conflicts a bit more thoroughly, perhaps by jettisoning the secondary reason Hodaka and Hina go on the run, since they’ve already got a natural disaster-level storm and child services investigators ratcheting up the cinematic tension. Alternatively, while Keisuke and Natsumi’s personal conflicts serve to round out their characters, they also fade into the background and get resolved off-screen as Hodaka and Hina’s tale demands the movie’s attention, making them feel more like TV series B-plots than part of a feature film. Also similar to Your Name is an oddly drawn-out denouement, which glosses over a number of questions the film just crammed into your head while taking an extra-leisurely path to get to the only place left for it to logically go.

On the other hand, the director’s and scriptwriter’s chairs being one and the same means that when Weathering with You goes Shinkai, it goes maximum Shinkai. Wind literally roars. Lightning pounds the earth. Lovers run as fast and as far as their legs and hearts will carry not only them, but us. At the critical frame of the film’s most breathtaking, liquid-fluidly animated sequence, the soundtrack itself bursts into applause, and only the most heartless cynic would be genuinely upset at what’s technically an audio-based cheat, but one that perfectly echoes what’s going on in the collective spirit of the audience at that moment.

The deftness with which Weathering with You sets up its conflicts really is a mixed bag, but when it comes time to resolve them? It does so with all the power and determination of a typhoon, drenching the screen with raw emotion that shines and drips in the sun, a wet, cleansing catharsis, with the promise of warm light to come.

Related: Weathering with You official website
Top image: YouTube/東宝MOVIEチャンネル
Insert images: YouTube/東宝MOVIEチャンネル (1, 2)
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s always happy to see former Falcom employees like Shinkai show off their skill with color design.