Weathering With You Can’t Weather Your Name’s Quality

Makoto Shinkai’s films have been praised since his debut onto the anime scene, and before you can get the third syllable of his name out, anybody you’re talking to will gush about how unbelievably amazing his movies are. With high praise like that, it almost feels like there’s some malfunction with my eyeballs, because I was hardly a fan of his films. They were dull, slow, and tried too hard at being poetic. The one film of his I did like, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, everybody else crossed their arms at in gruff consternation, so it made me wonder if this wasn’t something I should bring up at my next visit to my ophthalmologist.

Other anime fans and I finally found common ground when Shinkai came out with Your Name, which went on to trample all over Spirited Away’s previous box office record and inspire pages and pages of fan art on Pixiv for the next eleven and a half months. So when Weathering With You came into this world, I was excited to see a Shinkai film for the first time in my life, and know what? It was pretty good.

However…

Weathering With You isn’t a sequel to Your Name, and its only connection is Taki and Mitusha making cameo appearances in the weeks before their reunion, when we all burst into tears as Nandemonaiya starts playing, but as I was stepping out of the theater after the credits finished rolling, I couldn’t help but compare it relentlessly to the preceding film. Weathering With You did good on its part, and it borrows a lot from Your Name, but what made the latter film great is watered down in the former, which is appropriate, given its premise.

Before, if asked what made Your Name so good, I would’ve shrugged and been like, “Dunno. Just is.” Now that I’ve seen Weathering With You, I can pinpoint exactly what made it the theatrical phenomenon it was, and it boils down to just three things:

  • The Music
  • The Scenario
  • The Deutagonists

Heavy spoilers ahead.

THE MUSIC

Something noteworthy of both films is how instrumental music is to either, and that pun was only half intentional. Like any other movie, they’re filled with a slew of tracks that’re unremarkable on their own, with one or two pieces that make you go, “Ooo, this’s lovely,” but the real hits are the insert songs. Your Name features three, those being Dream Lantern, Zenzenzense, and Sparkle, with Nandemonaiya playing during the credits. Weathering With You ups the ante by adding an extra two, so altogether there’s Voice of the Wind, Celebration, Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do?, Grand Escape, and We’ll Be Alright, with a full version of Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do? playing over the credits.

The inserts in both movies are played to great effect, punctuating the action on screen, but Your Name wins the point here, because Weathering With You gets overzealous with its inserts by its climax, doing that A Certain Scientific Railgun Season 2 finale where the musician presumably quit so it plays its openings back to back to back. When you spam songs like this, it lessens the impact any one song has. If Taki’s climb to the body of the shrine god had been preceded with a folk song about how badly he wants to see Mitusha rather than playing the piano sonata of her theme, Sparkle wouldn’t have stood out as much. It wouldn’t have been Sparkle, that inspirational, carefree, heartwarming ballad on youth, it would’ve been that song that came shortly after the one before.

By staggering out its songs in this fashion, Your Name’s inserts have their own designated slot in the film that are uniquely their own. The opening doesn’t encroach on Zenzenzense, which stays far away from Sparkle, and it’s all capped off by Nandemonaiya. And beyond that, this movie also knows when to be quiet. During the climax, the music cuts out briefly while Mitsuha’s running to town hall. She’s dog-tired and rippled with emotions at being unable to recall Taki’s name. She trips and lands facing her right hand, which Taki had written his name on. But as she unfurls her fingers, she sees that, instead, he wrote “I love you” while Sparkle resumes, soft, sad, but stirring of the heart. It’s this mastery over music which can make or break a scene, and the use of Sparkle throughout the climax makes it top-tier as a third act.

Grand Escape, featuring the vocals of Toko Miura, in Weathering With You is an absolutely gorgeous piece, whether you’re listening to it while doing your homework or hearing it for the first time in the film, and it’s timed as wonderfully as Sparkle is.

This is the part where I throw a big fat However… at you because as spectacular as Grand Escape is, what it has to work with falls short of what Your Name pulled off.

THE SCENARIO

A common thread between both films is that they feature an apocalyptic scenario, but they come at it from different angles. Your Name has the instantaneous meteorite strike where the twist is that it happened three years in the past, but Weathering With You has constant rainfall which will gradually submerge Tokyo if it doesn’t let up. They’re apples and oranges as far as predicaments go, but the primary handling difference is that the aggressive weather can be abated.

Hodaka in Weathering With You gets assigned a job where he has to study up on Sunshine Girls: young dames capable of bringing out the sun on a rainy day. However, nature doesn’t much like them running about, so it throws a tantrum by raining by the petload, and the only thing that’ll make it stop is for the Sunshine Girl—more traditionally known as the Weather Maiden—to sac herself so that Tokyo can have a decent day of weather.

This creates the main conflict of Hina, the current Weather Maiden, being able to stop the downpour but Hodaka being reluctant to let her do so due to the love bug that bit him one of the many times he was checking her out. There’s some hemming and hawing beforehand, but for society’s sake, she goes through with it. She pulls a Houdini, and the following morning the citizens of Tokyo remember what it’s like to not wake up to rain.

And that’s it. The terrible weather disperses, and life returns to normal in the city. The only ones who lose are Hodaka and Hina’s little playboy brother. It raises the interesting dilemma of the life of one for the livelihood of the many, and it reveals a color of Hodaka most artists wouldn’t dare put on their canvas when he makes the decision to bring Hina back at the cost of flooding Tokyo over three years’ time. But as far as the wider plot is concerned, there’s no more conflict once Hina bites the bullet. The day is saved, and there’s nothing else to do.

Contrast this with Your Name’s splitting comet. That comet fragment’s gonna fall no matter what. Mitsuha and Taki can’t draw an arcane circle and summon Godzilla from the lake to swat away the fragment before it destroys Itomori. All they can do is move the townsfolk out of the blast radius before it strikes. Like Hodaka, Taki has a personal stake in saving the girl he loves, but there’s also the added bonus of saving so many lives, which most would consider a noble goal in and of itself.

Saving the town, stopping the rain—those’re just surface elements. If you pay real close attention to the old people ramblings (or read all the adaptations like I did), you’ll trip over a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes supernatural handiwork, again handled differently between the films.

Your Name gives us musubi, the connection between any two things, living or not. If you grow rice and ingest it, you have a connection with the earth it grew from. Same thing if you share a slice of cake with a date: a connection’s made. Even time functions like this, which is how Mitsuha and Taki were able to body-swap despite the three year discrepancy.

Weathering With You gives us…Erm, it’s a little hard to talk about, because it doesn’t have a name for its fantastical aspects, so I’m just gonna make up one and call it Fishy Bubbles. Now, what is Fishy Bubbles? Erm, it’s a little hard to talk about, because the film doesn’t bother explaining. We know that Weather Maidens incarnate, once in great numbers, and that Fishy Bubbles doesn’t much like that, so it’ll play with the thermostat on an area until the Maiden turns herself in. But beyond this, Fishy Bubbles is largely an enigma. I’m not asking that Fishy Bubbles receive a full character bio, complete with blood type, zodiac sign, astrological sign, and favorite midnight snack, but why would the force of nature want to chow down on human girls, or rather, if it hates them existing that much, why do they exist in the first place? The lore for Fishy Bubbles comes off as arbitrary, and if we got just one or two lines to set the record straight, I wouldn’t be frowning such a wrinkly frown at it.

What’s more that’s different is the relationship between the deuteragonists and their respective force of nature. Whereas Hodaka and Hina’s relationship with Fishy Bubbles is more antagonistic, Taki uses the neutral musubi to save Mitsuha and the town. But even that relationship changes if you read Another Side: Earthbound, because that light novel’s final short story reveals how all the connections and events surrounding Itomori and the Miyamizu bloodline weren’t just random occurrences, but dominoes knocking into the next, leading up to the night when Taki and Mitsuha save the town’s people from the comet’s return pass. Musubi working with the young lovers. Everything ending up where it should be, as Mitsuha and Yotsuha’s late mother chanted.

I don’t think Fishy Bubbles or how Hodaka handle it is the end of the world. Seeing him rescue the girl he loves at the cost of a walk to the 7/11 where your socks don’t get soaked was certainly an unexpected development. But it doesn’t come with the same sense of satisfaction in finding out that, by some miracle, Mitsuha managed to talk her dad into evacuating the population in the nick of time. In fact, we find out that Hodaka’s kind of a jerk for drowning Tokyo and throwing everybody’s way of life out of wack.

And since we’re talking character traits, that brings us to my final point…

THE DEUTERAGONISTS

I’ll just be up front with this: Hodaka and Hina don’t hold a candle to Taki and Mitsuha, and you can explain the brightness levels in one word: resolve.

Taki embarks into the Japanese countryside to meet the girl he loves despite not remembering where exactly she lives. Eventually, he learns the hard truth that she dead. But he thinks up a way to save her by drinking the kuchikamizake sake she (him as her, actually) offered at the shrine god’s body in order to bounce back into her body.

Hodaka has similar resolve. He gives the police the slip so that he can resurrect Hina, which is pretty ballsy. But he just runs down train tracks, while Taki scales a mountain (twice), and that’s a fitting metaphor for the gap between them.

Take a closer look at those exact scenes, when Hodaka rushes for the torii gate where Hina originally obtained her Sunshine Girl powers, and when Taki in Mitsuha’s body returns to the rim of the caldera. We’re treated to flashbacks, but Hodaka’s is assorted clips scrapped together and recycled to save on the dwindling animation budget, while Taki learns why Mitsuha is best girl.

Mitsuha, in her shenanigans while acting the role of a love-struck Taki, sets him up for a date with his coworker, but when the day comes for him to go on that date, she finds herself oddly distraught and takes a train into Tokyo to crash it. Her chances of encountering him are low, she realizes, in a city of nine million, but she tries regardless, and by some lucky miracle she manages to find Taki on an evening train. It’s their first time meeting in person.

This is Mitsuha’s resolve. She spends an entire day of her life searching for Taki in a city she’s never been to simply because she wants to see him, running her feet sore and exhausting herself physically and emotionally. This scene is pivotal for kicking off their body-swapping phenomenon, but it shows the lengths and risks she’s willing to go to and take on so that she can see the boy she loves.

Hina, by contrast, doesn’t have anything like this. Sure, she willingly sacrifices herself so that normal weather can return to Tokyo, but that’s more her accepting her role as the Weather Maiden than doing it specifically for Hodaka—or specifically for herself—even though beforehand she asks him if he wants the rain to stop, to which he replies he does. She doesn’t even have to jump through hurdles of any kind to pull off her vanishing act. With a snap of her fingers, she’ll disappear before our very eyes.

I wouldn’t say Hina isn’t totally without resolve. In a capitalist society where the only thing that matters is whether you have money to pay the perfect stranger who owns the roof over your head, she makes the most she can, both in finances and in happiness, out of a situation where both parents are gone from the picture so breadwinning falls on her. Her resolve is a different shade from Mistuha’s, but the shade of Mitsuha’s resolve is closer in gradient to Taki’s than Hina’s is to Hodaka’s.

But putting all this talk of resolve on the back-burner, it has to be said that Taki and Mitsuha are just far more interesting characters. There’s a lot more to learn about who they are as people in the novel and light novel adaptations, but even if you ignore those, that much more personality comes out in these two than Hina and Hodaka, from Taki groping Mitsuha’s breasts each and every time he wakes up in her body to Mitsuha blowing his budget on larger and more grandiose desserts. You see a rainbow of emotions run across their expressions, and while Weathering With You’s couple aren’t wooden boards, a lot more’s said when Mitsuha travels aimlessly up and down Tokyo in search of Taki than when Hina tells Hodaka that her Sunshine Girl gig made her happy.

BONUS MISCELLANEOUS STRENGTH

The above are the three pillars separating Your Name from Weathering With You—and most other anime films—but a bonus column is its iconic imagery. You’ve got the comet, Mitsuha’s cord, even the glare of the sun, so if you find a landscape on DeviantArt with Comet Tiamat sailing over it, you’ll go, “Oh, that’s from Your Name.” Fans also get creative, drawing Mitsuha’s cord like the Red Thread of Fate it’s inspired by.

By comparison, Weathering with You doesn’t have anything like that. There’s that cumulonimbus plateau, but there’s no rhyme or reason for it.

Imagery alone doesn’t stand up well without the support of highly likable characters or superb storytelling, however. That’s why nobody does fan art of Assassin’s Pride’s Flandore or My Hero Academia’s Mineta.

IN CONCLUSION

I’ve been lying this entire time. I said that everything that made Your Name great boiled down to 3½ things, but you can sum up this film’s emotional core in a single scene—in a single shot.

Your Name Half-light Meeting

There’s so much that Your Name does right, and there’re plenty of other beautiful shots, but none of them carry the raw passion and distress of two time-crossed lovers desperate to find one another than that one.

The meaning behind Your Name depends on who you’re listening to. Like Stories of Old discusses what makes for a happy life and references a study that posited that the answer was intimate, fulfilling relationships. Bonsai Pop relates to the connection he had during his childhood in rural Massachusetts. Tokyosaurus shares with us an NHK experiment that had 53 people view the movie and point out moments that resonated with them emotionally, because it reminded them of past love or had one gentleman wonder if he and his wife really were fated to be together. One YouTube user commented how they saw the film as a defiance of what destiny chisels for us, which is a viewpoint that loses its merit when you read Another Side: Earthbound, but it’s still a good impression. And on the analytical side is Nerdy Shenanigans explaining how lines separate and distant Taki and Mitsuha. Cinemanalysis details the connection made between them through Mitsuha’s cord. Patrick Kim teased the world with this beautifully written and wonderfully edited video essay on how lines symbolize incompleteness but circles completeness, then had the gall to never make another video.

Even after almost 2,900 words of objective analysis of what I think makes Your Name so beloved, none these words, not a single one of them, captures the emotional takeaway you, the above YouTubers, or anyone had after watching this film for the first, second, even fourth or seventh time. Something you’ll notice from the movie is how there’s no direct message to the viewer. There isn’t a lecture on responding to times of crisis or someone turning to the camera to give a speech on the importance of stepping back from life to take a few breaths. Every line and image is there to tell the story Shinkai wanted to tell, and his was one concentrated on the emotions contained in a human experience, of which there are as many as there are viewers. It’s this figurehead he leads with that resonates so much with so many around the globe in the span of 107 minutes.

Weathering With You was a pleasant watch, carrying over some of the charm Your Name had, but it didn’t have the same staying power with me. I didn’t find the premise of a girl who can bring out the sun as interesting or oozing with exploration potential as suddenly switching places with a perfect stranger, and I can’t summarize it with a single pan of a mountaintop. Weathering With You feels like an animator watched Your Name and wanted to make their own version but didn’t understand what made it so great.

In the novel adaptation of Your Name are two afterwords: one by Shinkai himself and a second by the film’s producer, Genki Kawamura. In it, he states that his goal for Your Name was to make it Shinkai’s greatest work, and things might’ve turned out that way, but based on an interview he did for Funimation, Shinkai didn’t go into this film with that mindset. He just typed up a script based the concept of a commercial he did for Z-Kai and submitted it so that he could get funding to make his next film, and things just happened to fall into place that made it the masterwork it is.

I liked Your Name when I first watched it but fell in love with it by accident when I hopped in the reading material around it, which I did so that I could write the post on Another Side: Earthbound. If Your Name does have a glaring flaw, it’s that it’s, from a worldbuilding standpoint, incomplete. Even after absorbing every little fact and facet I could on Itomori, its culture, its citizens, Mitsuha and Taki, getting the “complete” picture, it still feels incomplete. I want to stay in the Japan of Your Name and learn everything there is to learn and see everything there is to see, before and after the comet strikes. I don’t get that feeling from Weathering With You. Aside from reading its novel adaptation to catch any details I might’ve missed in the film, I have no interest in seeing what there is to see in a rainy Tokyo. Even if Shinkai came out and said that Weathering With You was incomplete, same as he did with Your Name, for me it’s complete. I’m done with it.

I was extremely skeptical going into Your Name. Shinkai’s record for me was miss after miss, with only one hit, so I was expecting to be tired of it before the halfway point. Needless to say, that skepticism was unwarranted. But with my high praise for Your Name came high expectations for Weathering With You, expectations I was skeptical it would meet. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I don’t think that’s the case. When your producer from the onset had you creating your masterpiece, it’s hard to recreate the juggernaut that is Your Name.

One thought on “Weathering With You Can’t Weather Your Name’s Quality

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s