I attended the special fan preview screening of Weathering With You, which included a recorded interview with Makoto Shinkai. In it, he made clear his intentions to create a movie that would hit audiences all across the world like Your Name did in Japan. In this, I fear he is going to be bitterly disappointed.
Following up Your Name, my favorite movie and I would argue one of the best-constructed movies ever, was no easy task. Shinkai appears to have tried to reproduce a similar story but on a slightly grander scale. A lot of the specific trappings of Your Name are there, but it just doesn’t work the same way. I have a lot of thoughts on this, but they do involve Your Name spoilers. (I will refrain from posting significant Weathering With You spoilers, though if there’s one thing the movie has over Your Name it’s that at least you can discuss it without everything being a spoiler!)
The best example I can give of how Weathering With You lack’s Your Name’s magic is a comparison of shocking scenes. In Your Name, the point at which you first learn that Itomori has been destroyed comes as a game-changing change in the status quo. It makes you question everything you’d seen thus far, and dramatically alters the story you thought you were watching, all the while setting up the climax. There is a similarly shocking reveal in Weathering With You, but it only changes things going forward. It’s a huge disruption to the status quo, but the big shock is that Shinkai would make that choice, rather than what it means for the story.
The structure of the movies also hurts Weathering With You, though not in an obvious way. Your Name is presented at first as almost a non-story. All that’s happening is two people are inexplicably switching bodies and trying to deal with this. Nothing really moves the plot forward in the first act, though on subsequent viewings you will notice how dense that act is with foreshadowing. Act 2 moves things, but the shape of the actual plot doesn’t become clear until act 3 kicks off. At that point, everything you know changes, and basically any resolution seems to be in play.
Weathering With You, by comparison, sets things up in a linear fashion reminiscent of, well, almost every other narrative movie out there. Hodaka arrives in Tokyo, he finds work, he meets Hina, they start a business, and so on. Everything leads to everything else in a linear fashion. This is not a bad thing–again, this is how most stories are told–but Your Name’s odd structure is one of the things that made it so special. When act 3 of Weathering With You starts, it’s basically the act 3 you were expecting for most of the movie.
And that brings me to one final point. In my view, the best scene and the emotional core of Your Name happens when Taki and Mitsuha meet on the edge of the crater. That scene is not presented as Taki making a sacrifice for Mitsuha, yet in the end that’s what happens. He does everything he can to save her, but he also forgets her. That fact, and the way he breaks down as he realizes this is happening, add a certain nobility to his actions. Without going into any detail, I can say that Weathering With You lacks this same type of characterization.
As I said in my review, Weathering With You wasn’t well served by being so similar to Your Name. This is particularly true if Shinkai was hoping to appeal to an American audience. The bad news is, I don’t know if he can make a more American-audience-friendly movie than Your Name. It didn’t catch on for whatever reason, but Weathering With You is much more anime and that’s going to hurt it. I doubt an anime will be truly “big” in the U.S. any time soon, simply because of our animation biases. Maybe Weathering With You will actually do well because it’s just a bit more Studio Ghibli and may at least get a big youth fanbase. But I fear if Shinkai wants to make another phenomenon, he’s going to need some new ideas.