The old song “You Are My Sunshine” gets taken to a literal extreme in “Weathering With You,” the latest supernatural teen romance from Japanese anime director Makoto Shinkai.
Shinkai has a gift for expressing the emotional lives of teenagers through fanciful storylines. In his 2016 film “Your Name,” two teenage protagonists yearning to escape their lives got their wish — by swapping bodies, “Freaky Friday”-style.
In “Weathering,” Hodaka (voiced by Kotaro Daigo) is a teenage boy who has run away from his small town to live in Tokyo. He comes across Hina (Nana Mori), a girl who brings sunshine with her wherever she goes. Literally. If she prays during a rainstorm, she’s able to part the clouds and bring the sunbeams raining down. According to the film’s folklore, in days of old, every Japanese village had its own “sunshine girl” to chase the clouds away.
Anybody who’s had a teenage crush, and swear that the world brightens whenever the object of their affection arrives, will identify with Hodaka’s predicament. Initially, he sees a more mercenary application to her powers, renting out Hina’s storm-chasing gift for party planners and schools. But when overuse of Hina’s gift puts her in jeopardy, “Weathering With You” shifts into full-on romantic fantasy.
The visuals are a seamless blend of 2-D hand-painted animation and 3-D rotoscoped computer animation. The traditional style has the beauty and the detail of a film by Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki (Shinkai’s hero), while the 3-D gives objects like buildings weight and presence within the frame. This leads to one stunning sequence after another, the camera flying through a fireworks display in the sky or capturing a school of “sky fish” wriggling in the air. Not surprisingly in a film about weather, the movie’s rain effects are particularly gorgeous, the rain either descending gently in tiny drops or gushing downwards in a torrent.
The film also becomes a climate change parable, as Hina’s powers could end up saving the planet. While this message is sincere, it’s not as well-developed as its love story. Like everything else in “Weathering With You,” even the end of the world seems secondary to the tension over whether a teenager’s heart will break.
While the plot isn’t always easy to follow (what exactly are those “sky fish,” anyway?) and the film occasionally descends into maudlin sweetness, this is a playful and sweet anime that will prove to be a ray of sunlight for those who swooned over “Your Name.”