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Weathering With You on a Stormy Seattle Day

Hello everyone! Today I’m sitting in my apartment, listening to the sound of the rain as it bashes itself into the sidewalk and thinking about Weathering With You. If you’re not into Japanese animation, it’s possible you haven’t heard about this little film that slipped in and out of American theaters right before the pandemic shattered our lives, hogging the stage like an attention-starved diva no one ever wanted. I haven’t thought about Weathering With You in a while, but today there’s thunder and hail and rain all mixing together outside my window, so I’m remembering.

Weathering About You is about as far as you can get from the kind of movies Disney has been putting out lately. I’m really talking about The Lion King. I didn’t like The Lion King. I sat watching a pride of lions blankly sing old hits at each other and couldn’t help but feel I was watching Disney’s thesis statement on the superiority of CGI. “We’re more modern, more advanced and more impressive!” the lions cooed with empty eyes. “Look how we’ve evolved!”

Instead of being overwhelmed by wonder, I ended up squinting at the screen, trying to access a faded copy of an emotion I once had. But the movie was a calculation rather than a creation, making genuine emotion hard to find.

The best films hum with the love and care that went into them.

Weathering With You, Makoto Shinkai’s animated wonder, is a rebuke to the entire concept that CGI is superior to 2D animation. Despite the film’s 2D construction, which could be considered old-fashioned, it’s entirely of the moment. Each frame sparkles like a living watercolor. The clouds are a tempestuous presence, the rain is imbued with mystical powers and, when the sun appears, it’s like a warm beam of light entering the movie theater. (Ah, I miss movie theaters.) If someone told me the artists working on this film were lacing their paint brushes with magic, I might be tempted to believe.

Weathering With You is a climate change romantic fantasy. (If this becomes an actual genre definition, I’m okay with that.)

Sitting at two hours, it’s pretty long for an animated movie. But Weathering With You is such a visual banquet that it never feels long. The story takes place in a carefully mapped Tokyo where, as the characters zip around the city via various modes of transportation, they always seem to end up somewhere detailed and fascinating. Tokyo is one of my favorite cities in the world and to see it so carefully laid out is a real treat. (I hope I’ll get to go back one day, but, at this rate, that might not be until 2038.)

There are some bits that don’t exactly work, but they’re not rough enough to overshadow the lovely relationship at the core of the film, or the beautiful renderings of city and sky. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous going in. As much as I agree about the fact that climate change is an issue worthy of attention, I don’t always like “message” movies, because oftentimes the preachiness overshadows the storytelling.

Fortunately, there’s no preaching here. The film creates a cocoon inside a torrential rainfall, daring to ask what the cost of love should be, what we’re willing to give up in the name of the greater good and what’s worth holding on to. It admits that sometimes love is selfish, but it still counts as love.

I’m not anti CGI in principle, but when I see filmmakers push the creative potential of 2D animation, I get a jolt of excitement. Weathering With You proves there’s a way to make it beautiful and to make it new.

Thanks for reading. For more stuff I’m on twitter and I have a newsletter.

Engaged in inadvisable wordsmitheries and other creative acts.

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