Withering Into An Anti-Climax: Weathering With You Deserved A Better Ending
Makoto Shinkai's follow-up to the film that made him a household name, delivered on the front of being visually breathtaking, emotionally rich and backed by an interesting lore. However, the fan favourite moment of Your Name, that ambiguous ending, is missing in Weathering With You. The ending is not quite the one you'd expect, if you've seen the director's other works, and it certainly did take a weird stance on climate change. Shinkai has never been big on romantic happy endings, and in fact all his works before Your Name ended on bittersweet, often very sad, notes. With this film, he switched it up, but the story went in a problematic direction, to say the least.
So, firstly, there's the most intriguing lore about the Sunshine girl. This is very traditionally Shinkai, linking a folktale into reality to create cosmic stakes. The Sunshine girl is one who can control rain. She has the power to hold back rain when she wants, and is basically able to decide the weather. However, as fate would have it, they are not a blissfully alive magical breed. They have limited time on the planet, especially when it comes to switching up the weather. They hold the sunshine in them, sort of, and every time they use their power, the life force drains out of them. Also, until they're dead, there's eternal rain where she resides. So there's the conflict, of whether to sacrifice for the greater good.
Hina, the sunshine girl wasn't born that way. She came across the breach between her world and the spiritual one, when wandering on a rooftop, trying to come to terms with her mother's mortality. She crosses over for a brief moment and this is when the power makes its way inside her. Hodaka, the male protagonist, is away from the city, but notices a cloud cover is taking away the sunshine over his head. He follows the light on his bike, up to the edge of the land and watches it disappear across the sea. A few years later, for other reasons, he arrives at Tokyo, looking for a job. When he finds lodging at the house of a man he met on the ship, he settles in. And that's when he meets Hina.
The romantic tale links up with the supernatural. It's like apart from being the woman who can remove the cloud cover on whim, she's also the source of sunlight in Hodaka's own life. The story is well paced, with the romance developing fast, which is reminiscent of all teenage love. The side characters are fleshed out beyond their functional roles in the story, which makes their presence compelling. Be it the backstory of the man who doesn't get to meet his son, or Hina's younger brother's dry wit, they make the world feel very habitable. And the folklore belongs in this world as well. The culture is an essential part of the story, through characters and habits, and the fairy tale feels natural there.
And then there are the spellbinding visuals as well. There's something about the way Shinkai's films depict cities, which make them feel essentially lonely. The lack of collective connection in a city which means everyone's essentially in their own island, detached from the rest, can be clearly seen in a Makoto Shinkai film. The tall buildings reaching up to the sun, but unable to touch the light, the streetlights glowing through the night on abandoned roads, the cafes and restaurants, crowded, but not bustling with energy, and of course, the metro trains, cramped from door to door, but essentially filled with exhaustion. And the animation looks extremely authentic, with the hyper realistic visuals.
Rain! Who can forget the role of rain in a Shinkai movie. Be it 5 Centimeters Per Rain, or The Garden of Words or Your Name, or in fact any of his films, rain is an essential element of the visual constitution of a Makoto Shinkai film. And Weathering With You has a story that specifically deals with rain. The wet roads shining in the sunlight, the constant opening and closing of umbrellas, the drenched trench coats, and water-logged alleys, the raindrops falling on the windows as if nature is crying in the loneliness that the lives are wrapped in, the cleansing of dirt from all around, and of course, the slow pitter patter on fallen leaves, which somehow let you smell petrichor even across a screen.
So, despite such merit in the visualisation and the emotional core of the story, when Weathering With You allowed the protagonists to get away with a selfish choice, it sort of ruined the aesthetic. The Garden of Words was the definition of bittersweet love, a summer romance of sorts, with consequences, but which was doomed to end right from the start. Your Name was absolutely heartbreaking with its revelation that they would never meet, although the ending questioned that. And then, Weathering With You had the toughest romantic twist. They'd have to let go and Hina would have to sacrifice herself, or drown Japan. This is as compelling as a story gets.
It's not terrible that a couple of teenagers would decide to give their love a chance even if at the cost of truly catastrophic consequences. And the depth of the connection between Hodaka and Hina, with them having to run away from the police to prevent deportation, and them practically belonging with each other, going around the world helping people, makes the choice seem very viable. What feels off about the whole affair is Shinkai's choice to not scrutinise this decision, and not punish them in a proportional extent. The punitive element didn't necessarily have to be demonic or destructive, but at least guilt could have plagued their minds, but they seemed blissfully ignorant of the consequences.
Climate change is a horrifying reality, and by making it seem that the world anyway goes through a cycle of eternal rain and eternal sunshine, as if there's no real consequences in choosing to let it rain and flood large parts of Japan, feels like a lack of taste on the storyteller's part. After a gruelling climactic buildup, with Hodaka's run that kind of ran over the highlights of the emotional journey, tragic as it is, the viewer was being prepared for the heartbreak. The direction taken is worse, apart from the problematic aspect, as it seems to make light of the emotional buildup and simply feels anti-climactic. So, all things considered, Weathering With You deserved a better ending.