“Animated movies are just for kids,” Shinkai is a statement that has been proven wrong time and time again in the modern era, with most Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks movies dealing with some complicated and adult themes. But no one manages to do it better than the Japanese, from the seemingly harmless, fun, and colorful Studio Ghibli features to the hard-hitting action-packed anime series and movies that find a way to connect with audiences of all ages and nationalities. But perhaps the most consistent, subtle, and thought-inducing movies are the brainchildren of Director/Animator/Writer/Editor Makoto Shinkai, and his latest is no different.
On the surface, it seems like a standard fantasy movie, with enough mythical and supernatural elements to satisfy even the most hardcore of fantasy fans. But what I think does justice to the genius behind this movie is the metaphorical and allegorical elements. What this movie really is, is a Shinkai coming of age feature disguised as a standard fantasy movie. While the fantasy elements are never fully explained and remain vague throughout the screenplay, they serve their purpose as a backdrop for the characters and the plot to shine.
The movie follows a runaway student Hodaka Morishima, who abandons his life on one of Japan’s many small, rural islands for the bright lights and crowded streets of Tokyo. There, he finds a job with a lonely but boisterous tabloid editor, Suga and his niece, Natsumi, and slowly builds a new life there while Shinkai investigating the atypical perpetual rain in Tokyo. They interview people who talk about a ‘Sunshine Girl’ who can temporarily clear the weather in a limited region and allow the sun to shine, for just a little while. This girl turns out to be a Hina, a McDonald’s employee who had been kind to the Hodaka when he had been starving. They strike up a friendship and later a business partnership, where Hina clears up the sky for weddings and gatherings for a fee, kicking off the plot.
The film plays with some very realistic and relatable themes like unemployment, feeling underqualified in the job market, the contrast between a struggling startup and one that is very successful very fast, but can’t be consistently kept with. Despite the fantastical overtones, the movie features a very realistic and genuine depiction of teenage love and its progression; how it starts Shinkai with a friendship, how feelings arise and have to be confronted, how the initial relationship is characterized by unparalleled passion and sparks flying left and right and how it develops into deep caring and intertwined lives. For a moment, Shinkai addresses (albeit with the movie’s fantastical overtones) how these relationships often end, with one (or both) of the two being forced to sacrifice the euphoria and comfort and love of the relationship for something else, putting their partner’s wellbeing before their own.
Characteristically, Shinkai puts his characters out of their comfort zones and allows the audience to see how they would react in the direst of straits. One of the ways you get to see the stripped-down personalities of the characters is the way in which they react when they end up on the wrong side of the law and have to choose between saving their own skin or protecting their loved Shinkai ones, and the motivations behind their actions and choices. You see characters descend into a frenzied mania when the tides are turned against them, while some face them with a quiet resignation.
If there is a criticism here, it is the underdevelopment of Hina’s character. Though her motivations and ideals are quite clear, she comes off a tad one-dimensional, unlike most of the other characters.
The striking visuals, impressive but realistic dialogue, and the exceptional soundtrack add a lot to this story, which is also peppered with some truly funny humor that doesn’t detract from the drama. This movie begs multiple viewings and will keep you thinking and figuring things out long after it ends. Even if you’re not a foreign or an animated film fan, I would recommend this movie to everyone, as everyone will manage to connect it with their life experiences and take away something different and unique. If you do watch it, I would suggest doing it with a loved one, so you have someone to share in the emotional rollercoaster ride that is this movie.