“Weathering With You,” his first feature since the record-breaking “Your Name” in 2016, confirms Makoto Shinkai’s place among the leaders of the new generation of anime writer-directors. In both films, Shinkai turns a seemingly ordinary juvenile romance into a magical-realist journey — and a meditation on real social concerns.
Hoping to find a more interesting life than his local high school offers, Hodaka Morishima runs away to a rain-soaked Tokyo. Impetuous and impractical, he’s brought very little money and forgotten the student ID card he would have to show to apply for a part-time job. He takes shelter in alleys and an all-night manga cafe to escape the ceaseless downpour. Fortunately, he meets two people who offer him lifelines.
Oddball Keisuke Suga saves Hodaka when he‘s nearly swept off the ferry in a storm, and gives him an under-the-table job researching articles for a two-bit occult magazine. While living on the streets of Shinjuku, Hodaka meets Hina Amano, a gentle orphan who’s trying to care for herself and her precocious younger brother Nagisa.
Hina’s modest demeanor conceals a legendary power. She is a Weather Girl, a modern incarnation of a shaman from the old fables. When Hina prays, the clouds part and sunlight pierces them — for a brief time. Using his web skills, Hodaka markets her talent. People hire Hina to gain a few sunny hours for a party, a wedding, a memorial service.
Success brings Hina, Hodaka and Nagisa happiness and more money than they’ve ever seen in their hardscrabble existence in the post-bubble Japanese economy. But their idyll proves short-lived. Hodaka is still a runaway whose family is looking for him; Hina and Nagisa are minors with no legal guardian. Their flight from the police forces them to make choices that lead to an unexpected conclusion.
“Weathering” is a luminously beautiful film. Shinkai’s artists capture both micro- and macroscopic: the wonder of a raindrop acting a prism, casting refractions onto the surrounding surfaces and the glow produced by light shining through clouds. Tokyo almost becomes another character in the film, and the light and water falling on the city offer a counterpoint to Hina and Hodaka’s actions. As he did in “Your Name,” Shinkai suggests that magic exists in the everyday world, if the viewer would only look for it.
Hodaka and Hina may lack the intelligence and resolve of Taki and Mitsuha, the mismatched couple in “Your Name.” But they’re engaging characters, and their adventures enable Shinkai to examine two dire problems many young people in Japan feel powerless to overcome.
Even if he had the necessary ID card, Hodaka couldn’t earn a living as a part-timer in Tokyo. He and Hina would remain stuck at the margins of society with little hope for advancement. The lifetime employment and comfortable salaries that characterized the postwar “economic miracle” in Japan are rapidly becoming things of the past. Increasing numbers of young men face limited prospects for financial security and marriage.
The constant rains that flood Tokyo in “Weathering” suggest a metaphor for global climate change. Like young people around the world, Hodaka and Hina are trapped in the warming, increasingly inhospitable planet previous generations have left them. Shinkai’s sensitive treatment of these real-world problems gives the fantasy of “Weathering With You” a thought-provoking edge many more lavish American animated films lack.
Rated: PG-13, for suggestive material, some violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Playing: Starts Jan. 17 in limited release; with fan screenings Jan. 15 and 16