An Analysis of the Film's Contrasting Themes [Spoilers]
Nov 9, 2019 2:33 PM
Joined: Jan 2013
I've had the opportunity to see Weathering With You 3 times, once with the director in attendance for a Q&A at the Animation Is Film Festival. And there was an answer he gave at that Q&A that intrigued me and that I've been paying attention in all my subsequent viewings. SPOILERS for the film ahead.
As you can see in this video, Shinkai was asked about how the debate on climate change had influenced the film. Shinkai responded that the natural disasters that have afflicted Japan in recent years were part of what pushed him to make a film portraying the weather as both beautiful and dangerous. Then he referenced the scene near the climax where Hodoka is pointing the gun at everyone and yells, "You pretend to not know anything!" There is a shot in that scene straight on Hodoka's face with the gun in the foreground pointed directly at the audience. In the context of the movie, Hodaka is angry at everyone for pretending to not know anything about Hina and how her sacrifice brought back the sunshine. After all we see that many people, perhaps the whole city, dreamt about Hina floating into the sky.
But Shinkai explained there there is a 2nd layer to that line, pointing the gun at all of us for not recognizing or ignoring the small things every individual does that contributes to climate change. Hearing this gave me pause, as you would think the message about climate change would focus on the never-ending rain and the flooding of Tokyo. But the film goes out of its way several times to point out that this weather is not necessarily unnatural. The priest and Taki's Grandmother point out that weather records only go back about 100 years, that the weather operates without concern for the humans clinging to the surface, and that Tokyo used to be a bay 200 years ago. During the epilogue Keisuke reminds Hodoka that, "The world has always been crazy."
With all that in mind, I believe the excessive rain is actually the natural state of the world and Hina's sunshine powers are the analogy for climate change. Specifically, how the public of Tokyo runs her ragged with requests ranging from needing sunshine for big festivals to desiring it so a horse will race better. Sunshine is not a bad thing and neither are all the modern conveniences we rely on that have been brought about by technology and industrialization. But when we rely on them too heavily without acknowledging the consequences, we harm the planet just as we see Hina losing more of her body to the Sky. By returning Hina from the sky, Hodoka forces Tokyo to give up on the conveniences that sunshine brings and move on without the same selfishness.
Where things get interesting is when you contrast that theme of collective acknowledgment and selflessness with the other parts of the film that seem to be embracing a more selfish, individualistic theme. Society as a whole is not portrayed in a good light. Kids like Hina and Hodoka who are working hard and trying to live their own independent lives despite their past hardships are constantly looked down on, suspected of being runaways. The government is going to take Nagi away from Hina despite all the good she's been doing for him without any help from the system. Even sympathetic adults like Keisuke turn their back on them once the system exerts pressure, unable to risk the consequences.
I don't know enough about Japanese culture to speak on any social message Shinkai may be conveying here, but the "screw the system" undercurrent of these poor outcast teenagers is definitely in the movie. Add onto all that Hodoka's decision to choose his love over the collective well-being of society and it's no wonder that many older Japanese film critics were not pleased with the movie (Shinkai brought this up in the Q&A). It's a bold theme to declare in Japan, a nation that celebrates fitting in and focuses on family & the collective over the individual.
So how do these two themes mesh together? One about the need for selfless collective action, the other how it's sometimes okay to be selfish and rebel against the system? Honestly I don't have a solid answer. Rebelling against the system leads to Hodoka choosing Hina over society and everyone having to live without the benefits of sunshine. The real-world message could be that we all need to do our small part as individuals to combat climate, not relying on others to do it for us or denying our accountability. This may leave us more at the whims of nature like turning off your AC/heat to save electricity, but its for the best in the end. I'm not sure though and I would love to hear what others thought of the film and its contrasting themes.
Weathering With You is a bit of a messy film, not fully connecting its many plot threads and themes into one simple vision. However, its complexity and focus on more real-world themes made it one of the most intriguing anime I've seen the past few years. Your Name may be the better movie in terms of narrative arc and emotional resonance, but Weathering With You is far more interesting thematically and is a film I plan to dig into on many future rewatches.