Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You feels familiar, but foregrounds something that has always resided in his anime films: a deep and intense connection to the natural world. While not as overtly focused on the environment as Hayao Miyazaki, a filmmaker Shinkai is often compared to, his past films Your Name, Garden of Words and Children Who Chase Lost Voices have all pondered the effect that changes in the seasons have on our emotions, particularly love. This connection between the heart and the surrounding land permeates the very scenery of his films, all lovingly rendered in lavish, beautiful digital paintings.
Weathering with You is the story of 16-year-old runaway Hodaka, who moves to a perpetually rainy Tokyo with nothing but the clothes on his back. He eventually finds shelter and employment from a man named Suga, a detective who runs a shady occult and conspiracy magazine. Assigned to the “urban legends” column, Hodaka is asked to track down a girl fabled to have the magical power to stop the rain and roll in sunshine. His assignment eventually leads him to Hina, a girl who once offered him food when he was starving. It turns out that Hina really does have the power to control the sky — a gift that could bring unexpected wealth and even happiness to an oppressively rainy Tokyo.
After the film’s US premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Polygon sat down with Shinkai to discuss the film, as well as the current state of the animation industry and the upcoming Your Name remake.
You were working on Your Name almost right up until release date — were there any difficulties to that process that you tried to fix while making Weathering With You?
For both Your Name and Weathering With You, production was pretty hard. What’s happening in animation in Japan is that there’s not enough people, there’s not enough time, and there’s not enough money. I think one of the things we have to do in the anime industry as a whole right now is to make a better system to help production. With Weathering With You we had a massage therapist and acupuncturist come into the studio to take care of the workers. We also brought in organic bento box lunches so we could, you know, eat good food. I think the massage worked best because we spend so much of production hunched over!
Did you find it daunting to follow up the runaway success of Your Name?
I don’t think I really felt any pressure. When I was making Your Name, I wasn’t making it to make it a big hit. What I wanted to make at the time was probably what a lot of audiences wanted to see at the time. It felt like a lot of good luck sort of just fell into place. I don’t think that’s something that you could just recreate. So with Weathering With You I just wanted to make I want, and see if the audience actually wants to see it this time [laughs].
Well, it’s been pretty well received so far.
Yeah, I’m happy that we were able to create something that the audience wanted to see. But then, you know what, while I was watching with the audience yesterday, I just kept noticing this stuff that we could have done better. I just had lots of little regrets as I watched. I mean everyone did laugh at the points that I was hoping they would, but then I saw a lot of things that I could maybe change. So now I’m just really wanting to make the next film so that I could just fix all of those issues.
You made Voices Of A Distant Star almost by yourself in 2002. How did working with a larger team impact your process?
I guess I can say there’s both a huge difference in making a film by myself and making it with a huge team, but also nothing has really changed. I still do all the storyboards by myself, but there’s a big difference because I communicate with so many people now. And now that I’ve already worked on a complete project on my own, I’m satisfied in that regard. It’s actually fun to be working together with a team. And then even if I do all the storyboard by myself, I can draw, get feedback, and then fix or change things. Having that communication with my team is really fun, and then to present it to the audience and then see their feedback is also fun.
There’s been comparisons between your work and the work of Studio Ghibli, the term “the next Miyazaki” has been used to describe you. Is that a title that you would even want?
I think in Japan, the whole “next Miyazaki” thing is just from the box office success. With Miyazaki, he was able to just put out hit after hit. Maybe the comparisons came because Your Name and Weathering With You did so well in Japan back to back. I really feel like I’m not even up to par with Miyazaki. I still feel my films are incomplete and I feel a little awkward or bad that I’m being compared to his greatness.
I think also people might compare us just because we’re both in animation. It’s true though that I was inspired by Mr Miyazaki; he has these universal themes in all of his works that people strongly relate to, using something from that specific era that feels like it had to be made at that time. I want to do something like that in my films. With Weathering With You, I tried to incorporate ecological disasters that have happening that have been becoming more visible in Japan. I wanted a feeling that people could find relatable in my film.
Was climate change at the front of your mind when you were creating this film?
I really had just two themes that I wanted to explore, one is, of course, about climate change, you know, because lately there’s just been so many disasters and we see it everyday on the news and it’s directly related to our lives. There are people actually dying and there’s buildings crumbling and it was just something that moved me so much. It’s something I worry about so I wanted to incorporate that into my film, but also have the individual wishes of a boy contrasted with the wishes or the good of the community, and the conflict between that.
A lot of your past work, including The Garden of Words and now Weathering With You, has a strong connection with nature, specifically the rain. Do you feel such a connection?
Garden of Words was back in 2013, where Weathering With You is coming out in 2019, and I think in the six years between, the people in Japan changed about how we feel about rain and the different seasons. Before, rain was beautiful, and the seasons felt like they would change very slowly, the color of the leaves and such. In The Garden of Words, rain was something that brought people together. But in recent years, these seasonal changes feel like they’ve been attacking us. So I really wanted to have the rain be more violent and aggressive in this movie.
You said previously that it was quite rare to see anime on an international stage such as the one at the Toronto Film Festival. With Weathering With You’s presentation here, and as Japan’s pick for the international film Oscar, do you feel that anime is becoming held in an equal regard to live-action film?
So when I was [picked], the news really surprised me. I thought, “why did they choose it?” But when you think about it, box-office wise, more people watch animated films in Japan than live-action films. I feel that anime is often very representative of Japanese culture, but regarding the Academy Awards, I don’t know if I have confidence that it could be on the same platform as live action yet. I think I’ll know more when it’s released in North America and see how it’s received.
Really when I was making this film, I was making it for young people in Japan. I mainly did this with the music; there’s a lot of meaning in the lyrics, which are in Japanese, and the pacing of the movie is so fast really to just keep up with the young people and how fast they live. But even in Japan, I suppose there are people watching who are kids or the elderly and I guess they fall into the same category a global audience. I am a little worried over whether I did enough to entertain people outside of this target audience. Sorry if I sound negative, but I do worry about that.
If anything your last couple of films have been the bigger breakthroughs with international audiences! Just look at the plans for the American remake of Your Name. Have you had any conversations with the people involved?
The thing is that this film did so well, and the last film did so well so I shouldn’t be so negative, but I guess it’s really just my personality to be negative and worried. In regards to the Hollywood version of Your Name, there’s a lot that I cannot talk about. But I do communicate with the Hollywood team. Especially with the script and [screenwriter] Eric [Heisserer, who wrote Arrival]. I have read the script, I gave some feedback, and then I’ve gotten updates. So I am in with them, but there’s a lot that we can’t talk about. I think the important thing is that I leave it up to them. What they want to make is really important, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.
Kambole Campbell is a writer whose work appears on Little White Lies, Birth Movies Death, SciFi Now and Vague Visages.