‘Weathering With You’ Review: A Ray of Sunshine

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Watch the trailer for the movie ‘Weathering With You.’ Photo: Fathom Events

Before “Weathering With You” came along, no movie in memory had used cumulonimbus clouds as a plot point, let alone employed the plural form, cumulonimbi, to describe more than one of the towering thunderheads. A resplendent piece of anime art—though a less-than-shining example of narrative clarity—

Makoto Shinkai’s

romantic fantasy is very much about weather. Torrential summer rains hit Tokyo. There’s talk of a typhoon. A coastal storm nearly sweeps a 16-year-old runaway, Hodaka, off the deck of a seagoing ferry. And the weather goes from bad to worse as Hodaka tries to survive on the streets of the sprawling capital—until, that is, he meets Hina, a girl who can make the sun shine. It’s a beguiling definition of adolescent passion that becomes something more. Hina truly can make the sun shine, and not only for the new love of her life.

Mr. Shinkai was already an apostle of adolescent love—and mysteriously beautiful images—in his 2016 “Your Name,” now considered an anime classic. This time he has mixed romance with a tradition in Japanese cinema that goes all the way back to “Godzilla.” In that 1954 sci-fi landmark and its abundant spawn, the sea monster served as a metaphorical warning about the perils of nuclear weapons. In “Weathering With You” the weather isn’t merely a matter of inclemency, it’s climate going haywire—epic rainfall, along with summer snow, that threatens to submerge all of Tokyo, if not the whole island nation.

Hina may well have magical powers—they couldn’t be the product of her boyfriend’s imagination, could they?—but there are limits. She can aim her shafts of sunshine only on small patches of ground for relatively brief stretches of time. What’s more, according to an ancient myth that the film either resurrects or invents, this ardent girl may be a latter-day incarnation of the Weather Maiden, and therefore a tragic figure who must sacrifice herself for the good of the planet. Mr. Shinkai has marshaled more themes than he knows how to organize, but his film feels fresh and urgent. Star-crossed lovers are old news. Hodaka and Hina are cloud-and-rain-crossed, the hero and heroine of a tale of love in a time of climate change.

Write to Joe Morgenstern at joe.morgenstern@wsj.com

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