There’s something vaguely off-putting about the ending to Makoto Shinkai’s latest anime film, Weathering With You. Set in present-day Tokyo one summer when historic amounts of rainfall threaten to drown the city, the film introduces a magical fantasy element in the form of a “weather maiden” who can get rid of the rain at great personal cost. It’s easy to misread Weathering With You as an allegory about climate change, but it really isn’t when the narrative conflict is summed up by one ridiculous, albeit touching question:
Is the love between this weather maiden and a teenage boy worth more than a drowned city?
Full spoilers follow for the ending of Weathering With You.
Hodaka Morishima, a young man from a small Japanese island town in Weathering With You, runs away from home during this particularly rainy summer to live on the streets of Tokyo. He finds lodging and a full-time job working for an occult magazine and quickly befriends Hina Amano, a girl who has the mysterious ability to control the weather. Together, they start a business where she uses her power to clear away the rain in limited areas.
As legend tells it, however, a tragic fate awaits the weather maiden. As the rain worsens, Hina realizes that the only way to stop it and save Tokyo from drowning is to sacrifice herself. She’s transported to a magical world above the clouds and gradually fades from existence.
In a fit of foolish desperation, Hodaka figures out a way to save Hina: traveling through the archway in the same rooftop shrine that gave Hina her powers, he’s able to bring her back from the world above the clouds. He breaks many laws along the way, risking his own life and wellbeing just to see her again.
Undoing her sacrifice means the rain resumes, flooding Japan for years to come. Hodaka is also put on some kind of probation and forced to return home until he graduates high school. By the time he returns to see Hina in 2024, most of Tokyo is completely submerged.
Many reviews and other pieces about Weathering With You criticize Hodaka for dooming Tokyo just because he had a crush on a girl. You could argue that Hodaka should have honored Hina’s sacrifice rather than doom the city to a watery apocalypse. Is one life worth preventing disaster? Teenage love would say no, apparently.
There’s something reckless and foolish in the way that Hodaka risks the fate of the world just to save Hina’s life. It’s inspiring, touching, heartbreaking, and absolutely ridiculous. But wouldn’t Weathering With You say something more poignant about the devastating consequences of climate change if instead, the viewer had to watch Hodaka deal with losing Hina knowing that she was just delaying the inevitable climate disaster that might one day destroy humanity?
Weathering With You devolves a bit further when it introduces a theory that these cataclysmic events are part of Earth’s natural climate cycle. It’s similar to how Earth shifts from greenhouse to icehouse climate stages, but because these periods last into the thousands and perhaps even millions of years, recorded human history doesn’t acknowledge it as a natural phenomenon. The ultimate message winds up muddled.
Is Weathering With You trying to deny climate change? Is it trying to say that the love between two teenagers is stronger and more important than the fate of millions? The answer to both questions seems to be yes.
Weathering With You winds up being a masterpiece in emotive storytelling in terms of the heart-wrenching visual spectacle, but at what cost?
Weathering With You opens on wide release in the United States on January 17, 2020.