Weathering with You
August 2021 Anime Progress: Japanese director Makoto Shinkai, who made the popular, but flawed film Your Name (see my 2019 review of that ), released his new film Weathering With You in 2019, which, UNLIKE its predecessor, is artistically impressive AND easy to follow. It still has its Japanese censorship flaws, but it moves the whole Anime experience a little closer to international film standards – telling stories clearly – less difficult for non-Japanese audiences to understand.
Cultural Dilemma: There are TWO important Japanese film limitations. First, a censorship ruling based on cultural beliefs makes ALL films public. So films can depict privacy, but NOT show any adult activity in those places – that would be culturally offensive in public (or in any film).
Second, Japanese films cannot show story characters ‘acting out’ the emotional or social aspects of stories. That would be regarded as very bad manners – real Japanese people would never do that! But if they show story characters acting formally – showing NO emotion – stories with adult themes, which always have emotional implications, will not be understood by audiences.
As a substitute for showing these ‘culturally-rude’ events, Anime producers expect audiences to simply imagine them, or rely on the use of Shinto’s ‘Spirit World’ magic. Outside Japan, adult audiences see no logical reason for quite ordinary story elements like love, hate, social or moral issues to be ignored, or resolved in some implausible way out of sight... when the characters involved show no emotion whatsoever as this happens.
Weathering with You relies on loosely-interpreted Shinto mysticism, beautiful but illogical, so is rated as a Fantasy movie. Even in Japan, Shinto’s ‘metaphysical’ belief-structure is seen as fantasy, yet it is ‘culturally-approved’, so can be shown in films, while actual reality, if it includes adult content, cannot be shown.
But the film ALMOST succeeded in avoiding these limitations. Almost but not quite. It DID show emotional exchanges between story protagonists in two ways. One was by often using thought-stream so characters, instead of showing visible emotion, simply TOLD the audience what they were thinking or feeling. Another way was by often switching the story scenes between public and private places, emphasizing the differences! There, characters COULD be frank with each other and display some emotions, like in the real world... mildly defying the Privacy Ban. Cultural purists or censorship officials believe that privacy should never be depicted in Japanese films, and telling adult-themed stories should be impossible. But Anime films look less ‘real’ than live-action films, so can bend the Privacy Ban rules a bit more. These scripting intitiatives made Weathering a MUCH better Anime film for international audiences, without offending Japanese audiences in any way.
Other scripting techniques to partly work around the ban are summarized here.
Finally... The Story: During a worldwide weather shift (definitely NOT Global Warming!), continuous rain drenches all the artificial reclamation and building projects by mankind over the past 200 years until ground subsidence causes large chunks of Tokyo, over years, to slowly sink. Tokyo Bay is steadily reverting to what it used to be like. But there are ‘Sunshine Girls’ who can appeal – by prayer – to Shinto Spirits, and restore sunshine locally for a short time, but they pay a high price. Every time they do that they lose some of their humanity, until they slowly ‘fade away’ and become a permanent part of the spirit world – they are ‘human sacrifices’. This is the Shinto element that is the reason for its Fantasy rating, very Japanese and hard for other adults to accept. Beautiful to look at, but making little logical sense. Apart from that, a very impressive film with amazingly detailed city scenes and a somewhat cynical portayal of authoritarian restriction of rights for minors, and a strict law enforcement system. It takes Anime in a healthy, mainstream story-telling direction, following the effects on human relationships at all social levels. Well done!