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Weathering With You is Worse if You Read it as a Climate Change Analogy

weathering

(Spoilers for Weathering With You and Makoto Shinkai’s other works in this post.)

Weathering With You is set in a Japan where the rain doesn’t stop, and only a young girl’s prayers can clear the skies. In the interviews around the release of the film, director Makoto Shinkai talked about its themes in relation to the real-life phenomenon of climate change. For example in an interview with Fujinkōron (summarised in English on Anime News Network), Shinkai said:

People say that humans are destroying nature for the sake of their own conveniences, and I agree with that. And yet I’m the kind of person who doesn’t hesitate to turn on the air conditioning in my room when it’s hot. Climate change is a large-scale phenomenon with an unimaginable scope, but there’s not much a person can do about it on an individual level. Even so, my actions as a single person have a definite effect on the environment. It may feel like something that’s out of your realm of responsibility, but it absolutely isn’t. I made the film while thinking about how to deal with that problem through the framework of entertainment.

And to The Japan Times, Shinkai said, “Humans think on a scale of 100 years or so, but the world works on a much larger scale … [The idea that humans can’t control the weather] is one way to look at things but, at the same time, that’s not quite right either, as humans have definitely changed the weather. I don’t come to a clear conclusion on this but the issue definitely lies at the heart of the film.”

According to Shinkai, Weathering With You tackles the issue of social responsibility. How much do a single human’s actions matter in the scheme of things, and are we obligated to save the world from something much larger than ourselves? At first glance, this seems like a natural fit for a story about climate change.

But I think that Weathering With You is a worse film if you read it as a climate change analogy.

I’m going to spoil the ending of the film in the next sentence, so this is your last chance to back out if you haven’t seen it yet. Hina has the power to stop permanent climate change if she sacrifices her own life. She is ready to do so, but Hodaka pulls her out of it at the last minute, and a timeskip reveals that Tokyo has flooded some years later. Humans have adapted to the new normal by the end, and Hodaka is assured that abnormal weather has always been a part of the world’s order. But when he sees Hina again, he’s convinced that the two of them did change the world.

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If read as a climate change analogy, Weathering With You is very literal, as its portrayal of a city being flooded is exactly what will happen to a number of cities in the near future if proper measures are not taken. If a film chooses to be that literal in its analogy, then the bar for suspension of disbelief also changes, and I would naturally expect the core dilemma in the film to accurately depict the conflicts that face humans when it comes to dealing with climate change.

In broad strokes, the idea that people have to make a choice between their personal lives and the greater good is represented in the film. Hodaka doesn’t want Hina to sacrifice herself, so he makes the choice to save her at the possible expense of the planet. However, as far as climate change goes, the choice is not so stark. There is no expectation on us to kill ourselves in order to do our part for the planet. Setting up a conflict around self-sacrifice is great for upping the stakes in a narrative, but doesn’t make much sense if the climate change analogy is literal.

There’s also the issue of portraying the abnormal weather as a natural part of the world’s order, which could be interpreted as a climate denialist stance. Shinkai has made it clear that he believes that human activities have caused climate change, but in the film itself, there is no mention of this fact. I believe that it’s taken as a given that the audience would know about human-induced climate change, but this weakens the analogy presented because it can’t stand up on its own. Without outside context, film’s central dilemma seems to be more “Should humans intervene on the planet’s behalf?” rather than “Should humans take responsibility for the changes they wrought?” You might even misinterpret Shinkai’s own stance on climate change.

It’s my interpretation that Shinkai included this seemingly climate change denalist part because he wanted to portray a long view’s perspective on the changes that happen in the world. It’s a way of helping us humans come to terms with change so that it doesn’t seem totally apocalyptic. This is similar to the meteor strike portrayed in your name., which was revealed to be a cyclical occurrence from many years ago. I think that Weathering With You is more interesting when read as a story about how we should come to terms with the climate change that has already happened rather than as a story about whether or not we are obligated to mitigate the harms. Unfortunately, that theme only comes up at the very end and is sorely underdeveloped as a result.

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I prefer to think of Weathering With You‘s central conflict as a commentary on Shinkai’s previous work and on the theme of social responsibility in general (rather than specifically in regards to climate change). In Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, the couple sacrifices their relationship for the sake of the greater good. That gave those stories their bittersweet endings. Weathering With You is also bittersweet, but the couple made the opposite choice instead. There’s no definitive answer given regarding which choice is better, but there’s a definite sense that Shinkai’s characters are compelled to make choices about the direction of their lives.

This is especially powerful in Weathering With You because its characters have limited social mobility and lack agency as minors. And in the end, they made a choice for themselves and changed the world. Nobody else made the choice on their behalves.

It’s also interesting how the weather changes map its characters’ moods. Hodaka starts the film in a state of fugue, which is mirrored by the abnormal rain, and Hina comes in to bring sunshine to his life. When their lives are at their most turbulent, a storm rages, but when Hina disappears, the sky feels too bright and there’s an eerie absence of rain. And in the epilogue, the sky is cloudy and the city has flooded, but there’s a calmness about it now.

I think that Weathering With You is a great film that touches on a lot of fascinating themes while being very fun and endearing. I just hope that its story is not reduced to a climate change analogy, because it is honestly way more interesting if you do not regard it as one. I am not denying that climate change is a prominent part of the film, but overall it resonates more as a personal story about being a helpless young person in a chaotic world rather than as a story about humanity’s responsibility in dealing with climate change. What are your thoughts on Weathering With You and its weather analogy?

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Posted on September 22, 2019, in Anime Analysis and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I got the feeling that anything literal that you get from the film is definitely related to how people react to climate change effects. If you assume that the abnormal rain IS the “effects of climate change” then the characters’ desire to clear it up is people trying to make things the way they were before humans altered the environment. The resolution of the film feels like it has the message of “people have to learn to deal with what our planet’s ecosystem has become and live with it without making things worse.” So, basically it’s about moving forward instead of looking back…

    I think the entire relationship being an analogy without any literal climate stuff in the film would’ve worked better, but this makes for more interesting visuals, I suppose.

    I could probably stand to watch it again.

    • So, basically it’s about moving forward instead of looking back…

      I like that thought.

      I think the entire relationship being an analogy without any literal climate stuff in the film would’ve worked better, but this makes for more interesting visuals, I suppose.

      I suppose the film could have leaned harder on its magical realist elements, like the stuff about the clouds and the spirits inside the rain. I liked those scenes a lot.

  2. I’m definitely with you here. When I was telling a friend in the States about my conflicted response to the film (does it bother anyone else how impossibly incompetent the police are in this movie? Like, not just bad at their jobs, but such fundamental failures as human beings and physical objects that a whole scrum of them can be bowled over by a single elementary achooler?! I teach elementary schoolers for a living, and I can assure you that even though I am not a trained officer of the law and am of merely average weight and fitness, even three elementary schoolers rushing me in a single concerted assault is insufficient to knock me down! …but I digress), he kept asking me if it was “a climate change piece,” and I kept avoiding te question because I genuinely did not know how to answer. For a film that’s supposed to be “about” the weather, Shinkai sure doesn’t seem to have anything to say on the topic beyond, “you get used to it.” I don’t know if I can even call it a missed opportunity; somehow, the film’s central theme simply winds up being irrelevant to the film.

    • LOL I was sympathising with the police throughout the movie. They were so fed up with the kids but never went over the line when it came to restraining them. If this were set in a different country, the kids may have ended up being brutalised. Which is also probably why the kids were able to give them the slip so often. That and movie logic :)

  3. Thanks for this interesting post and analysis!

    It’s true that we hear the viewpoint from a couple of old folks that the flooding is natural and we have no idea what the weather was like more than a few hundred years ago anyway (the apparently denialist stance regarding anthropogenicity of climate change).

    The fact that Hodaka actually rejects this view and insists that it was their human choice who changed the world then must tie back to that quote from Shinkai:

    “…there’s not much a person can do about it on an individual level. Even so, my actions as a single person have a definite effect on the environment. It may feel like something that’s out of your realm of responsibility, but it absolutely isn’t.”

    And hence Hodaka taking the individual responsibility for the flooded Tokyo could be seen as what Shinkai wants all of us to do for climate change.

    The difficulty in reading it too closely as an analogy, therefore, is that while IRL it’s the majority of humanity that needs to make a sacrifice rather than just one person to make a difference to anthropogenic climate change, in Weathering With You just one person’s sacrifice (or, perhaps, three persons’ sacrifice) really could have made a difference. But that’s the limits of analogy versus telling a sensible story.

  4. I also thought of this when i finished the movie. The fact that Tokyo is flooded and the weather changes drastically from being cold/rainy to the immediate heat in the movie. Here in the Philippines , or maybe other countries in the Pacific, we experience the same weather which may be a sign of the early effects of climate change. Anyways, I finally have someone who is on the same page as me 😃

  5. I don’t like it when a story gets reduced to an allegory for something else. It makes it seem more fake.

  6. I don’t like it when a story gets reduced to an allegory. It makes the story feel more fake.

  7. I have never had a lot of interest for Shinkai (I am more of a Mamoru Hosodai guy), but your post really makes me want to watch Weathering With You.

    But first, I have got to ask this question: Does the film show how well the character really understand the implication of their choices? For example, how other people suffered and society frayed when the flood came? Or the answer to the question if Hina sacrifice herself, would human continue to make the same mistakes and thing still get worse? Would her personal sacrifice be fairly distributed?

    I am definitely on the camp that we should be apocalyptic when talking about climate change, but not to be despair and give up everything. It is to show the hypocrite of the elites, who are preparing for the end day while at the same time accelerating the planet toward it. It is to show the hypocrite of the media and the milquetoast way they cover this disaster, so that they could obscure the political-economic forces behind it.

    It seems to me like just in few minutes, Greta Thunberg’s words resonate more than Makoto Shinkai in almost two hours.

    (Sorry to be so cynical. I am sure the director has the good of our planet in his heart, but I don’t think that many artists in the world realize how even if we all agree to do something about climate change, the process would be excruciating. You really think that the energy, industrial-agriculture, etc. cooperates would stand aside and let you do something, do you?)

    • Does the film show how well the character really understand the implication of their choices? For example, how other people suffered and society frayed when the flood came? Or the answer to the question if Hina sacrifice herself, would human continue to make the same mistakes and thing still get worse? Would her personal sacrifice be fairly distributed?

      Nope, this is all glossed over.

      The irony of me posting this article a few days before Greta Thunberg’s speech was not lost on me. It really makes Weathering With You come across as wishy washy in its handling of the issue. Another reason why I think it’s better not to read it as a climate change analogy.

  8. Haven’t watch the Weathering with you yet but your article gives me interest. Thank you

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