LOVE AS TOLD BY MAKOTO SHINKAI
feature photo courtesy of @yourname_official
Oh earnest love, your purity and existence eludes us all.
* contains spoilers!!!*
The setting is Tokyo, flooded with rain that hasn’t stopped in months. The City is undergoing a slow-burning apocalypse in Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Weathering With You. Who other than a teenage runaway would still be able to find hope in such a city? There, our protagonist Hodaka meets Hina who, since her mother’s death, has shouldered more burdens than a teenage girl should have to, working minimum wage jobs to support herself and her little brother. Hina reveals to Hodaka that she is a sunshine girl-- a modern term for what legend calls a weather maiden. She prays, and when she does, the clouds part and the sun comes, though only for a little bit and only in a limited space. They fall in love, and of course their love is that earnest love, the type that makes for a good story because it’s innocent, it’s young, and it’s so bound by fate.
Maybe you don’t recognize the title Weathering With You or the name of its creator, Makoto Shinkai, but surely you are familiar with Your Name, the animated film that took the world by storm in 2017. In these two Shinkai films, love comes to young couples who are brought together and torn apart by forces bigger than themselves. Whether it be the fantastical powers of time and space or simply conflicts from breaking laws, these kids have to fight for their love before they even get to fully realize it for themselves.
Whether it be the fantastical powers of time and space or simply conflicts from breaking laws, these kids have to fight for their love before they even get to fully realize it for themselves.
As a viewer, I am drawn to their love story because it’s the ultimate love, isn’t it? It’s wholesome, honest, fated; but it’s also tortured, filled with longing, and completely defiant toward reality. Makoto Shinkai creates these storylines to relate to us, the younger generation, hyperbolizing our feelings of isolation, helplessness, and hope as we transition from youth to proper adulthood. In Your Name, the characters swap bodies in their dreams, their consciousness traveling through time and space, creating shared experiences that tie them together, isolating them from everyone else and forming a connection that exists beyond reality as we know it. Weathering With You emphasizes this sort of connection as well; a teenage boy who progressively drops out of society to be with a girl whose gift, you later find out, comes with detrimental consequences. While our circumstances are certainly not quite as intense or dramatic, our emotions can be. I don’t know what real adulthood actually feels like (yet) but I know that Shinkai is right: in youth we open ourselves to unrealistic possibilities and hope to conquer any feelings of helplessness with something akin to fate.
In both films, the characters’ youth is a key element. Taki and Mitsuha’s love develops throughout their teenage years over a series of body swaps that feel like dreams, and as they begin to chase these dreams, reality diminishes them (much like real life, no?). And soon enough, as they reach adulthood, the dreams that once felt so sure, so real, become less than memories, just feelings of longing and loss. Hodaka and Hina’s youth is even more symbolic. Although Hina possesses a power that should confer the status of national treasure, she is still treated like a helpless child by adults-- like the men who want to take advantage of her beauty or the government offices who threaten to separate her from her brother. In other words, adults who are leaving the burden of climate change to her yet also refusing to acknowledge her existing accomplishments or potential. Shinkai repeats these themes of adulthood as the reality that breaks down the wonder and love we possess in our youth. Again and again, these characters have to fight off reality to find their grip on love.
Love, as told by Makoto Shinkai, is earnest love, not necessarily what you or I would call “real” love. But if you’ve ever watched anime, you know that the feels can get almost too real. Despite how absolutely impossible the purity of the protagonist is, you can’t help but believe in them—-admire them, even. Shinkai’s representation of love reminds us of love we can only hope for. It shows us what it means to truly love for the sake of loving, not for yourself, but for others. Watch Weathering With You and see a little bit of yourself, your hopes, and experience it, just a little, that earnest love.