As Earth’s climate continues to change for the worse, a peculiar little subgenre of science fiction, the environmental allegory, is due for a cinematic resurgence. Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You is a tale of awkward teenagers finding each other and falling in love amid all sorts of trials and tribulations—a specialty for the filmmaker, whose smash hit Your Name made him one of Japan’s leading voices in animation. But what makes it truly fascinating is the story in the background: a quiet climate apocalypse that the characters are mostly intent on ignoring until it’s too late.
Shinkai, who has directed six animated features since 2004, became an international sensation with Your Name, which broke global box-office records for anime in 2017. In Japan, where it was released in 2016, it was a pop-culture phenomenon, grossing more than any domestic film ever, save for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The movie is a mesmerizing balancing act, blending high-concept fantasy (a body swap between a teenage boy and girl) with the lingering trauma of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 and the country’s ongoing push and pull between tradition and modernity.
Weathering With You is similarly ambitious. It’s set in modern Tokyo, but a Tokyo where it hasn’t stopped raining in recent memory, something the city’s denizens have come to accept as an everyday part of life. Even for the viewer, registering all the rain takes a while; the atmosphere is less apocalyptic than emotive, a weepy backdrop for a story about young people trying to find their way in an ever more harsh-looking future. Weathering With You takes place in a world ending so gradually, people barely notice it anymore.