Shinkai Makoto’s new feature film came out to Japanese cinemas just a few weeks ago. Since the movie is highly anticipated worldwide and you might not have it seen it yet, be warned that this opinion piece will contain spoilers as minor as they might be. If you wish to go into the movie blind, leave now.
I’d be lying if I claimed I liked Tenki no Ko the same as Kimi no Na wa. However, that doesn’t mean Tenki no Ko is bad. Far from it. While Kimi no Na wa is a suspenseful fantasy from start to finish, keeping you emotionally invested at the edge of your seat, Tenki no Ko tells a story much more grounded in fact. Because of this fundamental difference I will not be comparing the two movies anymore.
Leaving the cinema my first thoughts were about climate change. At the end the greater Tokyo bay area ends up submerged. Does that sound far-fetched? Do you know what’s happening to Jakarta? If not, I urge you to search the web for “Jakarta, the sinking city.”
While climate change is a problem, the movie doesn’t have any grand environmentalist ideas. In fact it ends by throwing in the towel. Whether natural or artificial, the consequences of changing climate can already be felt and it’s only going to get worse. What if you, as an individual, had the power to do something about it, but had to make the ultimate sacrifice to achieve it, would you do it? Should an individual sacrifice himself for others? Sacrifice himself to pay for the sins (fuck-ups) of past generations and environment-unconscious people? Like some ancient religions sacrificed children to appease some god… I don’t think so and neither does Shinkai. The weather might be changing and we’ll simply have to adapt.
The setting and social criticism
As already established, at the core of this movie are social themes. While it’s mostly a critique of modern Japanese society, it can be applied to the rest of the first world due to globalization.
Hodaka, our main character, who hates his life on one of Japan’s small islands, runs away from home to Tokyo. He’s 16 and has a hard time finding a job due to being a minor.
Hina, our heroine, had a single mother who passed away. Now she, also a minor, takes it upon herself to care for her younger brother. Due to a worsening financial situation she almost ends up in Japan’s pink industry.
Then there’s Keisuke, the CEO of an insignificant media outlet publishing a small magazine on urban legends. He takes Hodaka in, gives him a place to stay and a job as a journalist.
The police is present throughout the movie and are presented to us as regular bullies with no aspirations to serve justice. Doing something by the law doesn’t always mean it’s just. As you probably know, there’s hardly any crime in Japan so the police mostly handles petty law violations. They are constantly up Hodaka’s and Hina’s ass because they are minors and are by law required to have guardians. It’s heartbreaking to see how hard the two protagonists are trying to make a living while the police, with nothing better to do, tries to get in their way. If they take in Hina, she and her brother would be separated and taken to an orphanage.
How did the police find out about Hina? It turns out most people will stab you in the back as soon as some kind of opportunity arises. Old men and women living on pensions with nothing to do will gossip and wish ill will upon their neighbors instead of giving them a hand in need. Even Keisuke, who represents the common working man, will turn his back on you as soon as his stable, uneventful lifestyle is in danger of being jeopardized. Just like his magazine, many relationships are build on lies instead of care and trust.
Meanwhile the rain keeps falling in Tokyo. It’s been months since last sunshine and it keeps getting worse. Still, nobody pays much attention to the weather. There’s this huge catastrophe in the making and the ignorant masses don’t realize a thing because making the life hard for your neighbors and a few kids who just want to get by is more entertaining.
It is in this kind of world that Hina develops a power to once and for all do away with the never ending rain in Tokyo. But her power comes at the cost of her life. The resolution is a big middle finger to the corrupt society putting the individual before the masses.
The bad parts
Chained down by the success of Kimi no Na wa, Shinkai didn’t have complete freedom creating Tenki no Ko. At least that’s what I believe is the reason for everything I dislike about it. Sponsors and investors obviously wanted a repeat of the previous success and probably had a say in what can or cannot be done.
RADWIMPS sucked this time around. Apart from the title song Grand Escape none of the insert songs fit. Even their use I felt was out of place. Japan has countless awesome rock bands and RADWIMPS is a very average one. To me they sound the same as BUMP OF CHICKEN and I’d prefer some innovation instead of recycled goods.
There are many cameo appearances; Taki and Mitsuha probably being the most prominent. Chronologically it seems like it could have been around the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The new stadium has been completed in the movie, but it’s still under construction at the moment (Aug. 2019). We see Mitsuha working at a jewelry store wearing the name tag “Miyamizu”, so she isn’t married to Taki. Chronologically Taki and Mitsuha didn’t know each other yet in 2020 so they meet after the events of the movie. But considering how Tenki no Ko ends, it breaks space/time continuity. I’d prefer not having cameos if they don’t fit the world.
Pacing is the last issue I have with this movie. There’s a great cast of characters which the social critique is build around and I wish we could spend more time getting to know them and their motives. But you can’t just extend the run time and make the movie boring in the process. I don’t really have a solution for this but I wish there were better transitions between drama, comedy and action thriller scenes. It doesn’t flow very well.
Nevertheless, the production is still top tier
It goes without saying that Tenki no Ko is beautiful. Fluid animation, great and distinct character designs and wallpaper-ready background art is still what we’ve come to expect from Shinkai’s works. His willingness to expose the flaws of modern men through a medium such as anime is great and I wish he keeps doing it.
In the past we used to have thought provoking themes in anime series much more frequently than we do now, when everything seems to be some kind of fantasy escapism. Shinkai has a great understanding of how to bridge hard-hitting social and political themes with the modern youth that yearns for an unreachable ideal, secluding themselves from the constrains of reality.
Hopefully the expectations will be a little bit more tempered the next time around so that we can enjoy a fulfilling feature film again a few years down the road.