I watch a lot of movies, but I almost never go to the theatre to see them: Toronto Public Library gets everything ... eventually. This time my impatience outweighed my dislike of the theatre experience. I mean, a new Makoto Shinkai movie: those don't come along often.
Shinkai isn't shy of preposterous premises, and this one - like Shinkai's previous movie "Your Name" - doesn't hesitate before it goes right for its crazy premise. In this case a young girl who can magically influence the weather.
Our two main characters are Hodaka Morishima (voiced by Kataro Daigo) a 15 year old who's run away from home to live in Tokyo, and Hina Amano (voiced by Nana Mori) who Hodaka first meets when she's working at McDonalds (I'll have more to say on that later ...) and smuggles him a hamburger as he's living on the streets. Hodaka eventually ends up working for a slightly dubious publisher he met early on, and he and Hina become friends. After Hodaka finds out about Hina's ability to change the weather, they enthusiastically enter into a joint venture to provide people with better weather, for a fee. But - as is stated several times through the movie - there may be a cost to the sunshine girl.
Shinkai's Tokyo is littered with brand stamps - McDonalds, Honda, and Apple being the most prominent I remember, but it appears to be loaded with other Japanese brands we don't know as well over here. It's hard to say if this is blatant product placement ... or an accurate portrayal of Tokyo, home of the mile-high TV billboard. I didn't love it, but it's hard to take him to task for a relatively accurate portrayal of that city.
Just like all his previous movies, the artwork is exceptional. To the point that you'd have a really hard time pausing this on a frame you wouldn't enjoy looking at. Most of the frames are simply dazzling. He's previously proven capable of making trains look beautiful - and he's rarely looking at anything so pedestrian in this movie.
The theatre experience was ... significantly more rewarding than I had expected this time around. It was a pleasure to be surrounded by fans - people willing to brave Toronto's crap weather to go to a movie by a director I tend to think of as an obscure passion of my own. I was intrigued by the wild whooping that occurred when a particular character entered the screen at about the half-way mark, and then again about 3/4s of the way through (for a different character). Better yet, I wasn't to be kept in suspense. Unusually, we were told at the beginning of the film that we should stay after the credits for an interview with Makoto Shinkai. And indeed there's ten minutes of footage of him talking about the making of the movie, which was fascinating. And he mentioned that he'd added cameos by Taki and Mitsuha, the main characters from "Your Name." He then added, "you might be a little bit otaku if you noticed." At which point there were slightly embarrassed giggles from the same couple of quadrants that had been whooping at the appearances. I saw "Your Name," but it was a while ago and I didn't register the cameos - even when encouraged to pay special attention by noises from the fans. Calling your hardcore fans "okaku" is perhaps not particularly politic ...
Shinkai truly is the rising star of Japanese animation. And I don't think he's even made his best movie yet.