Picture this: you’re an acclaimed animation director following up your sci-fantasy epic with a smaller story, about an urban schoolboy who wishes to be a shoemaker, skipping class whenever it rains to draw sketches alongside a daydrinking woman under a city park gazebo. You have uniquely lovely visual artistry, especially outdoors in the rain, with your photoreal animation of water and light. The gazebo people don’t even know each other’s names, but gradually begin to encourage each other.
Now, do you leave good enough alone, or pivot to a tantrummy third act where she’s revealed as a disgraced teacher from his school and he comes to her apartment and declares he’s in love with her? Shinkai chose the latter. The boy also voiced Haku in Spirited Away, and she voiced the lead in Night Is Short, Walk on Girl.
Another supernatural teenage love story from the Your Name creator, this time involving weather-control instead of time/body-swapping. Shinkai is terrific with light and cloud and sky, so this was lovely on the big screen – we watched one of the few subtitled screenings before the GKids dub opened wide.
In a future Tokyo where it rains constantly, Hina is the sunshine girl who can clear the clouds with a prayer, but every time she uses her powers she gets closer to losing herself forever to the skies, a human sacrifice who will fix the weather imbalance, the countdown marked on her body like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. The boy who likes her, Hodaka, works with a couple of gruff-but-generous reporters (Crows Zero star Shun Oguri, and The Mole Song 2‘s Tsubasa Honda), and would rescue her from the clouds even if it meant dooming the city to an existence of small cubes. Too much side-plot involving cops and guns and gangsters, but I forget all that stuff when staring at the pretty clouds on the poster hanging next to my laptop.
AKA Journey to Agartha… anime adventure story, which gets into some grand life-and-death mythology and re-enacts Orpheus… it didn’t exactly pull all of its component parts into a coherent whole, and it lacked the emotional impact of Your Name, but was full of incident and beautiful light and backdrops and fantastical beasts, so I have no major complaints.
Asuna has a pet cat, working mom, dead father, and no particular characteristics. One day she meets an underworld boy who saves her from a giant creature then promptly dies. Soon she travels to his land along with her cat, the dead boy’s twin brother, and her homicidally bereaved super-soldier substitute teacher, who plans to descend into the land of the dead with a magic crystal and a submachine gun and demand the resurrection of his late wife. It’s kind of a crazypants movie.
Also, the cat dies and is eaten by a Quetzalcoatl. And so are our heroes.
Shinkai’s third feature (Your Name is his fifth). Our copy was English dubbed, which seemed just fine, but the commentary is in subtitled Japanese, so I can’t really play it while working.
An exciting anime feature, which we got to see on a big screen thanks to the Alamo (in a dubbed version which was refreshingly free of slumming Hollywood celebs). Jumps between protagonists, between bodies, between time and space, then throws in a town-destroying meteor. Incident and action piles up, more and louder, until the body-swapping boy appears to have saved hundreds of lives and we fast-forward to the couple’s first real-life (chance) meeting.
The film’s body-swapping setup foregrounds questions of identity, beginning with the way that both teens react to their new, temporary genders; Taki-as-Mitsuha spends so much time feeling up his own breasts, for example, that it becomes a running gag. Meanwhile, Mitsuha-as-Taki starts flirting heavily with a slightly older female co-worker at the restaurant where Taki works, and it really looks as if Mitsuha herself is smitten, rather than merely doing Taki a favor while she’s in control of his actions.
Like all of Shinkai’s films, the richness of the light coats everything it touches with such an evocative hue of nostalgia that the plot only puts a damper on things (and there’s a lot of plot here). Watching these colors bleed between Taki and Mitsuha’s divergent lives is all you need to appreciate the beauty of being in this world together, and the tragedy of how that same beauty always seems to slip through our fingers.