Makoto Shinkai explores a darker side to Tokyo and magic in the story of Hodaka, a young boy who runs away from home and meets Hina, a girl who can break the intense rain clouds and reveal the sun. The pair learn that her powers come at a terrible cost as Tokyo experiences increasingly dramatic weather conditions. Pursued by the authorities, they slowly realise what must be done to save the city.
Shinkai’s Tokyo is rich in detail. The food is all gorgeously evocative and forms an important part of these characters lives. We witness them all eat and play and work, strengthening our bonds to them and making the fantastical elements all the more striking. The locations are all exquisitely realised, even the shabby hotels and late night fast food restaurants. The environments communicate so much information about their inhabitants. Shinkai’s world is immaculate; a wonderful blend of traditional and computer animation.
This is definitely a film about the young as outsiders. Adults are largely absent from the story, present as obstacles or non-believers. Hodaka is completely isolated on the dark streets, desperately trying to survive a world that is hostile to young people. The services intended to keep him safe, from his perspective are trying to keep him trapped. As he begins to build a life and a new family, the uneasy sense that it could all be torn apart at any moment is constant.
The film is clearly environmentally minded. As Hina continues to use her powers the weather becomes more erratic and destructive. Yet the film focuses on the place of youth in this scenario. The young should not be burdened or made to feel like the huge sacrifice to save the world must be theirs. It’s the youth who can find and harness the magic in the world. Hodaka and Hina face a difficult future, but they will face it together and they just know they’re going to be ok. The cynical may call this simplistic but it’s a profoundly sweet message: perhaps all we really have is each other and perhaps that’s enough.
Once again Makoto Shinkai has managed to tell a dramatic story with youthful energy and humour. This works so well partially because it’s the sweetness and warmth of the main characters and this world that forms part of his film’s philosophy for solving the problems of this world. With another catchy and dramatic score from Radwimps, this is sure to be another hit for Shinkai, assuming it can escape the shadow of Your Name.