Tenki no Ko — At Least We’re Alright

I never wrote about Kimi no Na Wa on here, and have actually written very little at all about Shinkai Makoto across my various internet scribbles. Who knows, maybe I posted about him a few times on the Megatokyo Forums, but I do not recommend digging through those archives.

Anyway, I have been following Shinkai from the beginning. I checked out Hoshi no Koe when it first dropped, and went back to check out shorts like She and Her Cat and Other Worlds. The dude has been on my radar for a while, and I even got the chance to meet him at Otakon 2011. Shinkai has had lots of ups and down, but when he’s on, he’s on. While works I watched on early-2000s era fansubs such as Kumo no Mukou require another viewing to pass judgment on, I am the most fond of Byosoku 5cm and Kotonoha no Niwa. Meanwhile, his weird Ghibli-rip-off doesn’t live long in the memory.

Kimi no Na Wa was a huge shakeup in the dude’s repertoire. Not so much in the subject matter, but approach. Obviously some suits with deep pockets caught a glimpse at Shinkai’s past work, and wanted to find a way to make it resonate the most with a mainstream crowd.

Shinkai’s work possesses that sappy nastukashii quality that Japanese audiences these days love. Issue is, stuff like Hoshi no Koe and Byosoku 5cm are big downers with thick mellow-drama, and–let’s face it–Kotonoha no Niwa is a little creepy for the regular viewer. Kimi no Na Wa took this key emotional underpinning of his earlier works, and injected it with pop sensibilities in the form of Tanaka Masayoshi character designs (Anohana) and music by safe-enough-to-listen-to-with-your-mother rockers, RADWIMPS. It also moved at a fast clip, careful to keep the young target audience engaged.

The film was a success, screening for nearly a full year in theaters nationwide. I saw it about a month after its release, and the theater was still a full house. It goes without saying that this success paved the way to an easy green-light for his next film, Tenki no Ko.

Thanks to the success of Kimi no Na Wa, Tenki no Ko breaks free somewhat from the production-committee-confines of the previous work, delivering something slightly more in line with previous Shinkai works. Sure, it still has the Tanaka Masayoshi designs, and RADWIMPS is still on music detail, except for their role this time around is a bit more subdued. Like all Shinkai films, what sticks out the most visually is the super-detailed world the characters live in–this time around, it’s Tokyo’s famous red-light quarter, Kabukicho. Save for being overrun with demons, this is probably the best animated rendering you will ever see of the mob-infested entertainment/sex district.

The film spends a lot of its time in Kabukicho–and at one moment a love hotel–giving the proceedings an engaging layer of grime. And, while not especially original, the script does give the characters harsh realities to contend with. Female lead Amano Hina is forced into a position where she has to live parent-less with her little brother, and at early point in the film she decides to find work at a skeezy Kabukicho establishment with some shady fellows, because it pays more than flipping burgers. Meanwhile, male lead Morishima Hodaka is a runaway living out of a manga cafe and sustaining himself on burgers that Hina flips at the local McDonald’s. Hodaka ultimately finding work at a suspicious independent publisher run out of an old Snack Bar staffed by an old sleazebag and a busty college student (who may be sleeping with each other?) is the icing on the cake.

For those stranded in some god-forsaken land where this film has not yet screened, to keep the story-summary short, let me just say that this is a story about a girl who can stop rain from falling. I am all fine and good with the supernatural aspects of the film–either that or sci-fi explorations are normal for Shinkai works–but one of my main issues with it is the length. When Shinkai used to make films like these, they typically ran for just over an hour. While I think he was probably granted more freedom for this outing, I imagine one stipulation by big producer-sama was length. The film seems very weirdly paced because its length simply cannot sustain the concept–there just isn’t enough meat. Also, near the climax of the film, you can tell when the producers stepped in to apply their red ink into the script, with comments like “in this scene, the kid knocks the gun out of the cop’s hands.” I am not asking for realism, but things move forward a bit too smoothly for our hero during the climax, thanks to the efforts of his ~dear friends~.

However, the very end of the film forces our hero to make a difficult decision. And it’s a great sucker punch that sends the audience down for the count into a numbing TKO. But, so as not to offend the audience of self-centered youngsters in their mid-teens and early twenties, Shinkai ensures us–“don’t worry, OUR HEROES ARE HAPPY.” Okay, that’s great. Let’s encourage young people to not take responsibility for their actions. Work style reform, or some shit.

I am not trying to come off as some old, bitter man at the elderly age of, uh, 31, but in the moment when the movie could have taught an increasingly selfish and insular generation what it means to bear the consequences of one’s actions, Shinkai tells them, “nah, it’s okay to fuck up… so long as you’re fine.”

I think we need to have a chat the next time we meet, Shinkai. That’s not what the end of 5cm taught me.

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