Suspension of Disbelief: Weathering With You

Weathering With You is a fabulous movies from Makoto Shinkai, who gave us Your Name. I adored Your Name, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s fabulous.

If you haven’t seen Weathering With You, you should. It’s pretty darned good. The animation is just fabulous, the weather scenes – and it’s almost always raining during the movie – graceful and mesmerizing. You genuinely feel for the main characters, Hodaka and Hina, and love to watch as they slowly fall for each other.

But I don’t write reviews. I look at anime from my perspective as a writer and animator, to see what they can tell us about writing and animation.

Weathering With You is 112 minutes long and for about 110 of them the writing is fabulous. (For about 111.5 of them the animation is fabulous, but that may or may not be another post someday.) But the two minutes where you smack your head is a lesson for writers, and that’s my bag.

I like lessons.

I think they made a mistake in constructing the narrative of Weathering With You, and that was setting it in Tokyo. Now, that let them set the action in places familiar to audiences, and gave the story a sense of being set in the nooks and crannies that can happen in a big city. The problem was, though, that they had a story with only a handful of characters, and Tokyo is a city of 13,000,000 people.

I’m going to get technical here, but here goes. The acceptance of fiction by a user above a certain age – about eleven according to Piaget – requires something called the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. You KNOW it’s fake, but to emotionally respond it you have to overlook the fact that it’s fake and accept it as real, at least for the duration.

It’s true, you know. You know it’s a story, but you respond to it as though it is real.

The trick to this is that as a writer/creator you can’t twist reality TOO far. If you cross the line, the audience sits back and says, “Oh, yeah. Bullshit.” Boom. You’ve lost them.

There’s a rule of thumb that says you can make one really big twist in reality, and as long as everything that follows is consistent with it, the audience will take it. Your Name is a fabulous example: once you accept that, for some reason, in some way that’s never explained, Mitsuha and Taki can change bodies, the rest of the story works perfectly.

The really big twist in Weathering is that Hina is a Weather Girl, able to stop the rain and create sunshine by asking/praying for it. If you accept that such a person can exist, for the most part Weathering works. It works beautifully and wonderfully. I’ll this again: it’s a really good movie.

But in setting the film in Tokyo they made another twist: they made the city small and personal.

One more time, Tokyo is a city of 13,000,000 people. But out of them only a few matter:

Hina
Hodaka
Keisuki, a man who saves Hodaka and gives him a job
Natsumi, Keisuke’s niece
Nagi, Hina’s brother
The cops

There are a lot of cops and some of them are individualized, but from a narrative standpoint they’re generic Red Shirts. They pop up whenever needed, in whatever number they are needed. I count them as one person because structurally they could be one person.

There are also a lot of other people who pop-up briefly – including Mitsuha from Your Name – but they are largely walk-ons.

By having so few characters, the writers turn Tokyo into a very small place. For instance, when Hodaka gets to town, a nice McDonald’s worker gives him a free burger. Later he sees the same girl being forced down a road that could lead her to prostitution, and saves her. Surprise! It’s Hina!

You know that you can accept, too. You can say it’s fate that brings Hina and Hodaka together, that they are tied together by some kind of cosmic fault, and it works. It really does. The idea of lovers connected together across all sorts of chasms – time, space, social standing – is rooted in storytelling. We’ve seen this story so many times that we accept it as given. I mean, look at the end of Your Name! This is not a problem.

The same with Nagi. Hodaka sees a boy hitting on ten year old girls on a bus; later on this precocious kid turns out to be Hina’s brother. Why not? If Hodaka is tied to Hina, then he’s tied to her brother as well.

Weathering With You

Nagi (left), Hina, Hodaka

Near the end, though…Okay, the end, the denouement of Weathering is just fabulous. It’s wonderful and it’s beautiful and I’m not going to spoil it for you. But NEAR the end they reach a point where making a big city so small bites them on the ass.

Hodaka, for reasons (the reasons are spoilerific and not relevant here) has to escape the cops. They have him surrounded in an abandoned building.

Now first of all, when he got to this building Keisuke was already waiting there. I’m not sure why. None of the characters except Hina had ever been there before and Tokyo is spread across 847 square miles, but somehow both Keisuke and Hodaka manage to find exactly that one building. You can say Hodaka finds it, of course, because of his connection to Hina, but Keisuke is  there because…? And he gets there before Hodaka!

Suspension of disbelief slipping…slipping…slipping…

Now the cops show up, too. That makes sense: they are chasing Hodaka. They are watching Keisuke. That works. There’s a standoff and then a fight scene as Hodaka tries to escape. Keisuke takes out a couple cops and gives Hodaka a chance to slip off, but the cops grab Keisuke, neutralizing him. They already have Natsumi, who helped Hodaka get away from the cops in the first place (because she just happened to be riding her scooter down the exact street Hodaka was running away on at the exact time when he was running away…slipping…slipping…Can you see where this is going?)

A cop grabs Hodaka. Boom! They have him. That’s it. Story ended. He will never see Hina again. It’s sooooo saaaad 😦 😦 😦

SURPRISE! Nagi shows up in this obscure place by no means anyone can figure out. He takes out a trained, adult cop single-handed, allowing Hodaka to escape.

I lost it for that moment. It was so improbable I couldn’t stand it. Nagi, when we saw him last, had escaped from the Japanese equivalent of Child Protective Services. He didn’t know Hodaka was on the run. He didn’t know where Hodaka was going. He didn’t have a car or money for the train.

HOW THE HELL DID NAGI GET THERE?

I actually smacked my head. (Yes, it was a SMH moment.) The guy sitting next to me in the theater can vouch for me. It was so sad, and it was self-inflicted. It happened because they decided, for whatever reason, to make Tokyo a city of six people (“The cops” being one person). When push came to shove, it was Hodaka vs. The Cops, and Hina, Keisuke, and Natsumi were already off the table, so it was either Nagi or some total stranger, and having a total stranger save the day wouldn’t have worked.

They made a city of 13,000,000 into a city of six people, so when push came to shove they only had Nagi left to save Our Hero, so they had to run him in out of nowhere. It made no sense. It was the one step too far that left me, at least, thinking it was too improbable. Suspension of disbelief suspended.

Fortunately the end of the story was so beautiful and so full of hope and love that the movie satisfied wonderfully.

I enjoyed Weathering With You, and I hope you do, too. But if I wrote myself into a hole like that, where I had depend on a character impossibly arriving from nowhere, my editor would smack me silly.

And she’d be right.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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