Weathering With You (2019) by Makoto Shinkai

16 year old Hodaka has run away from his home and caught a ferry to Tokyo. Arriving in the rain-drenched city streets he finds it difficult to get a job or a place to live. He decides to contact Kei, a man who saved his life after the ferry was caught in a storm. Kei runs a small magazine with his partner Natsumi, publishing bizarre stories on urban legends. Hodaka agrees to help out and is soon writing articles for them. After researching a piece on Sun Girls and Rain Girls (who have the ability to control the weather), Hodaka runs into a real life Sun Girl, Hina, who is able to make even the rainiest day turn to clear skies by wishing it. Realising the potential for this ability in a city where the rain never stops, the two turn her powers into a business opportunity, renting out their services for people needing a sunny day, either for a flea market or a wedding. However, Hodaka soon realises that this gift comes at a price and that her connection to the weather will lead Hina to making a terrible choice.

Makoto Shinkai’s success with his last feature “Your Name” has garnered the director a huge amount of publicity and placed on his shoulders the burden of expectation. In following up that incredible film, he has created a work that again showcases his considerable artistic and storytelling talents. The characters are all likeable, especially our protagonist Hodaka, whose family troubles are never fully explained, but whose status as a runaway throws him into the world of the story as something of a blank slate and surrogate for the audience. All of the supporting cast are enjoyable, though often written more as comic relief, such as Hina’s younger brother and Natsumi. The relationship between Hodaka and Hina works well, with both being isolated and finding purpose through each other.

The film blends magic with a real world drama and it is easy to suspend disbelief for the more fantastical elements. The film drifts close to darker themes at times too, such as Hina’s near-miss with a group of unsavoury club owners and Hodaka’s family situation. It is partly this mix of genuinely emotional and difficult themes with the fantastical elements that make the film so compelling. The art and animation team have so perfectly rendered the streets of Tokyo, with every detail covered, that any sense of artifice is stripped away and you are fully immersed in this world. The animators recreated real world locations and the attention to detail in every aspect is truly amazing. Weather effects have always played a large part in Shinkai’s work and here the team seem to have perfected the techniques of visualising every element of the climate. The use of computer-aided animation also means there is more scope for camera movement, with sweeping or spiralling shots creating a great sense of space and fluidity to the action, and perfectly complimenting the traditional hand-drawn animation.

There is definitely a move towards a more action-oriented story than Shinkai’s earlier films. This includes the introduction of guns, an explosion and high-speed chase. There is also an expressive cat to tug at the heartstrings and later played for laughs, that seems to suggest an awareness of a broader audience for his work than films such as “Voices of a Distant Star” or “5 Centimetres Per Second”. That is not to say that this doesn’t work, far from it, but what the film gains in pace and humour it perhaps loses in those contemplative moments of character development that typified earlier films. The music, again by RADWIMPS, lacks the memorable tunes of “Your Name”, but the score as a whole is beautiful and in keeping with the stunning animation work.

“Weathering With You” touches on many themes familiar to fans of Makoto Shinkai’s filmography. At the heart of the drama is the romance between Hodaka and Hina and their love blossoming slowly as the story unfolds. Weather has always featured heavily in Shinkai films, and here it is elevated to a central importance in the plot. We see how weather impacts everyone’s lives, determining what they can and cannot do and even how they think. The relationship between cloudy skies and gloomy outlooks is evident in the relief of characters when the skies clear and sunshine reappears. One of the main messages of the film seems to be that of getting through rough times rather than simply wishing them away. We are reminded in the film that Hina’s powers only offer temporary reprieve and lead to the weather returning stronger and more dangerous after such a delay. There is a suggestion here that it is better to let things run their course naturally than attempting to avoid something perceived as bad, or perhaps running away from your problems (as both Hodaka and Hina do). Surprisingly, the film seems to have little to say about the current climate crisis, although this clearly provides an inspiration and backdrop for the setting. The film is an excellent example of Makoto Shinkai’s work despite minor imperfections. The animation is spectacular, there is plenty of humour and action for the casual viewer, and lots to enjoy for long-time fans.

Street Mobster (1972) by Kinji Fukasaku

Born on the date that Japan lost the Second World War, Isamu Okita (Bunta Sugawara) is told at a young age that his birthday is unlucky. His childhood is rough, with an absent father and a mother who drinks and prostitutes herself. Okita soon becomes involved in the gang lifestyle, interested in money, gambling and women. He and his friends are involved in sexual violence. When he gets caught up in a fight with the Takigawa gang, his retaliation leads him to five years in jail. On release he meets up with Kimiyo (Mayumi Nagisa) who he had previously raped and has now become a prostitute. She blames Okita, but the two soon form an unusual bond, both being outcasts from society. Okita soon gets embroiled in the yakuza world again, when he joins up with the Yato group, who are involved in a turf war with Takigawa. Things become dangerous when a new mob boss from Osaka appears on the scene and joins forces with Takigawa.

Director Kinji Fukasaku teams up again with the star of his “Battles Without Honour and Humanity” star Bunta Sugawara to tell another tale of violence on the mean streets of Tokyo. Although a pre-titles card explains that all events and characters are fictional, there is nevertheless an anonymised truth in the portrayals. Sugawara does a superb job of portraying the loathsome Okita, who should be irredeemable but somehow evokes a degree of sympathy due to his charismatic performance. Mayumi Nagisa is exceptional as Kimiyo, whose tragic backstory creates one of the most compelling tensions in the film. To say that the characters are morally ambiguous would be an understatement, many are downright despicable in their treatment of women and their drive to violence. However, the film does not attempt to sugarcoat the image of gangsters. They are not slick, handsome or smart, but crude and violent. Kinji Fukasaku shows us a world of grime and misery. As Okita leaves the city he explains that everything has changed during his time inside. He is a man out of place in his environment. Fukasaku directs the action scenes in a frenetic, whirlwind of motion, that is almost overwhelming. It is often hard to see exact details, but captures an atavistic brutality that typifies the characters.

“Street Mobster” is a film that shows the sickening violence of gangland life. Okita is driven almost pathologically to a course of action that is destructive and dangerous for himself and those around him. It touches briefly on his upbringing as a cause of his violent ways and also in the mention of his birthday in the sense that there may be nothing that can be done. Tackling the “nature or nurture” argument as a cause for criminality does not limit the responsibility for his actions, but it creates the sense of unavoidable tragedy. The squalor that characters live in and the sense that they have been somehow side-lined by the world, or left behind by progress, also offers some explanation for their actions. Kimiyo’s tragic story is that she is dragged unwillingly into this world, but that she still attempts to do her best. In the portrayal of mob bosses the film gives a sense that the odds are always stacked against people like Okita, due to his lack of status. The hierarchical nature of the underworld, as with other parts of society, means that he can strive to attain a position of power, but will always be subject to the whims of his superiors. “Street Mobster” is a brutal gangster film with a solid plot and some fantastic acting that will appeal to fans of the genre. Fukasaku blends realism with almost theatrical melodrama in an entertaining crime story that also has deeper sociological and psychological themes at work.

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

Set a near future dystopia where the newly privatised Tokyo Police Force does battle against augmented humans known as “Engineers”, a highly skilled officer Ruka fights to uncover what is driving the spate of violence across the city. The film begins with a friendly announcement by a policeman explaining that they are there to help the citizens. This is rudely interrupted when his head explodes in a shower of blood that is unexpected and genuinely shocking. It should be said before we proceed much further that this film takes a strong stomach to get through as there are some genuinely disturbing images throughout. Following this we cut to one of these “Engineers”, a zombie-like being with a chainsaw replacing one arm. He has killed a lot of people and after dispatching an entire police troop in a brutal symphony of churned up viscera, severed body parts, and fountains of blood, our heroine Ruka, armed with a katana is sent in to clean up, expertly disarming the criminal (pun fully intended). This opening sequence serves as a sort of aperitif for what is to follow. If you can get through it without vomiting, then you are probably good to proceed (although they do continuously attempt to outdo this bold opening). The police manage to dig a key-shaped tumour out of the corpse’s head and it is this that is believed to make them into killers, somehow transforming ordinary citizens into bloodthirsty monsters who adapt their bodies to make them more efficient at bloody slaughter.

Although it is buried beneath all the insanity there is a fairly standard cop-drama plot driving Tokyo Gore Police from one outrageous set-piece to the next. It is admirable that they attempted to do something with Ruka’s character and there are even emotional scenes concerning her relationship with her father and issues with depression that help create a somewhat rounded character. Eihi Shiina (Audition) plays the heroine with style pulling off both drama and action. The film also includes a number of satirical commercials that play throughout. These largely poke fun at police violence and the suicide problem in Japanese society. Subtlety is not something this film frets over and it is fun to see the extreme way that topics are handled. The one issue I had with the story is that it is a little disjointed. Themes will be raised and then not mentioned for a long time and scenes are occasionally edited together in sequences that do not work to the best advantage of the story. But in a film such as this, the story is really the last thing people are probably concerned about. Its primary loyalty is to horror and gore aficionados. This schlock horror goes out of its way to disgust. There is a great deal of creativity and the special effects are praiseworthy. It is great to see practical effects being used for the arterial spray and prosthetics for creatures and it makes everything more shocking than CG could ever have been. Even though you know it is just rubber and make-up you can’t help but cringe when you see people being torn up by drills or chainsaws. It should be said that there is a huge amount of humour in the film and it is clear from the over-the-top nature of everything that is going on that it is not meant to be taken too seriously. Director Yoshihiro Nishimura clearly has a great creative flair. One of the more surprising things about the film is that there were some well-crafted scenes of horror. The sequence on the train was genuinely terrifying without resorting to the grotesque. On the flipside there were disappointments when scenes such as the impact of Ruka self-harming seemed undercut by the cartoonish way it was displayed. The film actually seems unhinged at times as it veers from satire to horror to outrageous comedy.

The main theme of the film is police privatisation. It satirises the commercialisation and corporatisation of the police force and public bodies. It is also critical of the sort of enjoyment ordinary people have in seeing criminals punished in violent and inhumane ways, perhaps suggesting there is little difference between the criminals and law-abiding citizens in their basic aggression. The main villain, it is revealed, injected himself with the essences gathered from various serial killers, thus becoming a violent killer himself. This is the point at which the film becomes a little confused and seems to have had a strong idea but not the conviction to follow it through or work out a sensible plot to develop it. Instead these ideas are cast to the wind for the audience to make of what they will. This is also true of the suicide sub-plot. We learn that Ruka self-harms and are then treated to a blackly-comic commercial of high-school girls encouraging their peers to buy a special knife and cut themselves. A couple more advertisements throughout cement this theme as a central pillar of the film. But once again it is left hanging as a sort of interesting aside and has no real bearing on the plot. If you can stomach extreme gore, indescribably outrageous set-pieces of sex, violence and brutality (all with a dark comic angle), then this could be the film for you. A movie that has to be seen to be believed.