James D.’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Treasure the experience. Dreams fade away after you wake up.”
It’s not a foreign concept. You rise from a groggy slumber and in the far recesses of your mind, fanciful reveries still dance and sing from last night. You feel the warmth of a familiar face or the embrace of a close friend and everything seems to be intertwined with reality. You get ready for the day and soon realize that it has all faded away, becoming nothing but the whispers of a loved one you never knew. This person you thought you knew so well and seemed so real but a mirage in the mirror. A deep emptiness hangs like a crater in your heart, desperate for something it may never come to touch or see. You long for something, and your soul’s happiness seems like a far away destiny never to be realized.
This is the feeling that permeates the entirety of Shinkai’s lovely film. It seems to be encapsulated even through the gorgeous scenery throughout the film, the ever-shifting weather that never seems to be stuck in one state, jumping from one to the next. The characters call it kawatare-doki, meaning twilight, where day is indiscernible from night. Like a dream, the scenery changes and fades in rapid succession and what was once lively and present is now lost to the wind, replaced by what is here and now. It is captured, too, in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo life. People walk past each other without glancing around, only focused on what destination they’re reaching. The trains and subways roar and shriek past the stations, filled with people who gaze out the window rather than engaging those beside them, seeking something human contact cannot provide.
There is a feeling of emptiness, of evanescence that hangs in every stunning frame. Each scene bursts with life ironically as its subjects and characters seem deprived of it. Something as seemingly inconsequential as the flutter of a bird’s wings as it flies away appears to become inextricably linked to the sensation of feeling lost which the two main characters, Mitsuha and Taki, have known all too well.
And yet as depressing as it all seems, Shinkai manages comedy and levity in an otherwise existentially somber world where all seems meaningless and life insatiable. The fodder characters serve this purpose as a needed counterbalance to the film’s at time oppressive melancholia. However, the film is not without its missteps. The estranged father dynamic is never developed too clearly to full effect and seems wasted or at least undervalued. And Taki, as a foil to Mitsuha, feels like a blank slate as compared to Mitsuha’s rich character depth and complexity. Other than these trifles, however, there is hardly room for complaint when watching this lovely ode to human interaction.
Shinkai’s film flows with a sense of both wonder and reality that seems impossible outside of animation. The medium has scarcely been used to better effect in terms of displacing what is fancy and mingling it with the cold mundanity of our world to create something which had not existed before. It’s been done by Miyazaki a dozen times over but every animation filmmaker seems to bring a certain personal depth which distinguishes it from every other. Despite the concept being familiar, it always seems unique every time I have encountered it.
That magical reality is what the comet within the film appears to signify later. This otherworldly phenomenon is host to a life-changing event between two relative strangers who become very close, practically family. Their relationship is never really declared either, thankfully. There are no deep kisses in the rain or gazing into each other’s eyes but merely a profound connection that exists between the two. Like the relationship in Lost in Translation, this is one that merely celebrates the relationship of two people, not necessarily two people who are in love. And this affords the film a certain openness, not strictly placing it as a crummy romance flick but rather a deep contemplation on our race as a whole. The film builds its crescendo to a beautiful ending that cannot be improved upon.
As I woke this morning, scenes of this film flickered in my head. But unlike a pleasant dream which fades and crumbles away to nothingness, this film, thankfully, is a lasting work of art. This is an experience I can treasure again and again. Miraculous, buoyant, and forlorn yet life-affirming. This film crushes your spirits and lifts them up all at once.