Makota Shinkai is currently one of Japan’s premier film directors. He rose to international fame with 2016’s Your Name, which was the highest grossing anime film at the time of its release. Although I am no film critic, I can say that Your Name lives up to the hype. The characters are loveable, the story is gripping, the visuals are stunning, with the over-all effect of causing an emotional reaction in the viewer. Shinkai followed up Your Name last year with Weathering With You, which debuted in U.S. theaters last month. I went to go see it by myself on a whim one weekend after watching a trailer. Although I have only seen it once, it instantly became one of my favorite films, anime or not, in recent memory due to its visual beauty and touching story.
Although I am stuck waiting for the film’s home-release, one of my favorite aspects of it is widely available for consumption: the soundtrack. Both Your Name and Weathering With You were scored by the same artist, Japanese pop-rock band, RADWIMPS. The band’s first release was through a Japanese indie label back in 2003; since then, they have signed to a major label and have enjoyed great success domestically. The soundtrack of Your Name helped them reach more international listeners due to the film’s popularity. Although most consider Your Name to be the stronger film, Weathering With You definitely features the stronger soundtrack.
The way the album Weathering With You plays, one would think that RADWIMPS has been scoring movies for their whole career. Many soundtracks do not merit listening outside of the film context besides a few isolated tracks, unless the listener is a big fan of the movie the music goes with. Weathering flows like an album. At about one hour in length, it swells and hushes, changing tone and instrumentation just enough to stay interested while also remaining sonically consistent. The music is mainly piano-driven, with lush instrumentation supporting it. There are acoustic guitars, woodwinds, and soaring string arrangements flying in at all the right times. It is possible to be emotionally moved by the soundtrack alone; it hits all the right sentimental chords to bring out goosebumps.
The initial draw of the soundtrack is the lyrical songs. Although the film is not a musical, it wouldn’t be an anime if someone didn’t at least belt out an opening nnumber. The five non-score songs are all either beautiful, catchy, or both. “Voice of Wind,” is an addicting piece of guitar pop that I have found myself, somewhat embarrassingly, playing on repeat in the car. Two cuts, “Celebration” and “Grand Escape,” feature vocalist Toko Miura, who’s pitch-perfect voice adds a dramatic flair to the anthemic choruses. Due to these songs’ popularity, RADWIMPS have released an EP featuring them in their un edited versions, plus an English version of the closer, “Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do?” This will be linked below the full album.
Although I started out listening to the EP so that I could hear the full songs, I gradually found myself transitioning to listening to the full album. The greatest benefit of listening to the whole soundtrack together is getting to hear how these songs fit into the score. Tracks such as, “Sky Clearing Up,” “First Part-Time Job As Sunshine Girl,” and “Running With Hina,” feature the same melody as the full-band closer, “Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do?” Each time the melody appears it does so with a slightly different arrangement or emotional tone, keeping it from becoming repetitive. This, to me, is one of the hallmarks of a great soundtrack because it gives the listener something to grasp on to. The soft, nostalgic notes feel like a reward that is hard to put into words.
As East-Asian influence continues to seep its way into Western pop-culture, I hope that more American/European audiences discover music like this. One of the reasons that I listen to music is for an escape, an experience that the Japanese create masterfully. Putting on a record, especially a good soundtrack, allows me to be transported to another world. Because these songs are mostly instrumental, and I don’t speak Japanese . . . yet, not having the distraction of lyrics allows me to sink into the world of the music and let it seep into my own world. It makes me reflect on the film, but also see my surroundings in the magical way that RADWIMPS brings to me through their work.
Our Rating: 7.7 (Standout)
Weathering With You is out now via voque ting co., ltd.