Our film of the week is 'Suzume', one of the best animated films you’re likely to see all year.
Acclaimed Japanese animator and filmmaker Makoto Shinkai is back, and you won’t want to miss his vibrant and deeply moving environmental disaster movie.
Following his international hits Weathering With You and Your Name, Shinkai returns with the story of a 17-year-old high-school student, Suzume (voiced by Nanoka Hara), who meets the mysterious Sota (Hokuto Matsumura). The dashing gent is on his way to seal a magical door in an abandoned city (as you do) in order to prevent a cataclysmic earthquake. She assists, but accidentally releases a keystone supposed to prevent larger disasters.
It just so happens that this keystone is a naughty kitty cat called Daijin (Ann Yamane), who turns Sota into an anthropomorphic kiddie chair.
No, we’re not making this up and Euronews Culture is a drug-free working space.
Thus begins a cross-country adventure to seal more magical Pandora’s boxes, which each have the potential to trigger further natural disasters, and track down the trickster feline deity in order to de-morph our story’s main love interest.
Similarly to Shinkai’s Weathering With You, which could be read as a reflection of what it means to live with the threat of climate change, Suzume sees the director grappling with the Great East Japan earthquake of 2011 that killed nearly 20,000 people. This means that Suzume exists somewhere between a YA coming-of-age story and an apocalypse thrill ride, and has something to say not only about the natural world, but also concerning the way we heal in the wake of disasters, and how grief is inevitable no matter how hard we try to fight it.
While this fantasy adventure can get predictable at times, the handling of these mature themes is always impressive, as the ruins sought out by our two protagonists act as a metaphor for how humanity needs to learn how to accept the unpredictability of life. Shinkai explores this in an emotionally engaging way and the grandiose scale of his epic story (along with some decent dollops of visual kitsch) never gets in the way of a good cry.
As if that wasn’t enough, the humour and the visual flourishes keep you glued to your seat throughout the runtime. The tonal whiplash between the weird humorous beats and the weighty themes is never distracting, and every frame fizzles with vibrant colours and jaw-dropping detail. It’s no overstatement to mention that the animation frequently equals some of Studio Ghibli's best films – which is hardly surprising considering Shinkai is a huge admirer of Hayao Miyazaki.
Suzume was already released in Japan last year, where it held the third biggest box office score in the country. Now that it’s out in European cinemas, make sure you don’t miss out on one of the best animated films you’re likely to see all year.
Suzume is currently out in European cinemas.