The new anime from Makoto Shinkai forms a trilogy of sorts with Your Name and Weathering With You. Another nascent couple averts another natural disaster, this time in the form of giant space worms causing earthquakes across Japan.
Though silly on the surface, the story (boy meets girl, girl adopts talking cat, boy turns into chair) becomes a surprisingly emotional road movie; Howl’s Moving Castle for the social media age – except with a proactive protagonist who does more than sweep up after a man.
Where the Hayao Miyazaki (who is repeatedly referenced) flick feels distant and intangible, Suzume is almost too close for comfort. It confronts the 2011 Fukushima disaster with a haunting emotional intensity, as the weird worm stuff takes a back seat to realistic family drama. Only an annoying Pokémon-meets-Cheshire cat and some obnoxious McDonald’s product placement threaten to undermine its ecology and empathy.
As Shinkai hones his themes in each film, he refines his animation to dazzling new heights. Every blade of grass, shaft of light and drop of water is so rich and vivid it looks realer than real; you can always tell the time of day, a natural phenomenon that makes you forget the absurdity of watching a three-legged chair chase a magic cat through traffic. This stunning aesthetic also highlights the picture’s poignant moments, underscored by Kazuma Jinnouchi and Radwimps’ characterful music.
The effect is beautiful, moving and sometimes scary, its sadness balanced by playful humour. Romantic, psychedelic and apocalyptic, Suzume is a radiant reflection on the trauma of the past, alongside fear and hope for the future.