Review by Sean Boelman
Anime filmmaker Makoto Shinkai is one of the most acclaimed working in the medium today, with his last two films — Your Name. and Weathering With You — having become international sensations. His newest film, Suzume, does not live up to the same level of quality, with plenty of gorgeous visuals but leaving something to be desired in the narrative department.
The film follows a teenage girl who is swept up in an adventure when she encounters a man whose job it is to close doors that lead to the afterlife before the apocalypse is released upon Japan. Like many of Shinkai’s films, Suzume boasts what seems like a high-concept premise, but it is written in a very low-concept way.
Even at just over two hours in length, the movie breezes by because of its quick pacing. However, this breakneck pace seems to largely exist to distract from the film’s shallowness and lack of substance. It’s a movie that thinks it’s profound and poignant, but it’s mostly just a combination of various familiar tropes.
The thing that holds Suzume back — and it’s surprising given the past caliber of Shinkai’s work — is that the emotional core is not entirely there. Although the film is clearly trying to create a connection between the adventure Suzume takes and her past, particularly in relation to her childhood and the death of her mother, this thread doesn’t feel developed enough to work.
That being said, the voice actors do a phenomenal job in their roles. You can feel the emotion in both Nanoka Hara and Hokuto Marsumura’s performances, and the two mesh tremendously well together. In this genre, it can be easy for actors to be generic, but Hara and Marsumura manage to make the characters feel lived in.
Of course, the film is also visually stunning, but one would expect no less from Shinkai. The design of both the settings and the characters is fantastic, earning this an early spot among the most beautiful animated films of the year. On the other hand, the music doesn’t stand out as much here as it does in Shinkai’s other work.
One of the things that is lacking in the film is its action. One would think that a concept like this, combined with Shinkai’s typically great art style, would lead to some great action sequences. Unfortunately, the action feels largely bland — a big part of this being the fact that the “monster” they’re fighting is nondescript.
Suzume isn’t a bad film, but it is a tad disappointing considering the caliber of work that Shinkai has been putting out recently. Although the film has no shortage of gorgeous visuals, it lacks the compelling narrative to go along with it.
Suzume opens in theaters on April 14.