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Suzume continues Makoto Shinkai’s tradition of delivering a heartfelt story that touches on love, grief, and the relationship between man and nature. Thanks to his reputation for creating visually stunning films that explore complex themes and emotions, Shinkai has established himself as a master of anime. For those familiar with the director’s previous works, Suzume will feel familiar in many ways, as the film deals with themes he had already tackled in works like 5 Centimeters Per Second, The Garden of Words, and Your Name. However, Suzume also delves deeper into some darker aspects of human experiences, such as losing a parent. The result is Shinkai’s most mature work to date.

Presented as the first Japanese anime feature film in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival in two decades, Suzume is a coming-of-age story that follows its 17-year-old protagonist, Suzume (voiced by Nanoka Hara), as she travels through different locations across Japan. Suzume’s life takes an unexpected turn after meeting the mysterious Sōta (Hokuto Matsumura), who reveals he’s a Closer, one of the people charged with closing some doors before they let into our world a mighty worm that causes earthquakes.

When Sōta is unexpectedly turned into a three-legged chair, Suzume takes it upon herself to close these portals and prevent further harm. Suzume’s adventure takes her through several disaster-stricken locations across Japan, meeting new people and facing many challenges. The farther Suzume gets from home, the more she discovers about herself and her past.

Once again, the environmental message in Shinkai’s work plays a prominent role. The protagonist’s adventures take place in locations that have been abandoned or destroyed by natural disasters, a theme that resonates particularly deeply in Japan after the earthquake of March 2011. Shinkai highlights the need to save those places from the lack of care, besides preserving them for future generations.

The author’s use of light and color in his films has always been a defining characteristic of his work, and Suzume is no exception. The film’s depictions of the natural world with vivid colors and subtle lighting is a visual experience for the eyes.

Suzume’s journey eventually takes her to the Ever-After, a mystical world where the past, present, and future converge and blend until becoming the same thing. The Ever-After introduces the theme of the grieving process as Suzume struggles to come to terms with her mother’s death. The film handles with sensitivity and grace the journey to acceptance, a reminder that love can help us find our way through difficult times.

Overall, Suzume is a movie that delivers on the promise of Shinkai’s previous works while examining new themes and emotions. In addition to its emotional score, the film’s unique visuals, relatable characters, and masterful storytelling make Suzume a standout entry in Shinkai’s impressive filmography and a must-see for anime fans. Suzume‘s ability to balance heart-wrenching moments with a sense of hope is a testament to Shinkai’s talent. In the U.S., the film hits theaters on April 14.

SCORE: 9/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 9 equates to “Excellent.”

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Makoto Shinkai’s Most Mature Work to Date