Suzume might just be the most bizarre and beautiful movie of the year.
Warning: The following review contains spoilers
Its mind-bogglingly original plot does take a lot of explaining, though. One morning Suzume (Nanka Hara), a 17-year-old high school student, walks past Souta (Hakuto Matsumura) on her way to school. He asks her if there are any abandoned areas with doors nearby.
Intrigued, Suzume follows Souta and finds an open door frame standing alone, which when opened shows a mesmerising starlit field. She then picks up a cat statue, which transforms into a real cat and flees the scene.
Later that day, after she’s returned to school, Suzume is the only person who can see a giant fire-like column rising into the sky from the vicinity of where she entered the door.
Suspecting she had some involvement in its appearance, Suzume flees the school. When she arrives back at the doorway, she sees Souta unsuccessfully trying to close it on the column of fire. When she joins in, the pair are successfully able to do so, but only after it collapses and causes an earthquake.
Suzume learns that Souta has travelled across Japan, finding and locking mystical doors to prevent these columns, which he calls worms, from triggering earthquakes. Souta is about to depart when the cat returns and turns Souta into a three-legged chair. Souta explains that the cat is actually a keystone that has been opening doors all across Japan.
The pair have to chase the cat and close all of the doors behind him, otherwise, the columns will all be released and set off a series of devastating earthquakes, destroying large parts of the country.
All of the above sounds incredibly far-fetched and ridiculous. But writer and director Makoto Shinkai, whose previous films include the critically acclaimed box office smashes Your Name and Weathering with You, somehow manages to ground the story in a reality that makes the plot feel resonant.
It’s revealed that Suzume’s mother died in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which resulted in nearly 20,000 deaths in real life. Suzume survived and has since been raised by her Aunt Tamaki (Eri Fukatsu), although both of them harbour regrets about the predicament.
All of this adds a powerful emotional aspect to the story and its characters, which still manages to reverberate even as Suzume becomes increasingly bizarre.
That’s particularly true of Suzume’s epic ending, which even though it threatens to become too bombastic and outrageous, ultimately delivers a heartfelt and gratifying conclusion that I was still thinking about hours after the credits rolled.
Other aspects of the film that deserve to be credited are Radwimps and Kazuma Jinnouchi’s score and music, which repeatedly enhance the action. Meanwhile, Shinkai’s supporting characters add much-needed humour to proceedings, with help from the stellar vocal cast.
Suzume isn’t entirely perfect, though. For starters, its two-hour runtime is too long. As a result, its middle act suffers, while the second half of the film doesn’t come close to matching the pace and enthrallment of the first. Plus there are large parts of its story where I was completely lost, and Shinkai’s dialogue does occasionally feel clunky and cliche.
But the comedy and inventiveness that Shinkai creates by turning Souta into a three-legged chair, and the chaos created by the devious cat that’s instigating all the earthquakes, ensures that Suzume is always gripping to watch, especially because the film is so daring and imaginative that I genuinely believed anything could happen.
While aspects of the film might occasionally feel random, Shinkai always manages to eventually piece them together in a controlled and satisfying manner. It also helps that the utterly gorgeous animation is always beautiful to behold, and is at times so immersive that it felt as if I was being pulled into the frame. In all, Suzume is one of the most unique and rewarding cinematic experiences of the year so far.
Suzume is out now in UAE cinemas