Don't we all miss those extremely universal challenges that come with being and existing as a teenager: growing up, forming your identity, first loves, awkwardness and trying to prevent literal earthquakes so the entire world doesn't fall apart. Oh, those were indeed the times. Coming-of-age fantasy tale in the form of Suzume (すずめの戸締まり in Japanese) from writer-director-editor Makoto Shinkai delves into those challenges. We meet the eponymous Suzume (voiced by Hara Nanoka as a teenager, Miura Akari as a small child), a 17-year-old student living a quiet life with her aunt Tamaki (Fukatsu Eri). When Suzume meets an odd stranger named Souta (Matsumura Hokuto) who ''closes'' magical doors in order to prevent natural disasters and after a mystical talking cat called Daijin (Yamane Ann) turns Souta into a chair, it's up to Suzume to accompany Souta and help close doors before a destructive earthquake comes to be.
If you are familiar with Shinkai's other latest works, like yours truly, there's nothing groundbreaking happening in this film when it comes to the essential stuff. Young protagonists come across something otherworldly, courage is one of the main themes and driving forces for their arcs and there's a comforting pop rock tempo to its storytelling, conducted by the band RADWIMPS and Jinnouchi Kazuma who compose the musical score. The main question is just about how well those pieces come together again and fortunately Shinkai himself mostly conducts it well, letting the simple yet effective story lead you emotionally. All the characters are fairly immediately distinct and recognisable just from subtle nuances in their delivery, expressions and character details, while Shinkai's writing allows more quieter moments to breathe as well before we're in a breathless race against beautifully drawn disasters and fantasies.
The film is beautifully stylised in general, specifically in terms of colour; the quality is exquisite as is the way that lighting interacts with chosen tones and shades, whilst the overall result gives the story a certain kind of ethereal, mystical feeling. It is in fact so sophisticated and rich that you really notice the elements that aren't aligned with that sensibility, such as some of the voice acting—including by Hara. From intonation to speech patterns, Hara overacts throughout considering the material so the performance doesn't end up reflecting Suzume's slowly evolving sorrow at all. It is also often outright irritating with its added emphasis on whines and shrieks. That sort of dissonance between an actor and their character is increasingly harder to understand when we arrive at the movie's finale, which is rather resonant because of its focus on new perspectives, growing your compassion and learning to open up. They might even make you shed a tear or ten.
Smileys: Story, colouring
Frowneys: Hara Nanoka
That transformation is a cat-astrophe.