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Already successful in Japan, 'Suzume' is sure to amaze when it arrives at international theaters

Suzume Iwato and Sota, voiced by Nanoka Hara and Hokutu Matsumura, go on a fantastical adventure in Makoto Shinkai's new animated feature film, "Suzume." – Photo by @BANDAIFN / Twitter

On Tuesday, March 28, I had the pleasure of attending a pre-screening of director Makoto Shinkai's new film "Suzume," set to hit international theaters on April 14 and considered to be one of the most anticipated anime movies of the year in the U.S. This event was hosted by Crunchyroll in collaboration with the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City.

"Suzume" (Japanese: すずめの戸締まり) follows a 17-year-old high schooler from Kyushu named Suzume Iwato (Nanoka Hara), who lives with her aunt since her mother died during the 2011 Tohoku tsunami and earthquake.

The movie opens with an expansive shot of a dusky sky, with panicked breaths from a small Suzume as she recalls a scene from her childhood. Just as the scene gets more intense, it's revealed that it was all a dream as Suzume makes her way to school.

As she rides her bike to school, she comes across a young man named Sota (Hokuto Matsumura) who inquires about any ruins that may be present in her town. She points him in the direction of an abandoned area of the town, and unable to stop thinking about him, she follows him there.

After arriving in the area, she finds an abandoned door in the middle of a pool of water. Eventually, the door opens, and despite Sota's efforts to seal it shut, a giant worm from the other side breaks through and inflicts earthquake-like damage. Suzume takes Sota back to her house, and from there, the adventure begins.

As expected of a Shinkai film, the visuals are absolutely incredible. The close-ups are gorgeous, and the expansive shots of the "Ever After," the world beyond the doors, and mundane life throughout various cities in Japan (Ehime, Kyushu, Tokyo) are even better.

Additionally, "Suzume" had spectacular music composed by the band Radwimps (who worked with Shinkai on previous films) in addition to composer Kazuma Jinnouchi. While the music felt like less of a focal point than in previous Shinkai films, each scene appeared to be crafted more or less in tandem with the score.

Shinkai, the director behind "Your Name," "Weathering With You" and "5 Centimeters per Second," explores a new way to tell a coming-of-age story through "Suzume." As part of the special premiere event I attended, the audience had a chance to speak with Shinkai after the film.

During the audience Q&A, Shinkai explained more about the origin of the movie and why he chose to make it. He stated that this movie was reflective of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami and earthquake and that natural disaster was central to the film's message. He said that he wanted to try and balance a coming-of-age story while also highlighting the tragedy that occurred in 2011 and devastated the lives of so many.

At the beginning of the movie, Sota is made into a chair by a mischievous cat named Daijin — a detail that Shinkai said comes from his father making him a chair when he was younger. In another interview, he stated that he made Sota into a chair to represent the feeling of being trapped by the pandemic.

As the Q&A came to a close, Shinkai answered a few more questions, all with the grace and humility a seasoned director would. He seemed genuinely grateful to receive such heartfelt support from an international audience and thanked us for our time before walking off the stage.

I left the "Suzume" prescreening with a renewed sense of respect for a director whose works I have loved for so long. I certainly wish aspects of the movie were more fleshed out, but overall, for Shinkai, this is an exciting new foray into what, I hope, is a new era for his creative direction.

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