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Staff & contributors
Monster is a deceptively simple story about growing up and the many misunderstandings that come with it. It’s told through different points of view, a technique that could easily feel gimmicky in the hands of a lesser director. But with director Hirokazu Kore-eda at the helm, it feels natural and inevitable, as if there was no other way to tell this specific story. It’s a masterful mystery, but Monster is less about suspense and answering the whodunnit question than it is about navigating the murky waters of truth and real life. As corny as it sounds, watching Monster is an experience unto itself: you’ll find yourself believing something one moment and dismantling it the next, learning and unlearning in a span of two hours. But as with past Kore-eda films, it’s the story’s heartwarming sensitivity that trumps everything. You’ll likely come for the mystery but stay for its heart.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akihiro Kakuta, Ayu Kitaura, Daisuke Kuroda, Eita Nagayama, Hinata Hiiragi, Kayo Noro, Mitsuki Takahata, Moemi Katayama, Pee, Ryu Morioka, Sakura Andô, Shidô Nakamura, Soya Kurokawa, Yûko Tanaka

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Rating: PG-13

, 2022

Part fantasy, part road trip, and part coming-of-age, Suzume is a rich and fast-paced tale with no dull moments in between. The energy is relentless and the animation, as expected, is dazzling, so even though there are occasional plot holes and melodramatic reaches, you’d be hard-pressed not to forgive them. Suzume still wins you over. Of course, the fantastical aspects are what make Shinkai’s films his, but Suzume works best when it zeroes in on humans and their complicated feelings toward each other. The confrontation between Suzume and her aunt, where Suzume accuses her of suffocation and the aunt, in turn, laments the life she could’ve had if she wasn’t charged with caring for her dead sister’s daughter, is just as shattering as any scene involving slaying monsters or battling gods. I only wish there were more tender moments like this, but Suzume is just as endearing and entrancing all the same.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Aimi, Akihiro Tajima, Arisa Maesako, Ayumi Tsuji, Eri Fukatsu, Genta Nakamura, Hinano Harumi, Hokuto Matsumura, Kaito Ogawa, Kana Hanazawa, Katsumi Fukuhara, Kotone Hanase, Kyo Yaoya, Matsumoto Hakuō II, Nanoka Hara, Ryoko Nagata, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Sairi Ito, Saori Seto, Shinjirou Gouda, Shota Sometani, Takuya Yokota, Tomomichi Nishimura, Yoji Ueda, Yoshino Aoyama, Yuki Sorami, Yuri Kimura, Yuu Ayase

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Rating: PG

, 2021

This Japanese animated film employs a gorgeous blend of CGI and traditional animation—as well as intricately orchestrated original songs—to present a plausible simulation of virtual reality where people are truly free to do anything. Belle might not be as careful with its characters and the difficult situations they're put into "off-screen," but this is still ultimately an optimistic movie. Director Mamoru Hosoda suggests that uniting ordinary people through the internet won't actually lead to chaos. Instead, it'll help each of us become more empathetic of people around the world. And while that means Belle is still a sci-fi fantasy story more than anything, the film's wondrous images and music make it feel good to dream.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Music, Science Fiction

Actor: Asami Miura, Fuyumi Sakamoto, Kaho Nakamura, Ken Ishiguro, Kenjiro Tsuda, Kōji Yakusho, Lilas Ikuta, Mami Koyama, Mamoru Miyano, Michiko Shimizu, Mitsuru Miyamoto, Ryo Narita, Ryoko Moriyama, Shota Sometani, Sumi Shimamoto, Taichi Masu, Takeru Satoh, Tina Tamashiro, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yoshimi Iwasaki

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

There is a great deal of disbelief to suspend with this film, arguably the weakest of Japanese animation director Makoto Shinkai’s oeuvre. It follows Hodaka, a broke high school student in Tokyo looking for a job. The story kicks off when he meets Hina, a cheerful girl who lives with her younger brother and has the power to control the weather.

Again, as with all of Shinkai’s work, it’s remarkably beautiful. Rainfall, skies, and cityscapes are eye candy here, probably more than in any piece of animation ever. But this has every high school romance trope elevated to an extreme level, like Shinkai’s best known film Your Name but on steroids—a teenage boy and cute girl fit together like pieces of a puzzle, a grand adventure starts, forces beyond their control threaten to separate them, and the standard anime couple seemingly never see each other again, until they dramatically meet years later.

For the sake of an against-all-odds romance, Weathering with You downplays its insane plot devices. It glosses over runaway kids wielding firearms, an underage girl almost going into sex work, and a climate disaster potentially displacing millions of people—all for a love story.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Aoi Yuki, Ayane Sakura, Chieko Baisho, Hidekatsu Shibata, Kana Hanazawa, Kana Ichinose, Kanon Tani, Kotaro Daigo, Masako Nozawa, Mone Kamishiraishi, Nana Mori, Ryo Narita, Ryohei Kimura, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Sakura Kiryu, Sei Hiraizumi, Shinjirou Gouda, Shun Oguri, Sumi Shimamoto, Tsubasa Honda, Yuki Kaji, Yuki Ominami

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Rating: PG-13