Updated: Mar 16, 2019
Went to Village East Cinema for a screening of Liz and the Blue Bird, the latest animated film from Japanese director Naoko Yamada, who also helmed the feature-length adaptation of A Silent Voice. That earlier effort—which explored such heavy themes as bullying, depression, and self-loathing—emotionally shattered me, and this followup follows suit, though it’s a bit more understated in its approach.
The plot revolves around Mizore and Nozomi, a pair of high school seniors in the same brass band club that have forged and unlikely friendship. As they rehearse their flute and oboe duet for an upcoming competition, however, they find that their playing has fallen out of sync: Mizore’s technique is nearly flawless but lacks soul, while Nozomi pours in plenty of emotion without much regard for proficiency. The two girls must resolve some long-repressed feelings and unspoken resentments in order to salvage not only the concert, but also their increasingly-strained relationship.
The animation on display is absolutely sublime, perfectly conveying characterization through subtle gestures: shy, introverted Mizore’s movements are stiff and reserved, while the popular and carefree Nozomi bounces along energetically, her ponytail swaying with every exaggerated stride and unnecessary twirl. Equally impressive are the frequent fantasy sequences depicting the eponymous fairytale, which evoke the watercolor illustrations one might find in a child’s storybook. On the strength of its aesthetics alone, Liz and the Blue Bird proves that Yamada deserves to be ranked among such industry giants as Mamoru Hosoda, Makoto Shinkai, and Masaaki Yuasa; the beautiful, heartfelt narrative is simply a cherry on top.
[Originally written November 10, 2018.]