Japanese
Sumikko Gurashi The Movie: The Pop-up Book and the Secret Child
Also known as: Eiga Sumikko Gurashi: Tobidasu Ehon to Himitsu no Ko
Medium: film
Year: 2019
Director: Mankyu
Writer: Takashi Sumita
Actor: Manami Honjo, Yoshihiko Inohara
Keywords: fantasy, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 66 minutes
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=22310
Website category: Anime 2019
Review date: 21 February 2024
Sumikko Gurashi movie 1
Sumikko Gurashi is a cute anime franchise for small children, including Misaki. She's just turned six. Its gender-neutral characters are drawn with the kind of ultra-simple lines that suggest the doodles of small children, a bit like Hello Kitty. This is the first of its movies and we bought it on DVD (from Japan) for Misaki's birthday.
The film's surprisingly strong in the end and has a reputation for being a tear-jerker even for adults.
"Sumikko Gurashi" means "living in the corner" and it's based around the kind of characters who prefer to lurk in corners. Its characters include (1) a polar bear who dislikes the cold, (2) a penguin who wonders if (s)he's really a penguin and is often carried off by a robot arm that drops from the ceiling, (3) the fatty end piece of a pork cutlet that no one wanted, so its ultimate dream is to get eaten, (4) a nervous cat, (5) a dinosaur that doesn't want anyone to learn its true identity and pretends to be a lizard, (6) a slug that puts shells on its back and pretends to be a snail, (7) a timid ghost that loves cleaning. That's a slightly startling cast and I haven't even finished going through the list. You'd expect anything drawn in this cute, kiddie-friendly art style to be personality-free pap, but there's quite a lot of lonely and weird in there. They feel left out or anxious. Pork Cutlet isn't the only unwanted food item, incidentally.
Because of this, they have quite a lot of personality. They get scared, or run off excitedly, or ignore their responsibilities because they have their own eccentric ideas of fun. You certainly can't predict how they'll behave, except in broad terms (like a very random collection of small children).
Essentially, this film is a silent movie, except with two narrators who never shut up. The Sumikko Gurashi are mute. They only "speak" in simple Japanese writing that appears (quite fast) on-screen next to them. (This is kana-only, with no kanji, as you'd expect given the target audience... but I didn't always find it easy to read it all in time. Once you've spent years learning them, kanji make Japanese writing more digestible. Personally, I find all-kana children's books quite slow going.)
The storyline (for lack of a better word) involves a children's picture book. The Sumikko Gurashi get sucked into it and find themselves re-enacting The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, Momotarou, The Arabian Nights, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. There's not much of a plot. Different Sumikko Gurashi do their own goofy things. It doesn't join up and there isn't an overall narrative. The nearest is gets is evolving character relationships, with the most important one involving a new character (Grey Duckling) who's also wandering around in the picture book. It doesn't have any friends or a place of its own, which makes it a perfect fit with the Sumikko Gurashi. They befriend it.
The Pork Cutlet's version of Little Red Riding Hood is mental and made me laugh, though. The film's both witty and sharply timed. Its music is perfectly pitched and its use of sound can in itself create gags, e.g. the falling "ping". The flying sledge was funny. This film should have been too disjointed and bitty to hold an adult's attention, but it mostly manages to paper over the cracks by having fun with its wacky characters and scenarios.
The film then gets genuinely strong with Grey Duckling. Even knowing the film's reputation, I was still surprised. It finds genuine emotional weight in this kiddie-friendly universe of silly mute cartoon animals. Good ending.
This film opened in 114 cinemas in November 2019 at number three nationally, rising to number two the following week. It grossed 1.45 billion yen in 2019 despite opening in November and won Best Animation of the Year at the Japanese Movie Critics Awards. Sumikko Gurashi has since released two more movies (in 2021 and 2023), although I'm not expecting those to be as good. If you get a chance, give this film a go (although most of its length is random semi-parody for very small children that might put you to sleep if it's late at night when you try to watch it).