Anyone who has followed my writing knows I’m a big fan of Japanese animator (or anime) Makoto Shinkai. His film Your Name from 2016 won my heart, and I’ve been a big fan of his ever since. It is fair to say he has familiar tropes he works with and he has not been able to quite capture the glory of Your Name in his subsequent films; however, he is a bold storyteller and there is always a hope to his pictures which win me over. Such is the case with his latest film Suzume. It’s not perfect and he will lose some in its embrace of fantasy but I still found it a creative and dazzling experience. One I recommend anyone to get to the theater and support (it’s getting a pretty big rollout so now is your chance to support anime!)
Suzume has a lot going on but it basically tells the story of a teen girl named Suzume who meets a mysterious man named Sota one day who is looking for local ruins. She follows him to an abandoned section of town where they find a door which is a portal to a fantasy world called Ever-After. Then through various contrivances she ends up with Sota on a journey to stop a supernatural force called a worm from destroying all of Japan by causing earthquakes.
Part of the reason Shinkai wanted to explore this story was the after-effects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Parts of Japan never really recovered from the destruction and this inspired a story where Suzume and Sota (and sometimes her aunt Tamaki are on a road-trip to find the keystones throughout the country. There are also a lot of tributes to the great Hayoa Miyazaki with a city called Miyazaki, a magical cat named Daiijin and a quick wink to Whisper of the Heart.
Shinkai also makes the bold choice of having Sota turn into a chair for most of the movie. I was a little bit skeptical of this with the trailers but it honestly worked very well. Never has a chair had so much personality and charm. Daiijin the cat was also very mischievous, making life very difficult for poor Suzume.
The animation is of course outstanding as any Shinkai movie is and the music from RADWIMPS is the perfect accompaniment (and more of a traditional score than a JPOP background than their previous collaborations.) I interviewed the band back in 2020, which was a super cool experience. But my favorite part of the film is how it kept surprising me. I didn’t know where it was going and after seeing such a bland film in Super Mario Bros the week before it was so exciting to see a bold, inventive animated film from Shinkai.
I also appreciate how Shinkai uses the narrative to help the Japanese people process what happened to them with the earthquake (as he has done with comets and floods in his 2 previous films.) It’s so refreshing to have someone with such a hopeful outlook tackling such issues as climate change and national trauma. It makes me as a viewer and fan want to do more to help my community heal from our own problems (for example, the Great Salt Lake is drying up here in Utah.) Rarely are disaster films so encouraging and profound.
There are some flaws with Suzume. I think the design of the worms is a strange choice, not just its phallic similarities but also how different it looked from the 2D designs of the rest of the film. It looked cheap which is something I never thought I’d say about a Shinkai film.
Also while the road-trip for the most part worked well it gets bogged down with the relationship drama between Suzume and her aunt Tamaki. The comic relief with Tamaki’s boyfriend Serizawa can also get old quick and for how rushed some parts of the narrative feel these travel sections can be frustrating.
All that said, I still loved Suzume and can’t wait to watch it many times to gain more from it each time. I am sure the Academy will continue to ignore anime, which is a real shame because Suzume is a film that deserves to be recognized for its creativity and boldness. I hope you get a chance to see it and let me know what you think when you do.
8 out of 10
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