Coming off his two worldwide critically-acclaimed films, Makoto Shinkai brought another power hitter film to the big screen—his most recent films were Your Name and Weathering With You. Both films have solidified his name and studio for making great anime movies said to be on the level of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki. Suzume was an amalgamation of Shinkai’s previous works, keeping all the heart-pounding coming-of-age story beats and visually breathtaking environments. But did it live up to the hype and anticipation of his previous internationally esteemed works?
Suzume follows a 17-year-old girl named Suzume Iwato from a small, close-knit town in Kyushu (found in the southwestern Japan area), who lives with her aunt, Tamaki. All trouble breaks loose as she encounters a young college boy named Souta Munakata, who tells her he is looking for the nearest ruins in the area that contains a certain door.
Through ruins and rubble, she finds a singular door standing within the area. As soon as Suzume opens the door, an otherworldly disaster ensues—but Souta is there to temporarily fix the problem as he knows how the doors work. The two become intertwined in their fate to stop other doors containing disasters from destroying cities and towns across Japan—and Souta mysteriously turns into a toddler’s stool by a strange cat that appears from the door Suzume opens! And yes, Souta can still talk and walk like a human—the physics are funny yet familiar.
Despite what seemed like a wild premise, Suzume and Souta’s journey to save Japan by closing the doors was filled with a marathon of emotions. I say marathon in the sense that the two travellers found themselves embarking on a quest that went from them cycling, walking, running, and commuting on public transportation to hitching rides from complete strangers—the all-around classic adolescent story of adventure in youth we can all relate to in some way.
“The distinguishing feature of Suzume was the detailing in the twinkle of the stars, building on its small moments in Your Name.“
While the task went into the fantasy realm, the life lessons and fellowships Suzume encountered were like memories of yesteryear. Those cherished teenage remembrances angst I laugh at to myself in the solace of my home whenever I hear kids screaming at the local playground. This was where Shinkai hit the mark right on its head, balancing the imaginary and the humanity within storytelling.
Not to forget the characters that have to traverse the journey. I felt like Shinkai did a really amazing job! Each one had real flaws despite trying to appear like they had their individual lives in order. The companions and friends Suzume met along the way served a wide array of purposes and enlightenment for her life—the past, present and for her future. It was interesting to see how each of the female role models presented different perspectives for Suzume, especially since her single aunt raised her.
Delving more into Souta’s character, he was like Suzume’s spirit guide (and slight love interest to a certain extent) through it all because he could not help her in the capacity he would when he was in his human body. But most interestingly, he was like the exposition device to explain the backstory of what was happening—dropping terms like Keystones, Gates, Closers, and The Ever-After. While there were some lore words to learn, I did not feel overburdened by them. I always love world-building terms and rules, like in the John Wick films and their different roles and such being Under the Table.
To address the elephant in the room, did the animation live up to the previous great works? Most definitely! The distinguishing feature of Suzume was the detailing in the twinkle of the stars, building on its small moments in Your Name. The drizzle of rain and water scenes were just as clear and bright as it shimmered in Weathering With You. And thank goodness I ate before, or I would have wanted to eat the screen. The short scenes with food were mouthwatering, on par with other excellent anime food depictions like Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma.
The different landscapes and cityscapes were not the only things aesthetically pleasing, but the finer details from which they were shot. I was pleased to see and imagine how much work must have gone into showing the reflection of Tokyo shown within a cat’s eye—as a minuscule version of the iconic city.
Whenever Suzume looked through a door showing the Ever-After world was also an incredible camera and animation trick. I found it was smartly shot when action and motion was happening on one side of the door but inside the door, the audience was able to see different parts within it and into the Ever-After—almost like how holographic trading cards show different things at different angles.
Suzume began with a bang and continued to reel its audiences from start to finish—letting us catch our breath at times but utilizing that 2-hour runtime with intention. While Your Name shook the film world across the globe to show more respect to anime(ated) films, it still could not find its way to the Oscars. But maybe, Suzume will find the foothold to slam its way into the Best Animated Film of 2023 nomination panel next year. Miyazaki may have stolen our hearts with Spirited Away, but Shinkai put out a great contender with Suzume for the current times.