Suzume (2023)

Shinkai’s new anime is largely compelling, though sometimes bogged down by its melodramatic excess and narrative contrivances. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,587

Dir. Makoto Shinkai
2023 | Japan | Animation/Drama/Fantasy | 121 mins | 2.35:1 | Japanese
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumura, Eri Fukatsu
Plot: Suzume, 17, lost her mother as a little girl. On her way to school, she meets a mysterious young man. But her curiosity unleashes a calamity that endangers the entire population of Japan, and so Suzume embarks on a journey to set things right.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
International Sales: Toho

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Loss & Grief; Disasters; Hero’s Journey; Salvation
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres = The Projector Golden Mile
Spoilers: No


A slight improvement over the underwhelming Weathering with You (2019), but nowhere close to the standard of his international breakthrough that was Your Name (2016), Suzume should still excite fans of Makoto Shinkai worldwide. 

From the first shot to the last, it is unmistakably the work of the anime auteur, from the unique visual style (cue requisite shots of the sky rendered in purplish blue) to the music by the rock band Radwimps. 

Like Hayao Miyazaki, who is referenced on more than one occasion in Suzume, Shinkai seems to be growing more concerned with nature and the environment. 

He tells the story of the titular teenage girl who encounters a mysterious man whose job is to shut doors across Japan in order to prevent catastrophic earthquakes.  Things go awry and this sparks an adventure with a purpose—to save innocent lives. 

“Is there a door nearby here?”

However, at its heart, Suzume is a story about personal grief; in fact, the film is at its best when dealing with the personal rather than the more sweeping if noble acts of salvation. 

Largely compelling with strong visuals as expected, the anime is, however, sometimes bogged down by its melodramatic excess (the film can feel too hysterical at times) and storytelling contrivances e.g. the motif of cats (a clear nod to Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service) don’t quite work for me in terms of its narrative utility.  Shinkai tries to explain its presence in a ‘deus ex machina’ sort of way but it isn’t convincing enough. 

Using doors to enter into another portal or world isn’t new (Pixar’s Monsters, Inc was so much nimbler with this concept), but Shinkai at least undergirds it in the Japanese context, particularly the devastation of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. 

The door becomes a physical conduit for Suzume to access the metaphysics of her existence, one marked by traumatic memories and unresolved emotions of loss.  The film is still a blast to watch though you can’t say it isn’t overstuffed.   

Grade: B


Trailer:

Music:

3 Comments

  1. I have seen everything from Makoto Shinkai except for this new movie. Weathering With You was so underwhelming and has not aged well no thanks to COVID and to a lesser extent involving the George Floyd protests. It’s good to know that it’s an improvement over that movie, but I’m still waiting for Shinkai to make a movie as amazing as The Place Promised In Our Early Days soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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