“Suzume” might just be one of Makoto Shinkai’s best. I might be saying this right now because it’s fresh in my memory. While “Your Name” was an impactful love story, “Suzume” reaches a deeper level of emotion through its connection to nature. Makoto Shinkai reminds everyone of the disaster that struck Japan in 2011 and left the Japanese countryside in pieces. “Suzume” is quite lighthearted for the serious subject it tackles but still manages to leave a mark on the viewer. Not to say it makes a joke of natural disasters, but it adds a fantastical element to them, making it feel like there is much more power at play. “Suzume” is like a folksong about the natural disasters in Japan, bringing a kind of acceptance of nature’s mighty hand.
Suzume is a 17-year-old girl who was orphaned at the age of 4 and lives with her aunt now. On one fine day, she is struck by the beauty of a beautiful man who asks her for directions to some ruins in her town. She points him in that direction and ends up heading away, only to realize she’s being pulled back to meet him. When Suzume reaches the site of the ruins, she opens the door to something magnificent and scarily all-consuming. The beautiful man named Souta has an important task to fulfill in ruins: closing the door that brings disaster to Japan.
As is the norm for Makoto Shinkai films recently, “Suzume’s” overture is in the form of “boy meets girl,” but it is not per se a love story, even though I can argue that Suzume’s love for the boy chair grows slowly and surely throughout the film. But “Suzume,” at its core, is about coping with grief and the fear of death. Perhaps because I’m not Japanese, I was only able to shed a tear or two at the end of the film because the experience feels so real that had I been through it, I might’ve not recovered from this film at all.
After watching the film, a few words that Souta chants as a small prayer to the gods under the earth every time a door has to be shut come to mind as the director’s warm hug to those who are still grieving from the disaster. Suzume is a wonderful protagonist who keeps you gripped from start to finish. Her emotional arc culminates in the most stunning manner leading up to the last parts of the film, making her one of Shinkai’s most compelling characters. Suzume is not a runaway teenager, as is the common trope in Makoto’s film, but he flips the scene by making her a determined girl who is willing to sacrifice and stretch to any limits to save the world.
As Souta says himself, “Isn’t she afraid of dying?”. Unlike what you would expect, this makes Suzume an absolutely endearing character rather than overbearingly heroic or “idealistic.” She’s the hero we need to save us, yes, but she’s also appealing as a human being who is kind to a stray cat and falls in love with a pretty man at first sight. Souta, who I keep having the urge to call chair prince, bears an obvious resemblance to everyone’s favorite anime pretty boy, Howl, but mostly he’s a three-legged chair with a striking personality and a penchant for disaster management. They make a great team, and as the film suggests, many hands make light work. Tamaki Suzeme’s guardian and aunt are characters who shine for the little time they’re in the film. Radiant and perfect, she cares for Suzume, but she has a dark side, the side that every human carries within themselves, and her outburst is one of the best scenes of the film. Interestingly, director Makoto Shinkai says he feels most like Tamaki’s character towards his young daughter.
As I could imagine, or rather, as it is beyond my imagination, the artstyle of “Suzume” surpasses its predecessors “Your Name” and “Weathering With You” by miles in terms of being an absolutely thrilling experience. At parts, the theater was absolutely silent in the most calming way, with the sound of birds chirping or Suzume’s breathing, maybe the sounds of waves crashing, a truly “calming” experience, and then immediately switching to a high-octave orchestral sound or chanting when it came to Suzume and Souta trying to save the day. “Suzume” is heartwarming at every second, and of course, in true anime style, there are some hilarious laugh-out-loud moments that never take away from the melancholic idea of the story but make it more real by showcasing everything: the mundane, the fun, the sadness, and the fear. Like the one scene where Suzume gets on a giant wheel and almost walks into the “Ever After,” walking into “Suzume” is like a burst of emotion and a walk into the “Ever After” world created by Makoto’s fantastical world. The world-building of “Suzume” isn’t gradual at all, but it is equal parts mesmerizing and nuanced. Not to forget the adorable cat Daijin and the animated chair, which are highlights that bring a smile to the face every time they’re on screen, even if they’re being obnoxious or conflicting!
“Suzume” has a happy ending, but everything leading up to that is a tear-jerking amalgamation of beauty, fear, fantastical love, and courage. It sounds like I’m making the power puff girls, but words aren’t enough to describe the feeling watching a film like “Suzume” gives. There’s no profanity, some grown-up jokes, and a scene in a bar that may be considered mildly explicit. Every day, the anime world showcases a deep understanding of life experiences that surpasses expectations. “Suzume” is one to be remembered and a theatrical experience like no other. “Suzume” doesn’t lose a breath within its two hours and is an action-adventure throughout. “Suzume” is a healing experience that brings hope at the end of a disaster. For a movie that is about the disaster that struck the Japanese countryside, it showcases landscapes of the beauty and nature of the same countryside. Suzume’s considerate nature isn’t just helpful to the characters of the film; she lends a helping hand to those beyond the screen to remember but move on from the sadness of it all. I would give “Suzume” four point five stars out of five because of its virtually perfect story-telling, the -.5 is because I would’ve liked it to go on forever. If you have nothing else to do this weekend, head to the theater for a mind-blowing experience with Suzume.”