Suzume (Suzume no Tojimari) - Spoiler Free Movie Review
Makoto Shinkai strikes again, with a beautifully animated tale of love, acceptance & fantasy lore that is tightly wound to Japan’s history with earthquakes.
Original Title: すずめの戸締まり(Suzume no Tojimari)
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Fantasy
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Cast: Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumura, Eri Fukatsu, Ann Yamane, Kotone Hanase, Sairi Ito, Ryūnosuke Kamiki, Kana Hanazawa, Akari Miura & Shota Sometani.
Run Time: 122 min.
Japan Release: 11 November 2022
US Release: 14 April 2023
UK Release: 14 April 2023
German Release: 13 April 2023
It might not seem like it, as I don’t review much anime on my blog, but it is my favourite type of animation. The art style, complex narrative lines, vast use of genres, as well as interesting characters, differentiate the Japanese form of animation from the Western one in quality! Anime has always been a part of my childhood, growing up with Captain Tsubasa, Doraemon, Ganbare, Kickers! and the Dragonball series. However, I first experienced Makoto Shinkai’s brilliance with Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name); one of my all-time favourite films ever produced! As such, I was very much looking forward to… Suzume!
Suzume Iwato is a seventeen-year-old teenager, living with her maternal aunt in Kyushu. When she crosses paths with a mysterious young man, Sōta, an unexpected road-trip adventure ensues, in which she needs to help him close doors all over the country, which release natural disasters.
The idea for this movie came to the director while travelling through the country, giving talks about his past works. Realising that a lot of areas are by now abandoned, mostly due to the decline of birth rates in Japan plus the ageing population, he mused about the fact that it is customary to hold groundbreaking ceremonies before construction, but nothing of the sort when closing them down. Thus, Shinkai decided to write a piece that would mourn such deserted areas. This aspect turned the largest part of the plot, accidentally into a road flick.
Further influences that shaped the screenplay are Japan's long-running relationship with earthquakes. Your Name and Weathering With You’s plots were directly influenced by the idea of natural disasters, the latter being a statement on the climate change affecting Japan. Suzume, however, is supposed to serve as a cathartic artistic piece, helping older audiences at dealing with their trauma of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, while sharing the pain with the younger generation. This is where the narrative succeeds without question!
Instead of displaying those themes as innate occurrences, with a supernatural component happening on the side, Shinkai relates the two influences as one cause. Through the abandonment of residential areas, the sadness and emptiness left in these ruins create unlocked doors to the beyond. The afterworld also houses a mindless supernatural entity, which when breaking through the door, causes earthquakes. As such, this anime is much more fantasy focused than previous features by the director.
One thing that took me positively by surprise, is how much funnier this movie is, compared to the creator’s previous work. Don’t misunderstand me, Weathering With You, as well as Your Name, all had comedic moments, yet Suzume was genuinely a lighthearted funny Japanese animation. That said, the romance was handled quite clumsily this time around. I don’t think that the premise needed a romantic angle between the two leads, which felt quite forced.
Suzume is spoken in the original by Nanoka Hara, while the English dub is voice-cast by Nichole Sakura. I only saw it in original language with subtitles, as such I can only comment on Hara’s performance, which was incredibly sweet and innocent. Suzume herself is portrayed as a naive young adult, who accidentally stumbles upon this magical world. Unbeknownst to her, she is linked by fate to her upcoming adventure, as she will need to overcome some repressed traumatic memories. The progress she makes throughout the plot is impressive, though her motivation for love is hard to understand.
Sōta is the second lead. A gatekeeper, travelling through Japan, closing mystical doors left behind in abandoned ruins. Something happens with the character and a three-legged chair, meant as a metaphorical reference by the director, who felt trapped during the COVID lockdowns. Sōta is given a background story, being a student at the University of Tokyo. Nonetheless, apart from that, not much more is given to flesh out his persona.
Rounding off the cast are two supporting characters; The lead’s aunt Tamaki Iwato, who adopted Suzume as a child. She is fleshed out properly during the third act, though that segment feels like the creators had stitched two different plot ideas together. The same goes for Sōta’s class comrade Tomoya, who is first introduced at the end of the second act. He only obtains extensive screen time because Suzume needs his help.
The animation is once again jaw-droppingly beautiful! I was especially impressed with some of the water animation, which was already breathtaking in Weathering With You, yet perfected here! As with all of the animator’s films, the surrounding world is incredibly detailed, containing cups, spoons, pens, or crumpled-up papers, which might be lying in a room. Special attention has been given to a three-legged chair, containing cuts, splinters and even chipped-off colour. The cities of Miyazaki in Kyushu, Ehime, Kobe plus Tokyo are well rendered, looking like their real-life counterparts.
The afterworld contains clear, star-spangled skies, as well as vast fields of grass when the ravaging paranormal creature is dormant. However, while ravaging, the landscape turns into a lone, dark place, with abandoned houses. A stranded catamaran, from an aerial image in 2011, displaying the damage done by the tsunami in Tōhoku, was taken as a prototype for a stranded vessel in an afterlife scene.
The soundtrack is gorgeous, including vastly different tones depending on the situation. Epic battle sounds blast during scenes in which our heroes need to shut an open door, while gentle piano or flute pieces accommodate quieter, intimate moments. The music was produced by the band Radwimps, who collaborated prior with Makoto Shinkai. The
Verdict: Suzume is a great follow-up by Makoto Shinkai; not as good as Your Name but better than Weathering With You! This might well be one of the director’s most personal stories, as he not only shares his painful memories of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami with a younger audience but also tries to create a cathartic piece of cinema for those who remember the traumatic experience. This is tied to a fantastical plot that tries to pay tribute to former residential areas, or industrial sectors that have been abandoned, left to become ruins. The main theme is the overcoming of trauma. The narrative is much more light-hearted than previous productions by the animator, though the forced romance is unneeded, and the third act broke the pacing, feeling tagged on at the last minute. The imagery conception is hauntingly beautiful, containing an incredible amount of detail for an animation. The music is one of the film's highlights! I was pleasantly entertained by Suzume, which deserves an 8.5 out of 10!
I will try to review more anime, especially since it is my favourite animated medium. What about you? Are you a fan of anime? Which one is your favourite? Do you agree with my review?