Suzume is a beautiful and uplifting animated film from Japan with handsome and
stylish visuals. It has received great critical acclaim which was completely
well deserved. The film is essentially a thoughtful road movie/coming of age
film/fantasy flick about coming to terms with death and disasters.
It was also a tremendous financial success particularly in its home country and
to a slightly lesser extent abroad. So far it has grossed over 300 million
making it the fourth highest grossing Japanese film of all time. Suzume recently opened wide and is currently playing in theatres, but it is also
available for download on 123 movies, Redditt and Google Drive. But if possible,
the film should be experienced on the big screen for the viewer to fully
appreciate the immensity of the director’s vision.
The film was directed by Makoto Shinkai who is a well-known Japanese animator,
film maker, author and manga artist. He also made the well-received films,
Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011), The Garden of Words (2013), In Your Name
Weathering With You
(2019), which made my
Year End Review-2020 list. I consider this last film a masterpiece and this
Suzume is only slightly less impressive. His films are reminiscent of Hayao
Miyazaki and sometimes his best work rivals the old master in terms of
creativity and originality-but Miyazaki is still the king.
Shinkai is known for his photo realism animated shots that are based on real
objects and places that sometimes look better than the originals. Also, he often
shows us people doing the kinds of ordinary things that are left out of films
like making lunches, texting or catching a ferry. In their own way his films are
as distinctive and idiosyncratic as those of Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino.
Weathering With You, Suzume is another coming of age story/magical
adventure about a teenage girl trying to save the world. Like some of the
director’s other films this one also combines a pagan fantasy with effective
social realism revolving around family and human relationships. Although they
are animated all these characters seem infinitely more “real” and better
developed than anyone in
Thor: Love and Thunder or She Hulk.
In her Rolling Stone’s review, critic Katyi Burt echoed my feelings when she
said: ”In Shinkai films, the mundane
and fantastical meet in the artfully constructed middle, creating a space
somewhere between dreamscape and reality where big, teenage emotions can thrive“
The film also reflects anxiety that may be experienced by the Japanese because
of the rash in recent natural disasters, which may have been caused by climate
change although the film does not specifically say this.
While the film was not based on a true story it was inspired by a real-life
event. The film maker experienced the destructive six-minute 8.8 earthquake
which caused a tsunami and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 19,000 people.
In the film, natural disasters are caused by dark supernatural forces and they
are not random nature occurrences.
Suzume is about a 17-year-old girl named Suzume who helps a male college student
named Souto stop an evil force from causing apocalyptic natural disasters in the
world. This mission has special relevance to her because years ago a Tsunami
destroyed her hometown and killed her mother.
Suzume was later adopted by her aunt who is a decent, caring caretaker, but does
not understand her mission. She has a similar relationship as Buffy to her mom,
Joyce in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joyce was also clueless as to the dark forces of
the world and what her daughter is up to. Makoto Shinkai has said that the model
for the aunt/daughter relationship was his own occasionally turbulent
relationship with his own daughter.
Early in the film while bicycling Suzume meets an older boy going the other way
with a cool haircut who obviously attracts her. He asks her for directions then
leaves. But in an almost Lovecraftian twist, she later learns that she
inadvertently opened a portal to the Ever After, a realm where all time exists
simultaneously. Unfortunately, this also allows destructive beings from another
dimension to cross over into our reality.
She seeks to close the portal and save the world and she is aided by two
extremely bizarre sidekicks: a cute magical cat who cares more about getting his
cat treats than preventing world destruction, and a talking chair with only
three legs that is possessed by the spirit of her potential boyfriend, Souto
(the young man she saw on the bike.) Both of these characters are adorable
and entertaining, and they look like they could have come out of a Miyazaki film,
particularly My Neighbor Totoro. Look for the toys soon at Box Lunch stores
across the country.
The main antagonist is the worm, a giant phallic looking creature who came
through the vagina like door (I don’t think most kids will pick up on this). The
situation is complicated because only Suzume and Souta can see the worm, but if
they do not stop it, it will cause a massive earthquake.
I know the story sounds a bit confusing and unnecessarily hard to follow, and at
times it probably is, but some of the same criticisms made of the
recent Oscar winner:
Everything Everywhere all at Once.
But viewers will be so swept away by the rich visuals and so entertained by the
multi-dimensional human-like animated characters that they probably will not be
bothered by this.
Suzume is not quite a complete home run like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke,
Howl’s Moving Castle,
Kudo and the Two Strings,
Weathering With You, but it is definitely in the same ballpark. But
this is the
most visually inventive and engaging full length animated film that I have seen
in the last few years-although I liked this year’s animated short,
My Year of Dicks
a bit better. Suzume is a wacky and imaginative piece of entertainment
that can be enjoyed by the whole family.