SUZAME (Suzume No Tojimari)

"...a wacky and imaginative piece of entertainment that can be enjoyed by the whole family."

Shinkai Tops Himself Again

(051823) 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 (2016), and 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.

Like 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 Captain Marvel, 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, Kubo and the Two Strings, or 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.

Directed by:    Makoto Shinkai
Written by:    Screenplay by Makoto Shinkai, adapted from his
 original story
Starring the Voices of:    Nanoka Hara, Hakuto Matsumura, Ed Fukatsu
Released:    04/14/23 (USA)
Length:    122 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG for smoking, language action-peril and
 some thematic elements
Available On:    At press time it was playing in local theaters

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

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SUZUME NO TOJIMARI © 2023 FX Productions
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Review © 2024 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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