Makoto Shinkai’s ‘Suzume’: A Masterful Blend of Fantasy and Grief

After what feels like forever, “Suzume” has finally arrived in cinemas. “Suzume,” is an animated fantasy adventure film produced by CoMix Wave Films and was written and directed by the legendary Makoto Shinkai. “Suzume” is one of the most highly anticipated anime releases of the year, and it did not disappoint.

The film follows the story of Suzume Iwato, a high school girl who was orphaned at a young age and taken in by her aunt. One morning she meets a young man named Sōta Munakata on her way to school, who unbeknownst to her is trying to prevent a giant supernatural worm from causing earthquakes. He leaves an impression on her and she makes a life changing decision to try and follow him to find a mysterious ruined door.

Suzume is not just about this adventure, though. It’s not about stopping earthquakes and saving the world – it’s about grief. The supernatural forces that Sōta is working to stop become visceral representations of the grief trying to consume Suzume just as it tries to consume the world. Makoto Shinkai has regularly intertwined themes of grief with disaster in his works – the same connections can be drawn in “Weathering with you” and “Your name” where the main characters deal with world-ending floods and a comet on a collision course with earth, respectively. 

I had a singular doubt about the film before I got to watch it – and it was the inclusion of the chair. In the trailer and marketing, you may have seen that Sōta is transformed into a sentient chair and I wasn’t sure the film would have the same emotional payoff as other Shinkai films as a result, but I was wrong, and that really shouldn’t surprise me considering this is a Shinkai film. I can now wholeheartedly say by the end of the film I was deeply emotionally attached to the little yellow chair that was missing a leg. In fact, most of the characters were pretty lovable and memorable – including the two women that Suzume meets on her journey who help her on her way – Chica and Rumi and Sōta’s friend Seriwaza.

As we saw the english dub of the film, I have to say I immediately recognized Suzume’s voice actress – Nichole Sakura O’Connor of ‘Superstore’ and ‘Until Dawn’ fame. She brings so much life to Suzume and her personality and speech makes her feel like a real person – which is I believe how we’re supposed to feel about her rather than seeing her as a flawless protagonist. She feels like one of us – like we too could be brave and face our losses and help save the world.

The traditional 2D animation of “Suzume” is truly outstanding. The stunning visuals and attention to detail in each frame are simply breathtaking from the intricacies of the characters’ facial expressions to the lush, vibrant backgrounds, every aspect of the film is a feast for the eyes. with one little exception: I think at times the CG and general design of ‘the worm’ whilst eerie and creepy was ultimately lacking. I actually felt a bit cheated when later in the film when Suzume is reading about the worm in an old diary the image drawn in the book looks a lot cooler then the very simplified design of the worm we see throughout the film. In addition it was nearly always rendered in 3D CG in contrast to the majority of the film in 2D which sometimes looked out of place and didn’t seamlessly blend the two styles together. However, other uses of 3D in the film looked pretty good – which were mostly scenic shots.

The music is also a highlight of “Suzume.” The film features a score by Radwimps and Kazuma Jinnouchi that perfectly complements the action on screen. The soaring melodies and intricate instrumentation heighten the film’s emotional impact, making it all the more captivating.

Overall, Suzume is a testament to Shinkai’s strengths as a filmmaker, doubling down on the themes and visual style that have made his previous films so beloved. However, the film also stands on its own as a moving and impactful story about the power of connection and the ways in which we can hold space for the past in order to better understand the present. While it may not offer a completely new side to Shinkai’s work, Suzume is a standout addition to his filmography that is sure to captivate and move audiences.

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