My feelings about Maokoto Shinkai’s work are…complicated to say the least. I find his films to be beautiful – but they’re kind of repetitive in terms of tropes. And as someone who very much did NOT like Weathering With You, I did not originally have high hopes for Suzume.
I mean, the love interest is a chair for most of the movie? That’s a hard sell. What is this? Chairem Anime?
But yet, this damn movie had me crying over a chair.
Admittedly, I have yet to see Your Name – I honestly don’t know why at this point – but I think Suzume might be better. It’s an epic journey surrounding a girl who is dealing with her childhood trauma and healing.
Suzume lives with her single maternal aunt, living an average life in Kyushu. When she meets Souta, who is looking for local ruins – she follows him to an abandoned onsen, where she finds a mysterious door.
This discovery leads to Suzume accidentally unleashing a mysterious wormlike creature that causes earthquakes. It falls to her and Souta, the latter of whom has been turned into a chair by a cat-like spirit called Daijin, to prevent a disaster that could devastate all of Japan, by closing doors across the country.
Love and Loss
I’ve seen so many other anime films where the protagonists’ mother died tragically – Belle, Children of Kamiari Month, Okko’s Inn… – that provides motivation for the character but don’t focus so much on healing. The characters end up moving past the tragedy and discovering or discovering their passions but the dead parent trope feels like it’s there to provide an extra layer of tragedy.
In Suzume, the loss is one of the central pieces of the narrative. Spoiler alert, it is revealed that Suzume and her mother lived in the Tohoku region of Japan; her mother was killed in the 2011 disaster. We see a few scenes of a young Suzume traveling through a barren wasteland searching for her mother.
And as it turns out, to save Souta and Japan – she has to revisit her hometown. Unlike the protagonists of the movies above – Suzume hasn’t lost a passion for anything. She doesn’t go on this journey because she wants to find herself, or because she is forced to by some prophecy or family lineage.
She goes out of love and I think out of a feeling – one where she doesn’t want anyone to have to go through what she had to.
And it’s not just a love for Souta – but she finds love in the people she meets, the places she visits, and for herself.’
Of course, the animation and music are wonderful. One thing I particularly enjoy about Shinkai’s films is how they use real-life locations – and capture them so perfectly in animation. It makes the setting feel more alive in a way. More believable.
It’s a movie about a young girl – and an adult – Souta is in his early 20s and it’s kind of a romance. It’s more in line with Chihiro and Haku in Spirited Away where the kind of love can be interpreted as platonic or romantic…but it’s a strong bond. But this one is played as more romantic.
It’s a little creepy.
However, the few signs of affection between the two are relatively chaste – and Shinkai himself has said he wanted to focus on different kinds of relationships, like Suzume and her aunt…But the story still reads as a kind of romance.
Originally Shinkai planned for Souta’s character to be female, which could have been an interesting change of pace, especially if he kept the subtle romance in. But that idea was rejected.
And this isn’t bad, so much as it is derivative of his other works. It’s like Shinkai only knows one general plot. But his skill is in how he presents it. Not a bad thing, but there’s little there that is going to challenge you if you’ve seen his other films.
Pacing is also an issue.
There is a point about halfway through the movie – where I thought it was over. Sure it felt a little incomplete but otherwise, it was a natural stopping point. But that’s when Suzume took a turn from a cute little road trip movie to something a lot darker.
Not bad – but the emotional whiplash didn’t really seem suited for this kind of movie. I think there was a way where it could have been done more smoothly or more naturally. Because it felt like the final epic battle of the movie – which made the actual final battle feel a little anticlimactic from an action perspective.
In high school, my school took part in a program that bought students who were affected by the Tohoku earthquake to the States for a week. My family hosted another girl, Hazuki, who I still keep in touch with today.
We became close in that week – as close as two people who don’t speak each other’s languages well can get. We’ve only seen each other twice since. Once when she was studying abroad in college. And once when I was studying abroad.
It was an interesting experience to see her hometown. In 2016 when I visited – a lot of the homes still hadn’t been rebuilt. Her family took me to the ocean, showed me where they used to live, and took me to a memorial dedicated to some of the victims. It was overwhelming and emotional – to see these abandoned places that once had so much life.
So – in that way, the Suzume really resonated with me. Cause I understood that experience, to an extent.
The tsunami and earthquake don’t get talked about a lot in Western media, and I haven’t seen much about it in anime – so I think tackling this topic takes a lot of care. And I think Shinkai did it pretty well.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of Release: 2022 (Japan)
Length: 122 minutes
Director/Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Producers: Kouichiro Itou, Henki Kawamura