In less than 10 years, we have witnessed the rise of Makoto Shinkai as one of the most important anime directors. His works are full of stories that make us appreciate the small details and experiences that we collectively call life, hand in hand with an impressive visual quality that makes us want to jump at the screen because of the level of detail in front of us. Shinkai’s latest film, Suzume, is no slouch and manages to catch up with its predecessors in a fantastic journey across Japan.
Suzume follows the story of a 17-year-old girl named Suzume who lives with her aunt in a small town in the Kyushu region of southern Japan. There she meets Sota, an older boy searching for a special door. This encounter is the catalyst for a story that will lead them to travel across Japan to save it from a series of natural disasters, visiting abandoned and ruined places connected to these mysterious doors, while exploring themes of loneliness, grief, and regret.
A girl, a chair and a cat
Throughout the movie, there are tropes and archetypes that we have seen in Shinkai’s previous films. It seems like the director is following a formula, and I’m sure fans of those films will be able to spot it right away, considering that they follow the plot of a coming-of-age movie at their core. However, it has enough twists and details to create a completely different story, with these more adult themes being the real catalysts in the story.
Suzume’s relationship with the other characters during his journey is one of the best-developed aspects of the movie. The central relationship we see on screen is Suzume’s with Sota, with whom, instead of a romance - as with the protagonists of Shinkai’s previous films - we have a relationship full of admiration, teaching and support. And although the dynamic changes as the movie progresses, it is a relationship that, despite the implausibility of the situation, becomes highly believable.
The same can be said of her relationship with her aunt Tamaki, with whom she has the most important but fractured relationship. The interactions between them manage to be compelling, with clashes between a young teenage girl and the adult who has remained in her care. It is with her that the themes of grief, responsibility, and regret come to the fore, delivering scenes that range from hilarious to deeply moving, touching on sensitive issues. As the film progresses, Suzume meets more people and personalities on her journey through Japan who help her not only to follow her path but also to find north in her personal compass.
The everyday magic
It is also worth noting how Shinkai managed to perfectly blend elements as diverse as everyday life - just look at the scene where Suzume receives a long text message from her aunt after starting her adventure - with the most mystical and mythological moments in Japan’s history - in this case the relationship of doors to earthquakes and other natural disasters. These two elements could only coexist through a very successful art direction. With Suzume, Shinkai maintains a high standard in both animation and visuals, with panoramic views where the tone and details of the cities and towns feel alive, as if you were actually looking at them.
On the other hand, we have the soundtrack, this time composed by Kazuma Jinnouchi, which is touching and manages to give an extra boost to what we see on screen. The band RADWIMPS, with whom Makoto has worked in the past, also appears in some of the songs in the movie.
Makoto Shinaki does it again. Suzume is a captivating movie that continues to surprise us while maintaining the formula we know from Your Name and Weathering With You. The mixture of a coming-of-age story with themes of grief and trauma requires a very special world and creative storytelling to achieve the spectacular story that is presented. Combine this with a magical soundtrack and you have a movie that will stay with us for years to come.