Makoto Shinkai’s recent animated works, from 2016’s Your Name to 2019’s Weathering With You, has resonated with fans throughout the world with emotional themes, great storytelling, and well-developed characters to get behind. Your Name explored what striving for social connection while maintaining identity looks like through the cosmic element of time. Weathering With You explored an optimistic view of how the weather’s changes connects with our state of mind. With Shinkai adapting such big ideas to a medium of possibilities like animation, these movies leave us inspired to better understand our culture, our history, and our future. In his latest work, Suzume, Shinkai further analyzes how the external forces of disasters affects coping with trauma, pushing through the past, and having empathy through others through means that hit closer to home.
Suzume follows Suzume Iwato (Nanoka Hara/Nichole Sakura), a high school student who comes across Souta Munakata (Hokuto Matsumura/Josh Keaton), a boy who’s hunting down mysterious doors that have opened up to supernatural forces. After uncovering a world beyond their own, Suzume and Souta embark on a journey to save Japan from the impending chaos while chasing the elusive Daijin (An Yamane/Lena Josephine Marano) that can protect their world. Along the way, Suzume must face dangerous obstacles, from the supernatural force that awaits to her own inner demons, while persevering to save her country and the ones she loves.
From a technical standpoint, Suzume‘s animation and music beautifully intertwine to create stunning scenery and eye-catching set pieces that definitely fits the story the movie wants to create. While fans have gotten used to the bustling streets of Tokyo and the niche communities of Hida and Kyushu, the movie places its focus on the demolished, ravaged areas to reinforce its theme. It is in these abandoned areas that allow the movie to fully show off its potential, with ghost towns actually having more life than those that are already populated. Furthermore, the use of supernatural elements does not go to waste as the designs of the ‘world beyond’ and the things that lie within it give you that feeling when you stare at the night sky; it creates a strong sense of cautious serenity.
Besides the world design, the character animation gives the movie all the spirit it can get. The animation wonderfully captures the performances of the voice cast, who do a great job embodying the characters on their own. Surprisingly, the team was able to give the chair (who’s actually Souta) more expression than you’d usually expect from an inanimate object come to life. Plus, there are some pretty funny interactions between Souta and Daijin all throughout the movie, but the reason for this being all comes around by the end.
In addition, the movie’s music creates a solid balance between the breathtaking, slowness of comprehension to the action in the moment. The movie can go from having a rush of emotions and action to overwhelm you with a feeling of peace and awe all at once. When combined with the animation, it helps solidify each scene in your mind while continuing to build on the story. I have to give a round of applause for Kazuma Jinnouchi for composing such exquisite pieces that blend well with this film.
In terms of the story, there’s a good balance between character development and hitting plot beats to reinforce the central themes of trauma, perseverance, and empathy. While the supernatural disaster serves as the main threat of the movie, there are several moments in between where the movie explores these themes on a personal level. It does so in several flashbacks with Suzume’s backstory, hinting at the tension and events to come as the movie progresses. However, there are also moments in the present-day of the movie that left me in shock, with hard emotional elements coming fully into play. The plot beats are there to emphasize the themes as well; they aren’t there just to propel the story, but they help manifest the emotional development shared by Suzume and Souta.
In addition, I love the little interactions we get between Suzume and Souta. It gives these two characters several chances to explore their personalities and it definitely works out here. The chemistry shared between the two felt natural, with Suzume’s curiosity and cautious, yet caring personality meshing great with Souta’s introverted selflessness all throughout. Outside of these interactions, there are quite a few moments in the movie that reeled the emotions in hard. There’s one sequence between Suzume and her aunt Tamaki (Eri Fukatsu/Jennifer Sun Bell) that was incredibly shocking to watch with the details that the movie built this scene up with. With these interactions and sequences, the movie definitely has a handle on how to tug with your emotions and worries for the characters.
That’s the thing with Suzume: it knows how to utilize its potential and story to create a well-founded message for audiences across the world. Through the use of supernatural elements, the movie slowly forms the message that we can prevent a dire future for ourselves through what we can do in the present. These characters are representative of our actions to help others through sympathy, persevering through it all. We have to be the ones that make the choices and sacrifices necessary to continue on because of our own satiation to live. In the grief and trauma that comes with everything, we must come to terms with our circumstances in order to better understand ourselves. It is by this message that makes Shinkai’s roster of modern works very special for every fan to resonate with.
Overall, Suzume is a magnificent, awe-inspiring journey with a hard-hitting story that will resonate with you on deeper levels untold. With another set of great characters that can fully communicate powerful themes through this story, Makoto Shinkai has landed another great classic for his modern roster of films. Through emotionally understandable and empathetic stories like Suzume, audiences may better understand how we forge our future in the moment, how we deal with what we have and what’s given, and how we push on.
Suzume will release in theaters on April 13 in Australia and New Zealand and April 14 in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.