Writer & Director: Makoto Shinkai
Production: Aniplex, CoMix Wave Films, East Japan Marketing & Communications Inc., Kadokawa, Lawson Entertainment, Story (II), Toho Company, Voque Ting
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)
Platform: Theatrical Release (Subtitled Version Watched & Reviewed)
Release Date: Out Now!
I’ve been a Makoto Shinkai fan since the incredible, heart-wrenching romance Your Name (2016), so I eagerly awaited the UK release of his latest film Suzume this past week. The poster indicated another magical story with an adolescent romance at its centre, just like both Your Name and subsequent release Weathering With You (2019). I was worried that Suzume might feel repetitive; however, I was pleased to find it feels markedly different from Shinkai’s recent work, whilst keeping the trademark beautiful visuals and soundtrack.
The film’s namesake Suzume (Nanoka Hara) is a 17-year-old young woman living in Kyushu, Japan. One day, Suzume meets the mysterious Souta (Hokuto Matsumura), who’s searching for a door in the nearby ruins. Intrigued, Suzume follows him, but inadvertently opens the door; it acts as a gateway to the Ever-After, a realm of departed souls where time acts differently. Trapped inside is the Worm, a huge monstrous force that causes earthquakes, and Suzume’s actions allow it to escape. Souta is a Closer, and it’s his job to stop the gates opening – together, they temporarily shut the door, and Suzume is immediately smitten by Souta. It’s a fast-paced and gripping opening!
From here, Suzume and Souta travel across Japan to chase down the lost keystone and imprison the Worm, as well as closing other Gates as they open. It’s an easy-to-understand fantastical premise that’s not too far removed from reality, keeping a character-driven direction between the action set-pieces. Amusingly, Souta is immediately cursed and turned into a three-legged child’s chair – that’s not a joke! This provides a reason for Suzume to help, as well as several uniquely heartwarming and comedic moments, infusing Suzume with a dose of Studio Ghibli-style charm (there’s even a delightful Kiki’s Delivery Service reference!).
Suzume isn’t so much about romance as it’s about human relationships in modern Japan. As a child, Suzume lost her mother in a tsunami caused by the real-world 2011 earthquake in Tohoku, and her aunt took over the role of guardian. These ties of family are the emotional anchor of Suzume, and purposefully relate to how people come together in the aftermath of tragic events. In that sense, Suzume‘s arguably the most mature film Shinkai has directed, even if it lacks the raw emotion of Your Name‘s third-act twists.
An area where I’m glad Suzume sticks to style is presentation. The pristine animation and bold colours are gorgeous, and the use of sweeping camera movements adds cinematic flair. RADWIMPS and Kazuma Jinnai join up for another phenomenal soundtrack; Suzume uses more subtle musical cues, so don’t expect the lyrical backing of say, Grand Escape in Weathering With You. The introspective tone of Suzume fits this approach.
Suzume‘s a wonderful surprise, quelling my concerns over Shinkai settling into repetitive trends. The visuals and soundtrack are as stunning as ever, with a fresh thematic direction and added element of whimsical happenstance. Suzume manages to break the mould of Shinkai’s previous films, but remain just as thoughtful and invigorating!