By Ben Konuch
Very few names have advanced the genres of anime and animation in recent times like Makoto Shinkai. The creator and director of 2016’s anime phenomenon “Your Name” and its followup in 2019, “Weathering with You,” Shinkai has prioritized a sharp and clear art style that paints even the mundane of everyday life with beauty and style. His stories typically center on love, loss and a touch of something magical that breaks through the normal realities of day-to-day life in his protagonists. With animation quality that rivals anything else on the market, his titles stand above the rest as hallmarks of animation and appeal to those who have never seen an anime before as well as lifelong fans.
Shinkai’s newest film, “Suzume,” is no exception. Once again written and directed by Shinkai, “Suzume” follows its titular protagonist as she lives a normal life with her aunt in a small, quiet town in southern Japan. But a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger opens the doorway to a whole new side of the world, and this mysterious magical world threatens to consume everything Suzume holds dear. When a somewhat comedic disaster strikes, Suzume finds herself the only one able to stand against this threat and must embark on a journey across Japan to close the opening doorways into this other world – and open the doorways to her own past in the process – in order to save the people she cares about and discover who she truly wants to be.
The story of “Suzume” is one that’s full of thrills, laughter and some unexpected emotional weight. The film isn’t afraid to lean into the unexpected and the somewhat absurd side of fantasy, with comedy being utilized towards certain situations and magical happenings to provide a lot of the heart of the film and prevent it from being too dark or stifling. There were moments when I found myself laughing out loud, as well as moments later in the film when I found myself trying to hold back tears. “Suzume” effectively entwines its story with a range of emotions that provide it with not just entertainment value, but actual weight and resonance.
The characters shine here as some of Shinkai’s best, with Suzume especially being a fascinatingly well-rounded character. She’s strong-willed, smart, resourceful, and brave, but she’s also kindhearted, curious, and loving. She takes time to feed and comfort a stray cat as well as help take care of the children of a stranger who helped her on her journey but also leaps into danger in trying to stop dark and mysterious entities from endangering others.
The cast of side characters is in less focus than in other Shinkai works but is implemented in more effective ways. Suzume has a mysterious companion that guides her in her journey and helps provide answers as well as some comedic relief due to his unfortunate situation. In the latter acts of the film, her aunt and her companion’s best friend accompany her.
But in the first acts of the film, Suzume journeys across Japan in her quest and encounters different characters that show her aspects of life that she has never known before. These small encounters not only shape the story in a genuinely sweet way but shape Suzume herself. While these characters don’t ever stay in focus for too long, it’s a well-written way of bringing in new faces and developing Suzume’s own journey.
Shinkai’s previous works have usually explored the bonds between two unlikely people, but in “Suzume,” he explores the bonds and influences we have with ourselves. Suzume’s journey isn’t just to save others, get answers or connect with someone she’s crushing on but it becomes a journey to understand herself and piece together her past. As a result, we constantly learn new sides to Suzume’s character in this journey in ways that feel equal parts rewarding and gut-wrenching.
The puzzle piece that lies at the bottom of “Suzume’s” mystery is one that is harrowing, heartbreaking, and very much grounded in real-world events despite the fantastical elements of much of its plot. “Suzume” tackles the idea of love and loss, of the ways people move on from past memories but also the ways they abandon the physical spaces that are connected to those memories. Suzume explores an abandoned resort, an old dilapidated amusement park and even long-forgotten schools and houses that all once held people laughing, crying, talking, loving, and holding memories. These places have been left behind and forgotten, and Suzume fights against the dark force that threatens to overtake everything, she reclaims these spaces even as she is forced to reclaim her own past.
This physical metaphor for memories and loss and moving forward in life is the core of “Suzume.” Its animation is stunning, painting the environments and action moments in gorgeous details, but it’s this heart of life and loss that gives the film its impact. “Suzume” is funny, fun and exciting, but above all, it has a message worth thinking about, one that elevates “Suzume” beyond just a fun adventure into one of Shinkai’s – and animation’s – best.
For these reasons, I give “Suzume” a 9/10.
“Suzume” is now showing in a limited release in theaters and is soon to be released on DVD and Bluray
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.