‘Suzume’ Is A Visual Wonder With Powerful, Relevant Themes – Review
Creating international hype around an original anime film is a complicated art form. However, when you’re Makoto Shinkai, it’s an absolute given. The director of Weathering With You, 5 Centimeters per Second and the modern masterpiece, Your Name, has developed a reputation for being the premier anime director of this generation.
When the announcement of his new film Suzume came about, the anticipation was through the roof. The trailers only added to that excitement with his trademark, eye-catching animation (that looks like it’s straight out of an art exhibition) that stole audiences’ breath away. The starry night skies, open green pastures, and stunning landscapes have become a signature in nearly all of Shinkai’s films. Suzume promised to deliver all the “oohs” and “aahs” expected in this kind of film, in addition to his mind-bending storytelling style. Living up to these enormous expectations is a difficult task, but having watched the film, I can confidently say that audiences are in for a special experience.
Suzume delivers a one-of-a-kind story with engaging twists and turns that stand out from Shinkai’s previous films. The film centers around Suzume, a teenage girl still dealing with the tragic loss of her mother, who happens upon a mysterious, abandoned door that appears to lead to an alternate dimension. During this magical occurrence, she accidentally awakens an ancient totem that comes to life in the form of an aggressively adorable kitten. Unbeknownst to Suzume, that totem was a keystone protecting her world from massive negative energy pouring out of the doorway and turning into staggering earthquakes. Overwhelmed with guilt, Suzume now takes it upon herself to close these doorways, which are located all over Japan. Guiding her through this new supernatural journey is Souta Munakata, a young university student whose family has been burdened for generations to keep the real world safe from the devastating natural disasters that the open doorways cause.
The film deliberately expands the world-building without detailed exposition into the inner workings of these paranormal incidents. The world of Suzume isn’t necessarily the most original, but the manner in which the rules are explained is incredibly bold. The exposition is at a minimum. Trusting the audience to engage with characters and themes instead of the transcendental threats of disaster. The stakes are certainly high, but the plot doesn’t focus on what entity Suzume has to defeat but instead on what she has to overcome within herself. Although this may seem standard, it’s surprisingly audacious. Anime does a good job of personifying the insecurities and internal battles of the protagonist (whether in a demon, creature or even a school rival), but here there is no clear face for Suzume to vanquish, only a deeper look into her own trauma. Reflection and acceptance are major themes within the film, and Suzume ultimately has to come to terms with her trauma and accept the boundaries of life and death.
The themes don’t stop there. The film is filled to the brim with themes – internal balance, nature, dreams, repressed memories, and so much more. Suzume juggles these elements with off-kilter story beats, such as turning our fearless guide, Souta, into a child’s chair (which was a cherished possession of Suzume) and chasing around the biggest troll of a cat you’ll ever see. The eccentric nature of the film helps keep you on the edge of your seat when you think you know where it’s going. These left turns elevate the film into having a wider impact. The seemingly aged-down themes start to rise when the side character’s subplots begin to merge with Suzume’s journey. The film expands into not only a coming-of-age tale but an all-encompassing four-quadrant epic, one where audiences of all ages and backgrounds can immensely relate to moments throughout the film.
Suzume scratches the surface of this monumental world. The concept of lost tragic memories, escaping the realm of the afterlife and turning into natural disasters is a captivating one. The balance between humanity and nature is at the forefront. There is a message of how unchecked reconciliation with your past can lead to the same mistakes amplifying in the future. This goes explicitly for nature, as well. Where in the film, stopping the negative energy from hitting the earth led to rain, but failure to do so, led to earthquakes. Implying that a balance with your past and within yourself is similar to maintaining a balance with the changing climate of the earth. If that balance goes unchecked, natural disasters increase on an exponential level. Humanity can have an effect on these natural events, and taking on that responsibility is a noble and necessary effort. These especially relevant themes enhance the film’s emotional impact.
Suzume is an astonishing cinematic journey. Where the jaw-dropping animation goes hand in hand with the emotional story. It is a visual spectacle worthy of seeing on the biggest screen possible. Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films meticulously crafted a beautiful movie that works for all audiences. The themes are plentiful, and the adventure is unpredictable. There is so much to take in, and it’s a marvel to behold. This is a movie that needs to be seen in theaters.
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