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Anime Film Review: Suzume

English Title: Suzume

Japanese Title: すずめの戸締まり [lit. Suzume’s locking up]

Director(s): Shinkai Makoto

Writer(s): Shinkai Makoto

Studio: CoMix Wave

Released: 2022

Runtime: 2h 2m

Starring: Hara Nanoka, Matsumura Hokuto, Fukatsu Eri, Kamiki Ryunosuke


Suzume

Suzume is another solid film by Shinkai. Like his previous works, it is a coming-of-age story with romantic undertones, although this one is more of a mild fantasy-adventure rather than ordinary slice-of-life.


Suzume is a 17-year-old high school girl living in a town in Kyushu. She lives with her aunt Tamaki, having been raised by her. One morning on the way to school, Suzume meets a young man named Souta who asks her about ruins and a door. Her curiosity piqued by the question, Suzume goes to said ruins by herself in the abandoned part of town and indeed finds a door that is a gate to another plane. She can see through it but cannot enter. Before leaving, she removes a stone that turns into a cat.


Suzume
Suzume

Later that day at school, she sees a dark red cloud pillar rising (“worm”) from where she found the door. She rushes back there. It turns out that Souta is a “Closer” whose job is to make sure such gates are closed to prevent worms from entering the world and causing earthquakes. They close the door but the cat later curses Souta, turning him into Suzume’s chair. The plot follows Suzume as she helps Souta chase down the cat so he can return to human form whilst also closing gates that open along the way.


Although Suzume follows the “orphan” and “runaway” tropes like Weathering with You, it is a different film with a different tone. This is mostly because Suzume is not running away as a rebel or out of pride but because she is, figuratively and literally, dragged into another world.


Souta and Suzume
Souta and Suzume

As mentioned in the review for Weathering with You, there are some similarities to Your Name that make the former a little dissatisfying. It is as if Shinkai, perhaps unconsciously, was trying to replicate Your Name. Either way, given the sufficiently different story and that a few years have elapsed, that problem is thankfully avoided with Suzume.


There are perhaps two minor problems with the story. When Souta is turned into a chair, it becomes apparent that he will not return to human form soon. At that point, one is tempted to think that the film will be dissatisfying if he, a main character, remains a chair, only turning back to human form at the end. Without spoiling, this problem is avoided even though I think he could return to human form a few minutes earlier. The other mitigating factor is that the plot has sufficient action and movement so the audience won’t feel “stuck” even if Souta is.


The second problem is the conflict between Suzume and her aunt Tamaki feels a little too forced in one or two key moments. Their good relationship is clearly established at the start and Tamaki’s worrying over Suzume’s sudden trip is understandable. However, feelings associated with suffocation, although understandable for both, are overdone in those key moments.


Some might argue that the mythology of the worms is a bit too random and mysterious. Whilst more background exposition is nice, it is not absolutely necessary. The characters, their motivations and the themes are strong enough that the film can do without it.


Visually, it is beautiful and refined as expected from Shinkai and those who have previously worked on his films, including art director Tanji Takumi. Given that it is basically a travelling adventure across Japan, it is the perfect excuse to do the usual mix of rural environments and cityscapes. And despite being an adventure of sorts rather than slice-of-life, it makes use of many close-up shots of everyday details. As usual, Shinkai skillfully pushes the boundaries of being arty without overdoing it.


The performances are solid, especially when considering that the two leads Hara Nanoka and Matsumura Hokuto are newcomers as voice actors. The sound design and editing are also solid.


The music by Jinnouchi Kazuma is at times relatively simple and as if deliberately restrained. Although this film, like Shinkai’s recent works, is not particularly tragic or dark and the soundtrack does avoid being pretentious, which is always appreciated, there could be a stronger presence of the piano in some themes.


Despite the abovementioned problems, it is another solid film by Shinkai, which is particularly welcoming if one considers Weathering with You a relative disappointment (even though it is not a bad film). The imagery of the door/gateway in abandoned places is fitting to the themes of life and death (of people and places), one’s heart and memories, dealing with the past, growing up, and opening up (or not) to others. It has a sufficiently satisfying ending that is positive without being too “bright” although it could use a little more epilogue.


Whilst this balanced approach is not a bad thing, it might interesting to see a darker and more tragic approach like Shinkai’s earlier works.

 

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