suzume review

Suzume (2022)

Suzume (2022) Directed by Makoto Shinkai

Makoto Shinkai’s spectacularly absurd Suzume lacks the philosophical romanticism and cosmic complexities of Your Name and is devoid of the metaphorical beauty of Weathering with You, but it still follows the same emotional rhythm of those two, continuing the fanciful animated poetry that the ambitious Japanese director has been building – brick by brick, frame by frame, motion by motion – throughout his first erratic, now prestigious career. Having achieved back-to-back emphatic box office successes in 2016 with Your Name and in 2019 with Weathering with You, Makoto Shinkai proves once again that he is the ultimate master when it comes to parlaying the prosaic coming-of-age genre into a poetic romantic anime fantasy; Suzume with unabashed honesty elucidates that the quirky storytelling and convoluted emotionalism on which the other two features rely and thrived has become an indispensable cliché in Shinkai’s explorations, escapades and endeavors. For this very reason, there is nothing fresh in Shinkai’s new anime. In a textual description, and in more scornful parlance – which some of his detractors have surely already employed – it will be stated that Suzume is nothing more than the same stupefying, juvenile corny nonsense seen in the other two feature films that precede it. It is curious that many of the deniers of Shinkai’s artfulness cite the formal and narrative mimesis that resides in his filmography – especially in his last three films – as the most glaring of all his flaws when in fact I regard that “flaw” as his greatest asset. If rehashing a functional formula over and over again ad nauseam is a blemish in Shinkai’s anime, then I must confess that I am a massive fan of that masterful imperfection.

The equation that shapes his style of filmmaking is very simple in theory when you think about it. For one thing, it requires a classically romantic yarn, one that seems drawn from the reveries of a teenage girl with an imagination that is as sober as it is frenzied, as plausible as it is implausible. On the other hand, it demands a theme fleshed out with intellectual impetuosity, one that is deliberately intricate to the extent that it looks chaotically irrational. And last but not least, it would be to add to all of the aforementioned an audiovisual exuberance that is influenced by the fable, by the mythology and the fantasy principles of a great folklore literary opus. Essentially, these are the cornerstones that provide robustness and a sense of grandeur to Shinkai’s films. And although Suzume is not my favorite piece of Shinkai’s oeuvre, I have the temerity to avow that this is the one that utilizes that programmatic formula most effectively. It’s not necessarily better than Your Name and Weathering with You – it’s far less emotionally resonant to rank on the same majestic level as those two – yet it is in form and substance exquisitely ceremonious, replete with touches that simply knock your socks off.

Suzume Iwato (Nanoka Hara) is an inquisitive and sweet 17-year-old girl who lives with her protective aunt, who has fulfilled the role of mother since her sister, Suzume’s mother, died when she was a child. Suzume still struggles with fragmented memories of the tragedy she experienced as a child. Her life, in a providential event, changes forever when she crosses paths with a mysterious long-haired man named Souta (Hokuto Matsumura), who claims to be a “closer,” someone whose duty it is to shut open doors that if not closed can trigger catastrophes of biblical proportions. As is to be expected in the cutesy handbook of a coming of age where the protagonist is a teenage girl, Suzume falls in love at first sight with Souta. Feeling a strong connection with him, she follows in his footsteps no matter how dangerous they may be. The serpentine theme takes us through the sublime process of Suzume’s awakening, throughout the messy odyssey she embarks on with Souta -who by a malediction leaves his physical form and ends up in a small chair that talks and moves- along the way she learns to accept the burden of her past tragedy until she reaches her well-deserved cathartic externalization. Shinkai’s concepts can easily be dismissed as childish and hokey, but as in all of his films when the fantastical and whimsical is apprehended as a figurative device, objects as senselessly simple as Souta trapped in the limitations of an object like a chair are transformed into something beautiful to watch, not because of the visual artifice of the animation but because of how genuinely meaningful they are to the story.

This is a film that once again explores Shinkai’s fetish motif: human bonding and how relationships between human beings can dictate our destiny. When Suzume meets Souta, her destiny immediately changes, he is the person who will eventually lead her to face her traumatic past. The story intertwines the metaphysics of love with the material labyrinth that is our existence. Beautifully, Shinkai’s resplendent style takes advantage of the limitless scope of animation to fashion a fantasy landscape with an aura of fable that symbolizes the giddy experience of being a teenager without sacrificing the mythological bombast that his art proudly carries in its DNA. Breathtakingly ridiculous phenomena occur in the plot, yet this is just part of Shinkai’s characteristic literary quirks, which I suspect stem from his college background studying Japanese literature. The story of Suzume is set in contemporary times, 2023 to be precise, but as in Your Name and Weathering with You the monstrous, spiritual, climatic and seismic phenomenology occurring in the plot is the reawakening of the past infiltrating modernity. Japanese society surely perceives in the folkloric iterations that Shinkai’s cinema embodies a poignant metaphor that evokes the natural catastrophes that the mighty Asian island has faced for centuries. Similarly, Japanese audiences are more than likely to feel a greater emotional – but also historiographical – resonance with the story’s emphasis on valiantly depicting the fighting spirit of the Japanese people in the face of natural hazards. Aside from the lyrical magnificence enunciated in the more fantastical sections, the exceptional visual storytelling leaves ample room for romantic introspection. Shinkai opts for the operatic whenever all the instruments of animation come together to synchronize music and visual kineticism, bringing to life the most awe-inspiring moments romantic anime has ever seen.

The strength of anime, as opposed to western animation, is that it explores the medium with freedom and fearlessness. Shinkai with his phenomenal Suzume is one of the great explorers of the medium, he doesn’t break new ground here of course – everything we witness here was already done in his other two features – but his understanding of the psychology of teenage love versus the turmoil of our deepest fears as human beings is so immense that the exercise at immaterial depths feels fresh and singular. It is rewarding, enthralling and affectionate – the graceful movements of the animated characters, especially those of the mischievous cat and the living chair, convey an endearing, infectious glee. In the end we learn along with Suzume more than the power of human connections, a simple object like a chair, which was crafted by her mother when she was a child, becomes the motif of the whole film, it is Suzume’s “rosebud”. We discover that material or not, everything is linked to memories that ultimately shape who we are.

Matteo Bedon

Written by

Editor and Official Film Critic at

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