“Suzume” stars Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumura, Eri Fukatsu, Shota Sometani, Sairi Ito, Kotone Hanase, Kana Hanazawa, and Matsumoto Hakuo II. Released in Japan on November 11, 2022, the film has a high school girl attempting to prevent a threatening disaster.
The film was written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, who also directed films such as "The Place Promised in Our Early Days", "The Garden of Words", "Your Name", and "Weathering with You". When you're in the world of anime, you'll inevitably have to balance your everyday life with saving the world from disaster. Of course, that's nothing compared to being reincarnated in another world after being killed by something. Either way, living an anime life is not as perfect as it sounds. This was proven further in the latest animated feature from acclaimed filmmaker Makoto Shinkai, which sees a girl on a high-stakes quest after encountering a magic door. While Shinkai has delivered plenty of magnificent movies that rival Studio Ghibli since 2004, he only gained popularity from his 2016 fantasy classic, "Your Name", or as I would like to call it, "If Freaky Friday Was an Anime". So now Shinkai's back with a new project that combines fantasy and coming-of-age drama, which would likely impress fans of the genre from other anime shows and movies. With that said, let's open this door and see if this movie is another worthy gem in Shinkai's filmography and the animation world.
The story centers on Suzume Iwato (Hara), a high school girl living with her aunt Tamaki Iwato (Fukatsu) in Kyushu. On her way to school, Suzume encounters a university student named Sota Munakata (Matsumura), who's searching for doors in abandoned areas. After finding a door leading to a starlit field, she later discovers that it also unleashes a supernatural "worm" that can cause earthquakes, and Sota attempts to lock the doors to keep it in. As a result, Suzume joins forces with Sota to find the keystone Daijin (Ann Yamane) and close all the doors to prevent an even greater apocalypse.
My first introduction to Makoto Shinkai's filmography was through my first experience with "Your Name" a few years ago. Like many people, I adored "Your Name" for its compelling and refreshing take on the "body-swapping" formula and gorgeous animation. I would even say that it might rival Hayao Miyazaki's works regarding storytelling in animation. This led me to watch "Weathering With You" weeks before getting stuck indoors for a year. In case you haven't read my review, I thought that movie was a great follow-up to "Your Name" despite its similar teen romance elements. So I was pretty excited to see Shinkai attempting to go three for three with his latest fantasy adventure featuring a teen and a talking, three-legged chair. Unsurprisingly, the film met my expectations of matching Shinkai's exquisite art style and thoughtful narrative from his previous films. However, it also came very close to becoming another anime masterpiece from the filmmaker.
The movie's plot consists of the usual world-saving scenario we've seen before, with Suzume attempting to keep a massive worm from destroying Japan. However, it also showcases a coming-of-age tale about loss. It depicts Suzume learning about her past, with one part of her childhood involving her mother's death. As she progresses to lock the doors in specific abandoned areas, she gets closer to the truth about what happened in her youth. Like Shinkai's previous movies, "Suzume" packs a lot of interest and tension in its plot and characters, but it also maintains its focus on providing the human soul into the mix. As a result, the film is a thoughtful and thrilling depiction of self-discovery amid its supernatural chaos and post-apocalyptic commentary.
Unfortunately, I would also point out that the film's original narrative is far from refreshing. I have seen some complaints about it having a similar structure to the filmmaker's previous films, including "Weathering With You", which kept it from being on par with his recent works. After watching "Suzume", I can see where they're getting at. It's been a while since I watched "Your Name" and "Weathering With You", but I remembered some aspects from the latter that got me discovering this film's similar beats. One example is the main character going into a fantasy realm to rescue someone chosen to prevent a natural disaster at the cost of their life. It does make the film predictable sometimes, but it also continues to display Shinkai's sublime ability to provide emotion in the storytelling and visuals. However, there are also times when the film struggles to maintain its emotional core for its themes, except the ending. If Shinkai plans on making more movies, he should probably come up with something different in the narrative instead of copying and pasting specific elements from his previous films. Otherwise, it'll continue to grow repetitive for his fans.
My theater showed two versions of "Suzume", the original Japanese dub and the English dub, to please different anime audiences. As usual, I decided to stick with the English version because reading the subtitles can sometimes be a hassle while everything else is happening simultaneously. The English cast consists of Nichole Sakura (Suzume) from "Superstore", Josh Keaton (Sota), Jennifer Sun Bell (Tamaki), Roger Craig Smith (Minoru Okabe), and even Rosalie Chiang (Chika Amabe) from Pixar's "Turning Red". The movie's got quite a cast, especially the ones from several shows and video games, but how did they do regarding their vocal performances? Honestly, they were pretty good. Nichole Sakura did a suitable job with her performance as Suzume regarding the character's persevering personality, humor, and emotion. Suzume is determined to help save the world from impending doom, but she also has a sense of vulnerability that makes her a caring character. I may not be familiar with "Superstore", but I could see Sakura getting more roles like this later. Josh Keaton was also decent as Sota, a "closer" traveling across Japan to find and lock the magic doors.
One of the most vital aspects of Shinkai's filmography is the animation. Regarding the settings, character designs, and action sequences, Shinkai's style never fails to impress me with its vibrancy, cinematography, and detail. "Suzume" is unsurprisingly no exception, with the filmmaker putting much care and passion into showcasing its majestic world. From the realistically detailed Japan to the stunning and sublime Ever-After, the animation is undeniably enchanting for displaying the set designs' visual splendor. It also works exceptionally well for its action sequences, with some scenes flawlessly combining 2D animation with CGI. Most anime don't translate well with CGI effects, but "Suzume" marks an example of how to use them properly, especially when mixing them with traditional animation.
The movie also marks the third collaboration between Shinkai and Japanese rock band Radwimps, after "Your Name" and "Weathering with You". Those movies provide stellar music from Radwimps to accompany their thrilling and emotional narratives. "Suzume" continues that trend with another soundtrack featuring outstanding music by Radwimps and Kazuma Jinnouchi. Like Shinkai's previous films, the music matches the movie's emotional core, whether it's intense, comedic, or even heartwarming.
Overall, "Suzume" is another vibrant and well-told fantasy adventure that opens the door to Makoto Shinkai's future as a filmmaker. Understandably, its familiar narrative beats prevented the film from being completely fresh, and the depiction of some of its emotional themes was far from memorable. Fortunately, they're not enough to keep the movie from shining as bright as the starry sky in the Ever-After. It's consistently entertaining despite its two-hour runtime and visually gorgeous for its backgrounds and action scenes, which quickly compensate for a couple of storytelling issues. The movie marks another success for Shinkai and animation as a medium thanks to its suitable cast, storytelling, great music, and fantastic animation. Fans of Shinkai's previous works and animation should definitely check "Suzume" out if it's available near them.