Suzume is the latest film by Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, Weathering With You). Released in Japan on 11th November 2022, it was finally released in UK cinemas on 14th April 2023 thanks to Crunchyroll. Inspired by the events of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Makoto has written and directed his latest coming-of-age story, which became Japan’s fourth-highest-grossing film of 2022. Already Makoto has reached a high level of critical acclaim, so the key question is if Suzume matches or even surpasses his previous works.
Suzume follows a 17 year-old high school girl, of the same name, from a town in Kyushu, who happens across a handsome stranger, Sota, on her way to school. Sota asks if there are any ruins nearby with a door. Curious, Suzume explores the only ruins she can think of nearby, only to find a strange door in the middle of the wreckage. Being strangely drawn to the door, Suzume opens it to see a strange beautiful landscape which she cannot enter whilst unknowingly unleashing a disaster set to ruin all of Japan. This begins her journey alongside Sota to shut the doors across Japan before calamity strikes.
It is safe to say, Suzume very much has the Makoto Shinkai feel to it, with a more Studio Ghibli twist compared to his usual work. Sure, Makoto tends to have some fantasy element to his film, this is the first one it is quite forthright. Although at this point, particularly compared to his last two films, it has a very similar plot trajectory which makes it quite predictable. Nonetheless, the characters feel very real and Makoto does a great job in bringing to life the everyday and grounded feeling underneath the ongoing plot. The real strength of this outing is the traveling sections have a stronger feel in developing the plot, the characters and even bringing everyday life to the front and centre of attention. Not only that, technology is incorporated into the plot in an effective way and works to drive the story forward in a good way. It is just a shame Makoto doesn’t mix up the overarching plot structure to avoid the predictability.
CoMix Wave Films are the studio behind the animation, and as always the animation is incredible. Truly it deserves being seen in a cinema to fully appreciate the detail put into it. Movements are incredibly smooth with 3D animation flawlessly blended in, to the extent it is hard to notice it isn’t 2D. It is also used in some of the scenes focusing on the scenery creating a layer effect to create a real sense of distance. Like with Makoto Shinkai’s other films, there is that true art feel to the backgrounds which is really enhanced in a cinema setting. Added with his iconic skies, it is just a spectacle to look at. The only criticism in terms of art is in how Suzume looks way too similar to previous main characters (particularly Mitsuha from Your Name), which feels strange considering the other characters do look quite distinctive. Either way, what separates Suzume from Makoto’s earlier works are the fantasy elements which again have a Studio Ghibli look to them as a base but with his own spin to give it’s own feel. Here as well some of the 3D is used to create a visual distortion to the fantasy elements to further enhance the disconnect of those events from reality.
RADWIMPS again supplied the soundtrack, this time alongside Kazuma Jinnouchi, and also again managed to really nail the atmosphere for every scene. This time round it is great to hear a wider range to the soundtrack pieces as well, giving it the most varied-sounding soundtrack in contrast to Your Name and Weathering With You. Something I particularly noticed with the fantasy elements seeming to have a Demon Slayer influence, really working to put the audience on edge. Overall it is a solid job as always.
Moving to the voice acting, the cast put on an incredible performance, making the emotions clear in each scene and making the characters feel real. Nanoka Hara portrays Suzume, her first credited voice acting role, a sure surprise to the audience who wouldn’t know based on her performance. The other main character, Sota, is portrayed by Hokuto Matsumura, again his first credited voice acting role as he is predominantly an idol. Where it is a brave choice for such a huge film to have inexperienced voice actors, the performance stands up for this and it is sure to be the start of very successful voice acting careers. The wider cast also support this, completing the sense of these everyday people ending up involved in the strange events.
With Suzume, Makoto Shinkai has truly cemented himself as one of the greatest anime film writer and directors of all time. Another grounded plot with a step into more fantastical elements, it is a pleasure to watch as it is supported by incredible visuals and soundtrack to create a truly emotive piece. The only downfall is the similar trajectory in plot to his previous films, but nonetheless it is a worthy watch. If you get the chance, go see this in the cinema to ensure you can truly appreciate the art and detail this film contains!