By Owen Glancy
“Suzume” is the latest film from prolific anime director Makoto Shinkai, famous for his 2016 film “Your Name.” The film was released in Japan on Nov. 11, 2022 and in the U.S. on April 14, 2023.
Shinkai’s signature visual style is immediately present from the film’s first scene. His hyper-realistic background art and dynamic character movement is at its peak, making this one of - if not the best-looking anime ever made.
Pretty colors and smooth movement aren’t all this film has going for it. Shinkai really improves on his characters in this film, especially in the main character Suzume. Her personality is super infectious and her backstory is engaging and moving.
The music is also fantastic. Shinkai once again calls upon the musical talents of the band Radwimps to make original songs for the film after their success on his previous two films. Their new material is memorable and bombastic, always adding plenty of emotion to every scene.
The best part of the film is the very first scene. We see Suzume meet Souta as she is biking to school. She follows him to an abandoned hot springs town and opens a mysterious door after pulling a strange rock from the ground that turns into a cat. As her day continues, she sees a large ominous worm in the sky seemingly causing earthquakes.
No one else can seem to see it, but she notices it is coming from the door she opened earlier. As she rushes to close it, she runs into Souta trying to do the same. As the music swells and a cacophony of colors swirls on the screen, she works together with Souta to finally close the door as the title drops.
Everything about this scene is executed so well, blending the realistic scenery and setting with the fantasy elements of the story seamlessly. The music and animation build to such a “wow” moment that it sent chills down my spine and single-handedly made the ticket price worth it.
That being said, this film also falls into many of Shinkai’s regular mistakes. Outside of the main duo of Suzume and Souta, many of the side characters are extremely boring. The conflict between Suzume and her aunt is very simple and played out, with most viewers being able to see where their conflict is going from the film’s opening act.
The story also struggles to live up to the bombastic and memorable opening scene. This premise of two young people combating a supernatural force is recycled from Shinkai’s two previous films, and you can really tell.
Plot points like Souta being turned into a walking chair for the majority of the film, a cat being the main villain, Suzume running away from home, and even the fate of Japan being in the balance feel bland considering there’s no real surprise in the characters’ decisions.
The romance, while good, is overly sappy and very sudden. Souta being a chair for the majority of the film also adds to the lack of romantic chemistry between the leads, making viewers wish that they were simply friends and not romantically involved.
The film’s message and depiction of the 3/11 disaster in Japan is extremely poignant and emotional, but this message tends to fall on deaf ears to those outside of Japan. It also makes the film feel unbalanced.
It doesn’t know if it wants to tell a love story between star-crossed lovers, or a story about grief and moving on from past traumas. It tries to do both of these things at once, and while neither is done poorly, it’s the mediocre execution of both that leaves the film feeling directionless at times.
“Suzume” is a film chock-full of beautiful imagery, stunning music, and Shinkai’s best protagonist yet. However, it also features a largely unfocused narrative, a romance that feels undeserved, and side characters that no one will remember once the credits roll.
Despite all the film gets wrong, it’s still a phenomenal piece of art and deserves your full attention while it’s still in theaters.
B+: A beautifully inconsistent film