Suzume (2022) – Review

Year: 2022

Runtime: 121 minutes

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Writer: Makoto Shinkai

Stars: Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumara, Eri Fukatsu, Ann Yamane

By Calum Cooper

Makoto Shinkai has continually enchanted audiences with his soulful looks into the human spirit, be it through the beauty of nature or the turmoil of our inner worlds. One could seriously make a case for his fantasy romance feature “Your Name” (2016) being the 2010s’ greatest animated film – which is saying a lot given what a banner decade the 2010s were for animation. “Suzume” (2022) is the latest in his affluent career. Its continuation of his trademark themes are spectacular and admirable, yet it is the film’s reconciliation between loss and growth that makes it such a euphoric movie.

“Suzume” is an epic fantasy with more than a few shades of natural disaster. Suzume (Nanoka Hara) is a teenage girl who, more than a decade after her mother’s death, still lives in grief. One day she meets a young man who asks her where the nearby ruins are. Perplexed by this strange question, Suzume follows the man, Souta (Hokuto Matsumara). When she finds the ruins she accidentally opens a mysterious door, which turns out to be a gateway that lets in a creature known as a “worm” – a massive supernatural entity that can cause earthquakes. Souta reveals that there are numerous doors across Japan that need to be shut in order to contain the worm. Thus, Suzume is brought alone for the ride in a road trip that will see her confront her demons along the way.

There is a potent richness to “Suzume” in terms of both visuals and memory. One of the key inspirations behind the film was the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, a tragic disaster that is still on the collective memory of Japan over a decade later. Not only does it inspire the potential disasters that could occur if Suzume and Souta don’t close the doors, but it influences the emotional journey of Suzume, who’s arc is all about reconciling personal loss with how to grow from it. Suzume’s personal story is one that can be shared by collective audiences, thus creating an instant hook and connection.

The loss in question comes from Suzume who, even years after the loss, is still crying out for her mother, similar to how Suzu in Mamoru Hosoda’s “Belle” (2021) turns to singing as a means of reconnecting with a mother whose death she has never truly accepted. Yet Suzume’s insistence of dwelling in the grief of her past is what is directly challenged by the narrative journey. Not only does she have to contend with supernaturally influenced disasters, but the story takes her to corners and regions of Japan she never would have gone to before, forcing her to meet and interact with people that she otherwise never would have. While the showcasing of these various encounters does border on repetitive at times, it nonetheless enhances the themes on change, evolution and acceptance that are at the heart of this tale.

““Suzume” is an intimate story told in a titanic fashion. It’s artistically dazzling and emotionally resonant on many layers.”

As always with Shinkai movies, the accompanying animation is so beautiful it borders on unfair. There is a picturesque lushness to the rural greens and urban greys of Japan that is evocatively contrasted by the terrifyingly pronounced reds of the worm. Meanwhile the wondrous visuals of the worm’s dimension – the Ever After – evokes something from a fairy tale; another gorgeous contrast to the life-like designs and real world imagery painstakingly replicated all around Suzume. The fluidity is a sight to behold, while the cinematography and score have a spectacular sense of grandeur to its scale, particularly in regards to its use of organs and choirs in accompaniment with the visuals. It is an absorbing rollercoaster that threatens to move you to tears for the sheer opulence of it all.

That all of this is in service to themes that celebrate the possibilities that come with change adds an extra layer of wonder to the beauty. While it may occasionally meander or challenge our suspension of disbelief a little too hard, “Suzume” is fundamentally about reflection and how vital that is to our humanity. Whether we are recoiling from a hard loss or embracing the scary unknowns of the future, change is what makes humanity a continuous force for good – an ever evolving collective for creative and moral potential. Shinkai has known this throughout his career and his direct showcasing of this in his latest film is what elevates it to such a visually and emotionally satisfying feast for the senses.

“Suzume” is an intimate story told in a titanic fashion. It’s artistically dazzling and emotionally resonant on many layers. All the best stories concern the human condition and how our capacity for change and acceptance makes us into the best versions of ourselves. “Suzume” demonstrates this in spades and then some. It is but another engrossing case study for the point that Guillermo Del Toro among others has rightfully been championing – that animation is cinema.


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