Makoto Shinkai’s New Film “Suzume” Reveals an Adventure Filled with Japan’s Reality and Hope


※This article is an English translation of the article here.

※This is a manuscript that I wrote for a web site before, but that site has been cloed, so I will post it here. It was first posted in November 2022.
Makoto Shinkai’s much-anticipated latest cinematic opus, following the resounding success of “Your Name.” and “Weathering with You,” stands as a magnum opus that not only surpasses its predecessors but also imparts a profound strength, inspiring an even more resilient approach to life.

The film unfolds as a refreshing, vivacious, thrilling, and poignant spectacle. Captivating characters traverse exquisitely rendered landscapes, weaving a tapestry of beauty across the nation.

Japan, presently grappling with a period of demographic decline, economic wane, and pervasive uncertainty among the youth, finds solace and dispelled anxieties within this cinematic marvel. Confronting the stark realities of Japan, the film unyieldingly affirms the splendor of existence.

An enthralling drama unfurls against the backdrop of contemporary Japan:

Suzume, a high school scholar residing with her aunt Tamaki, encounters Souta, a mysterious young man, one fateful day. As Suzume delves into the ruins with him, she stumbles upon a perilous door, a harbinger of catastrophe. Souta, a proficient “Closer,” embarks on a journey to seal these ominous doors throughout the country. The sudden appearance of Daijin, a mysterious cat, transforms Souta into an enigmatic chair. Suzume, in pursuit of the cat, embarks on a captivating odyssey spanning the Japanese archipelago to close these foreboding doors.

This cinematic gem unfolds as an adventurous saga set in modern Japan. Amidst the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited travel, the film resonates deeply, evoking the joy of liberating adventures.

Suzume’s journey commences in the serene town of Kyushu, meandering through Shikoku, Kansai, Tokyo, and beyond. Director Shinkai’s signature scenic depictions remain vibrant and alive in this narrative. Departing from the Tokyo-centric focus of previous two films, this film crisscrosses the entire Japanese archipelago, showcasing its diverse scenery and reaffirming the inherent charm of Japan.

Enchanting characters that infuse vitality into the narrative:

Souta, Suzume’s companion on this journey, metamorphosed into an endearing chair, becomes a charming highlight. The potential ramifications would be substantial if someone were to witness the chair. Nevertheless, Souta’s transformation into a chair, serving as an indispensable aid to Suzume, and the endearing interplay between the two, emerge as pivotal highlights in this cinematic masterpiece.

Throughout their journey, Suzume and Souta encounter and receive aid from various individuals. Chika, a high schooler assisting at her family’s inn, Rumi, a single mother managing a snack bar and raising twins, and Tomoya, Souta’s somewhat flirtatious yet fundamentally benevolent friend, feature prominently, expanding Suzume’s world.

Interacting with strangers in unfamiliar terrain emerges as a poignant facet of travel. In recent years, opportunities for such interactions have dwindled, reigniting an appreciation for the warmth derived from such encounters.

The enigmatic presence of Daijin, a cat haunting the divine realm, stands out. Its design, a fusion of eeriness and adorability, complements its capricious appearances, mirroring feline traits. Despite its potential for catastrophe, Daijin’s whimsical gestures are oddly endearing.

Daijin’s apparent connection to the calamities emanating from the doors across the nation, including the giant “earthworm” plague, unfolds in scenes of dynamic action. Rich in entertainment elements such as scenic depictions, human drama, and high-level action, the narrative propels forward with an unwavering pace.

Suzume’s journey, a witness to the reality of Japan:

This cinematic piece transcends mere entertainment, offering a poignant portrayal of the Japanese archipelago grappling with natural disasters.

The film showcases ruined towns in rural areas, some irreparable due to disasters, others abandoned due to depopulation. Over a decade since the Great East Japan Earthquake, Japanese society has veered into chaos, a reality witnessed by Suzume during her odyssey. Japan, perennially susceptible to natural disasters, finds representation in Kansai, impacted by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, and Tokyo, struck by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.

Both have evolved into metropolises, where the vestiges of catastrophe elude perception. Nevertheless, Japan remains susceptible to a seismic upheaval at any juncture and locale, and this cinematic piece serves as a poignant reminder for those nonchalantly navigating their day-to-day existence.

Suzume, the protagonist, forgets a “crucial aspect” related to the earthquake, only to recollect it during her quest to quell the nationwide calamity. Shinkai aspires for the audience not to forget the memories of past disasters through this journey.

Shinkai propounds the resilience essential in tumultuous times:

Disasters, inherently capricious, dismantle towns and snatch away lives. While inevitable, Japan’s status as an earthquake-prone country remains unalterable. Japanese citizens are compelled to coexist with these irrational natural disasters.

Amidst such a life, what hope prevails? The film resoundingly affirms the endurance of hope and the possibility of leading a prosperous life. The breathtaking scenery and the warmth emanating from the people Suzume encounters serve as testament to this resilience. Shinkai contends that spending extensive time with such individuals, savoring this world, is inherently precious—a form of homage to those lost in disasters.

Serious disasters loom on the horizon for this nation. Furthermore, economic sluggishness and exacerbated wealth disparities may unfold. Nevertheless, the world retains its intrinsic beauty and warmth, compelling one to continue living in this realm. It stands as a masterpiece that prompts contemplation of this sentiment.

Related Items