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Suzume ★★★★



Directors: Makoto Shinkai

Release: 14th April 2023 (UK Cinemas)

Renowned anime director Makoto Shinkai returns with another foray into the fantastical in Suzume, his much-awaited first film since 2019. This fantasy epic will be alluring for both adults and children, hitting great comedic heights alongside the usual jaw-dropping beauty of Shinkai’s previous works. Suzume may be his most well-rounded film yet, with the filmmaker’s usual handling of real tragedy set alongside pure fantasy perhaps never so perfectly realised as it is here. In many ways, his latest can feel like an amalgamation of his best traits as a storyteller and director. Consistently staggering in its epic beauty, Suzume is a true work of art that wells with an intense and impressive maturity from its director/writer.

Suzume Iwato (Nanoka Hara), now living in Kyushu with her aunt, is plagued by dreams of searching for her mother, who was killed in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Shinkai handles this real-life tragedy with great decorum and respect, in a similar way to how he treated the same disaster in 2016’s Your Name. The threat of another event like this lies like a heavy blanket of fear in Suzume, represented by a large worm-like entity named Namazu that frequently erupts from various points across Japan. Where many Japanese films of the 1950s spoke to the shared national trauma caused by World War Two, Shinkai’s Suzume reflects modern-day anxieties created by natural disasters.

After meeting a mysterious man called Sōta Munakata (Hokuto Matsumara) at such a site, Suzume forms an unlikely partnership with him, thus setting in process the main events of the film. The narrative is convoluted at times, and Shinkai struggles to delve into the lore in a structured way, but the basics are clear: Suzume and Sōta must travel across Japan to stop this faceless danger from ultimately destroying the country. Importantly, the energy throughout Suzume never lets up, and neither does the comedy. Suzume is, without a doubt, Shinkai’s funniest film yet.

Elements such as a cat with serious attitude called Dajin and Sōta’s unfortunate, early change into a small, wooden chair that is missing a leg somehow fit seamlessly with Suzume’s heavier themes and real-life stories. This blend is a testament to Shinkai’s growing expertise as a screenwriter. Deep trauma also lurks within Suzume, represented by simple doors through which Namazu tries to emerge from. Suzume’s childhood pain caused by losing her mother is ever-present in Shinkai’s latest, even when it’s momentarily hidden behind a door, forming the basis for an incredibly resonant story of loss and grief – even with those heavily humorous moments.

Aside from a somewhat underwhelming antagonist in Namazu, Suzume is a visual triumph, with superb animation direction by Kenichi Tsuchiya and art direction by Takumi Tanji contributing to the film’s fine balance of danger and wonder and underlining Shinkai’s messages around human decency and kindness rising up in the face of severe trauma. There are as many jaw-dropping, expansive vistas in Suzume as there are little rays of sunshine on hot summer days. Suzume feels like a slightly lesser work than Shinkai’s masterpiece Your Name – even the Radwimps’ original score feels mildly derivative and weaker –, but that is more down to Your Name’s own strengths than Suzume’s weaknesses. The narrative lacks some focus and refinement, but Suzume is driven by its stellar, awe-inspiring surroundings and, above all else, its symbolic potency.

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