Time often feels like it’s standing still when you experience such devastating loss. Yet, life goes on and the world keeps turning. So how do you continue on after such heartbreak?
Suzume, the latest anime film from Your Name and Weathering With You director, Makoto Shinkai, depicts the very journey of loss, grief and acceptance in a way that only Shinkai can masterfully pull off.
The film follows Suzume, an orphaned 17 year old girl, who tragically lost her mother at a very young age when a tsunami destroyed her home. Despite living with her aunt for more than a decade, Suzume’s life has felt stagnant, still grieving and traumatised by the loss of her mother.
All that begins to change, however, upon meeting Sōta, a handsome young traveller who introduces her to the world of interdimensional doors and the supernatural forces behind some of Japan’s greatest natural disasters.
Right from the get go, we are thrust into action, as Suzume accidentally sets a God-like guardian free, who takes on the form of a cute but cheeky kitten. This inadvertently opens the mysterious doors, thus releasing destruction into the world. As a result, Suzume and Sōta travel across Japan in search of the mischievous guardian, while closing as many doors as possible along the way.
Throughout their journey, we see Suzume grow and experience life through the eyes of others as she meets kind hearted strangers who take her in and help her. Through these experiences, she sees first hand that there’s still good in the world, with people so full of life, despite the many hardships they have faced over the years. This finally allows her to come to grips with her grief, understand the world around her and appreciate the life she has been blessed with.
In creating this fantasy world where unknown supernatural forces are the cause of mass destruction, Shinkai manages to subtly personify the very real experiences of the struggles we face as human beings during times of despair. This is especially so in today’s post-pandemic world, where so many of us have experienced loss of various kinds and are still adjusting to the significant changes in our lives, mourning the grief of the life we once enjoyed pre-pandemic.
In true Shinkai style, the various metaphors seen in Suzume are captivating and thought provoking, leaving you seeing beyond what is being depicted on screen. We easily feel a kinship with Suzume and her circumstances, while understanding the role each character comes to play in her journey of self discovery.
In following Suzume’s adventures across Japan, Shinkai has also given us the opportunity to experience Japan through Suzume’s eyes. The voyeuristic effect of visiting various real life locations and sights in Japan, as well as, the experience of riding a Shinkansen (bullet train), gives foreign audiences a chance to see the country, given that many of Shinkai’s films often take inspiration from real world locations around Japan. Of course, this feat is greatly due to the hyper-realistic visual style in which Suzume is crafted. Just like Your Name and Weathering With You, Suzume’s visual aesthetics is astounding, with the animation of geographical location and landmarks tricking the eye, leading to the question of whether what is being shown on screen is real or merely animation.
Personally, as someone who has often felt a strong connection to Japan, every frame of animation ignited feelings of yearning to visit the country once again.
Just like Shinkai’s two previous films, music plays an important part in driving the film forward. Throughout Suzume we hear a myriad of sounds and pieces of music that are so perfectly fitting to each moment seen on screen. The highs and lows are matched perfectly to the action, especially in portraying the pacing of the film, key scenes, and the threat of a natural disaster about to decimate a town or city. I absolutely loved that Radwimps returned for this film, given that I adored their score for the last two Shinkai films. However, surprisingly, the soundtrack of Suzume didn’t captivate me nor drum up any emotional feelings as they did in Your Name and Weathering With You.
In a similar vein, while I really enjoyed watching Suzume and would class it as a beautifully crafted film, I walked away feeling a sense that something was missing. Don’t get me wrong, I laughed and cried throughout the film, however, I left the film with more questions than I did going in, something that gave me a small feeling of dissatisfaction and a yearning for more.
Having watched almost every Makoto Shinkai film, this was the first time I’d felt this way. Perhaps that’s due in part to the fact that the film attempted to fit in too much in a short amount of space.
Regardless, Suzume compelled me to wish for a world similar to that within the film. Seeing strangers openly willing to help one another, no questions asked, is almost as fictional as the film itself. Yet, as someone who loves people, is something I truly wish was widespread in the world we live in today. In many ways, this depiction of helpfulness can very much be seen in Japanese culture, having experienced this somewhat in my travels, however, it begs the question of why isn’t this more universal?
That aside, Suzume’s acceptance of her mother’s death and the love of the people around her, is a lesson that truly is profound. In opening your heart to others and seeing the positives in life, you learn to have gratitude for the life you have been given and the beauty of that life, even after tragedy and loss. In addition, the natural progression of the entire film also portrays the lesson of ‘everything happens for a reason’, with several instances in life predetermined. It is how we deal with these challenges and instances that truly make us who we are.
Shinkai truly manages to deliver this lesson in such an impactful and beautiful way that is touching and meaningful. His ability to depict this notion through use of the supernatural and fantasy is certainly masterful and allows for an enchanting watch that is truly captivating.
Suzume is the perfect thought provoking film that will leave you feeling a sense of wonder about the world in which we live, acceptance of the past and a desire to help make the world a better place through generosity and kindness to others.