CCA Pulse Magazine
Suzume, an Ode to the Places we Call Home | Sage Park
Makoto Shinkai surprised the world at the end of 2021 by announcing a new film in the works. Though our only clue at the time was just a still of a single door, critics were already making their speculations, and fans excitedly reposted this picture all over social media. Everyone carried high expectations; this was a Shinkai film after all.
Suzume no Tojimari, (Or simply Suzume for English viewers) was first released in November 2022 in Japan, and recently made its US debut in April 2023. Like his previous films, Suzume features a young high school heroine (Suzume, duh.) on a fantasy mission set in a real world. This time, the story is based on the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the impact of natural disasters in the world that carries the memory of people’s everyday lives. Suzume is accompanied by a young man named Souta, who is a “closer”. His family has traditionally traveled all around Japan to close doors to the other side that lie around abandoned areas, keeping a disastrous worm monster from causing catastrophic earthquakes. It is by some twisted fate that Suzume ends up helping Souta close a door in an abandoned lone body of water near her hometown, something no other person has been able to do. Furthermore, the story takes an interesting turn when Souta ends up getting cursed and turned into Suzume’s childhood chair.
The story of Suzume itself has a grounded theme that is common among other of Shinkai’s works. It features a fantasy style story while also highlighting the beautiful scenery and nature of Japan. This was done similarly in his other acclaimed films like Your name and Weathering with you. In Suzume in particular, this is done through the narrative of doors opening all throughout the country, which motivates the characters to travel long distances and meet people who carry memorable stories. In turn, the animators get to show off the beauty of Japan, both in nature and in urban settings. In this way, the viewers are taken on a road trip of sorts with the characters. There were many points in the film where I watched entranced in pure awe just because of the jaw-dropping beauty of the animation and art.
Like some of Shinkai’s other films, Suzume also shows a glimpse of a budding, star-crossed long distance romance, although I’d argue that that was not meant to be the main point of this film. Suzume was a lot more action packed and the fantasy impact felt stronger than in some of his other films, but it also held significant sentimental value. In his other works, the heartstring tugging moments came from the beautiful relationships between the two main characters. However in Suzume, the most heart wrenching moment stemmed from a relationship and clash within Suzume herself, metaphorically painting the process of grief she’s felt losing her mother at a young age. This scene portrayed growth and self in such a raw way that resonated with many viewers such as myself, which is rare in today’s world where relationships are so romanticized. Another character to highlight is Tamaki, Suzume’s aunt, who reaches her breaking point after having to raise a teenage girl all on her own while also mourning her sister. There is a heartbreaking monologue she gives to Suzume in the second half of the film that is scalding, but it is done in a way where you can’t really blame Tamaki for the situation she’s been put in and the frustration she must feel, despite loving Suzume with all her heart.
The overarching theme in Suzume is love and how trauma can affect the way it is expressed. It puts self love, family love, and love for your home above the typical romantic love. The film is motivated by nostalgia and people’s attachment and love for the places they live in, which makes natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis much more devastating and heartbreaking than people may realize. We see the aftermath of natural disasters all the time, and the rubble that comes right after, but what sometimes isn’t enforced enough is that communities of people lived there, built relationships and connections of all sorts there.
In Suzume, you will be put on a road trip jam packed with beautiful scenery and emotional, gut-wrenching moments. The film is truly one of a kind—setting it apart from other films and of course marking it as another fantastic work from Makoto Shinkai.