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Suzume movie review: A beautiful and magical anime

By Captain Grover - 19 Jul 2023

Suzume movie review: A beautiful and magical anime

A high school girl, a cat, and a talking chair make for unlikely leading characters in a movie. And in Makoto Shinkai’s latest animated feature film, Suzume, this uncanny trio have been tasked with more than just saving the day. In a fantasy tale about love, loss, and sacrifice, these three characters  will take you on a tour of contemporary Japan, showing the audience the beauty of the country, as well as a glimpse into the hearts and minds of its people.

Suzume is an excellent film that is sure to delight Shinkai fans, Japanophiles, and those who love anime.

Suzume’s story centres around its titular character, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives with her aunt in a small town in Miyazaki prefecture, on Japan’s Kyushu island. On her way to school one day, Suzume runs into a young man, Sota, whom she finds attractive. Curious about Sota’s visit to her remote town, Suzume follows him into an abandoned hot spring resort near the town. There, she finds and opens a mysterious door that lets her look into another world.

This Pandora-esque moment is the start of Suzume’s adventure as she strives to stop an ancient evil power from causing a series of disasters across Japan. As she traverses the island nation on her quest, Suzume will meet people from all walks of life, most of whom are keen to offer a helping hand.

With each place she visits and with each person she meets, Suzume develops a deeper understanding of how people’s memories, hopes, and dreams are closely interwoven with the places they inhabit. These emotions come together to give each place an aura that Suzume uses to fight against the evil force that threatens to destroy the land.

Makoto Shinkai tends to go with an over-the-top style for his fantasy-themed works, and Suzume is no exception. The storytelling adopts an epic, emotional narrative that is in many ways similar to his 2016 film Your Name.

Just like Your Name, the cast of Suzume comprises few characters. But while the earlier film offers a deeper study into the relationship between its wider cast, Suzume is more centred on its titular protagonist. While having Suzume, a magical cat, and a talking chair as the film’s main characters make for a cute and entertaining trio, only Suzume’s character was written with more depth while the other two felt flat and somewhat two-dimensional.

Suzume offers an interesting, thought-provoking tale, but its pacing can feel a bit slow at times, such that the film felt longer than its 122-minute runtime. There were a few portions of the story in which nothing much is happening, and one may be left wondering why those scenes were even left in the final cut at all. Thankfully, for the most part, the story tends to pick up the pace quite quickly when things start to feel too draggy.

The erratic pacing of Suzume’s narrative may not make as strong an impression on anime fans and Japanophiles, as the film is a visual treat, not just for its beautifully animated scenes, but also in the way that it showcases Japan as a country.

Suzume’s story is in itself a high school girl’s road trip across Japan as she saves the country from disaster, and Shinkai has made sure to bring every town and city that she visits to life. Many of these landscapes, both urban and natural, are so visually enthralling that it almost feels like Shinkai is working with the Travel Japan tourism campaign to showcase some of the country’s most beautiful, but less-visited locales, such as the island of Kyushu.

The success of Suzume’s animation is Shinkai’s ability to capture not just scenes of everyday life in modern-day Japan, but how he has managed to successfully bring out the heart and soul of the country through these scenes. For people who have visited Japan before, watching this film often brings up a-ha moments that would make you go, “I’ve been to this place before, that’s exactly the same feeling I had about this place when I was there!”

The visuals are not perfect, some fight scenes felt too exaggerated, while one of the main creatures that appeared in the film looked very underwhelming. But these kinks do little to discount the fact that, accompanied by some very good music, Suzume is a treat for both the eyes and ears.

People who are watching Suzume as their first Makoto Shinkai film will likely enjoy Suzume for what it really is: a beautifully animated film with an intriguing story that touches the heart. But those who have watched Shinkai’s other films before will likely find Suzume too similar in story, theme, and execution to Your Name, as well as 2019’s Weathering With You. And if one were to compare, Your Name is the standout work here.

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