‘Suzume’ review: Makoto Shinkai’s latest anime masterpiece is a jaw-dropping epic | Berlinale
If you follow the career of Makato Shinkai, you know he is renowned world-wide for his anime films, Your Name and Weathering With You being the most notable. His latest, Suzume, is a rip-roaring fantasy epic that is emotionally engrossing and riveting from start to end.
Suzume (Nanoka Hara) is a normal 17-year-old high school girl, who lives with her aunt in the south of Japan. Suzume is kind and shy, but has serious buried trauma that threatens to destroy her. Everything changes as she is approached by a mysterious man named Souta (Hokuto Matsumura) on her way to school. Fascinated by the stranger’s mission, to find a singular nearby door, Suzume accidentally unleashes an enormous danger that could destroy the entirety of Japan.
Souta arrives too late as Suzume has already opened her city’s door, which turns out to be the gateway to a mystical plane of existence aptly called the Never After. Doors begin to open all over Japan, freeing the same unbridled force of otherworldly nature. Only a “closer” like Souta with the assistance of a keystone can lock away the supernatural worm-like being. But Souta’s mission is halted when he is magically transformed into a three-legged chair (you heard right) after meeting the keystone’s physical form, which is a talking cat named Daijin (Ann Yamane). Suzume decides to lead the now-helpless Souta on a country-wide chase to close all the doors, revoke Souta’s spell and stop Daijin.
Japanese anime is celebrated for its cinematic, comic book-like detail. Shinkai’s latest lives up to other distinctive anime epics, like TV’s Attack on Titan, when it comes to dynamic camera moves, visual effects and stakes. Every frame is an absolute beauty, the visuals are literally out of this world. The anime filmmaker has an eye for the cinematic, especially in terms of his rich world building. Everything feels so real, but with an added enchanting touch that goes beyond reality and into the realm of anime. Perfect emulation of camera lenses and their distinct qualities is echoed in Suzume’s animation style, which is just one factor but a major one no less to the jaw-dropping visuals. When it comes to action, Shinkai does not hold back as Suzume, quite casually, goes from cute and quirky to seismically intense and arresting battles. The fiery whirlwinds of energy that Suzume holds back. Who would’ve thought that closing doors and turning keys could be so epic?
Suzume is a spiritual journey that is pumped with emotion and heartbreak. Having accepted the great responsibility of stopping the invisible evil from being unleashed, Suzume quickly grows up as she realises the stakes at hand. This isn’t your typical coming-of-age movie as there is no time for high school and flirting. And although Suzume has one key motivation, stopping the destruction of Japan, she also has an obvious, unwavering crush on her now-three legged partner which is another driving factor that fuels her. Here, Shinkai finds the heart of the film which is laced with humour, embarrassing moments and romanticism. It’s all about human nature, both the pleasant (love) and the ugly (abandonment and grief). Through her journey, Suzume is able to confront her traumas and fears that have unknowingly haunted her life.
The final aspect of Suzume that has to be discussed is the sound design and music of the Radwimps and composer Kazume Jinnouchi which elevates the epicness of Shinkai’s film. At times the music is riveting and fun, as Suzume and her talking chair chase Daijin the cat around the city streets while being filmed by passers by. But at the most pivotal and earth-shattering moments, the film’s soundscape turns up to a thousand to mimic and add to the dynamic and grandiose visuals.
Suzume is truly a defining anime in Shinkai’s ever-impressive filmography.
This review is from the 73rd Berlin international Film Festival. Suzume will be released in U.S. theaters on April 14, 2023 by Crunchroll.