Suzume (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Love and earthquake

Makoto Shinkai’s latest animation film “Suzume” is visually gorgeous enough to compensate for its typical mix of fantasy, adventure, and romance. Although I often felt rather distant to the story and characters due to several weak aspects, the film has lots of wonderful visual moments to savor, and the overall result is a bit better than Shinkai’s previous films “Your Name” (2016) and “Weathering with You” (2019).

The story begins with an accidental encounter between its two main characters. When she is beginning another usual day at a little seaside town in Kyūshū, Suzume (voiced by Nanoka Hara), a pretty high school girl who has lived with her aunt since she lost her mother a long time ago, comes across a mysterious lad who is looking for some abandoned place in the town. Although their encounter was brief, Suzume soon finds herself quickly smitten with this handsome dude, so she subsequently goes to where he is supposed to go.

That abandoned place in question is an old spa resort area which is no longer in business. As looking for him here and there, Suzume comes across a door standing still in the middle of one wide spot, and, what do you know, the door turns out to be a sort of portal to some other world. While quite befuddled by this, she accidentally removes a certain stone from the ground, and then this stone is turned into a cat and then runs away from her.

Of course, it subsequently turns out that the door is not just a mere portal. Through that door, something dark and disturbing is unleashed, and Suzume and that lad, who belatedly arrives at the door, manage to close the door before it is too late. According to him, that dangerous entity in question is a sort of dark energy which can cause big earthquake, and it has been his job to keep this door and many other doors in Japan closed for safety. His name is Sōta (voiced by Hokuto Matsumura), and we later come to learn that his family has been the guardians of these doors for many centuries.

Anyway, mainly because Sōta was injured a bit, Suzume takes him to her house, and then another unexpected thing happens. That magical cat suddenly appears in front of them, and Sōta is transformed into a three-legged chair right before it is gone again. For getting transformed back to his human from, he needs to retrieve the cat, and Suzume accordingly finds herself on an impromptu journey as chasing after the cat along with him from one area to another in the country.

What follows next a series of episodic moments where Suzume fortunately receives some kindness of strangers whom she and Sōta come across in the middle of their accidental journey. For example, not long after they succeed in having another portal closed as before, they come to stay in a local inn thanks to one nice girl around her age, and you will surely appreciate how delicious the dinner looks on the screen.

Meanwhile, the film doles out a series of impressive visual moments which are worthwhile to watch on big screen. Whenever that dark energy is unleashed from the opened portal, it surely looks both epic and terrifying as hovering in the sky without being noticed by anyone except Suzume and Sōta. In case of one big sequence set in the downtown area of Tokyo, the city and its citizens are presented with vivid details to notice, and that makes a striking contrast with the grand fantasy elements in the sequence.

The story also pays some attention to the relationship development between its two main characters along the story. Although he is now a small chair which can incidentally talk and walk, Suzume comes to care a lot about Sōta as going through one adventure after another with him, and she becomes quite determined to get him back by any means necessary, when it later turns out that he should remain in that way forever for stopping more earthquakes in the future.

Around that point, I could not help but become skeptical. Yes, they say love knows no logic, but risking a considerable danger to millions of people in Japan just for love looks rather unconvincing for me, so I came to observe the rest of the story with some reservation. You may accept how quickly and passionately Suzume falls in love with Sōta, but you may often wonder what she sees from this rather bland lad. Seriously, I have no idea on what exactly he feels about her, but I can tell you instead that he looks more interesting as a talking chair.

Although I could not entirely be involved in the story and characters on the emotional level, I kept admiring the visual beauty of the film during my viewing. During the last act, Shinkai and his crew members pull all the stops for a big melodramatic finale, and you will not be disappointed while also getting a little surprise involved with the recurring past moment of our plucky heroine. In addition, I come to like that cat in the film a lot, which looks annoyingly mischievous at first but turns out to much more helpful than it seemed at first.

On the whole, “Suzume” sometimes clashes with my inconsequential common sense, but it is still a lovely cell animation film to be appreciated and admired. While I am not as enthusiastic as other reviewers and audiences, I recommend it mainly for its top-notch visual style and mood, and it will surely remind you more of how cell animation is still valuable at present.

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