Film: Suzume

Some movies sneak into your life like a subconscious feeling that blooms unexpectedly into an idea. Such was the case with Japanese animated film Suzume (2022), the trailer for which crossed my path back when it played locally. I was still in full lockdown, craving an experience in the world; Suzume looked interesting, but it wasn’t a powerful enough draw to lure me out of the house. Instead, I watchlisted it when it turned up on Netflix, wondering if in fact I would ever screen it—my lists are littered with half-baked intentions, and a “Miyazaki-esque coming-of-age fantasy” doesn’t scream wheelhouse viewing in my book. But my gut instinct was that it would be worth watching, and in fact it ended up to be more my kind of thing than I anticipated.

The story begins on Kyushu in southern Japan, where young Suzume Iwato (voiced by Nanoka Hara) lives with her aunt/guardian, Tamaki (Eri Fukatsu). A chance encounter on the way to school introduces her to attractive stranger Souta (Hokuto Matsumura), who asks for directions to any local ruins. After directing him to the remains of an abandoned bath spa in the mountains, she grows intrigued and follows him, to ultimately learn that Souta is a “closer,” his job to shut mystical doors to the “Ever-After.” These doors, when unleashed, cause disasters across Japan, such as the recent earthquake that rattled Suzume’s school. Suzume quickly becomes Souta’s partner in this work when a curse is placed on him by a talking cat, Daijin (Ann Yamane), a “keystone” that regulates the flow of disaster into the world. Daijin has abandoned his work and is now loose in the world, which sets Suzume and Souta on Daijin’s trail in an attempt to return him to his post, before castrophe strikes.

A fantasy quest with heart, Suzume is gorgeously animated, quirky, cute, and intentional in its deployment of serious themes—a YA coming-of-age adventure likely to bridge the wonder gap between child and adult viewers. The fantastical events are nicely tied together with Suzume’s personal story, as a supernatural secret war only she can see drives her across Japan, both to save the world and to discover herself. Part of the magic of the film is the way its bright, epic-fantasy visuals accurately reflect the real world. While the film possesses an overall aesthetic of epic fantasy, director Makoto Shinkai imbues a realism to its details, right down to cellphones, McDonald’s, and the historical disasters that inform both Japan’s past and Suzume’s personal struggle. In this way, Suzume is a loose, sideways ancestor of the disaster-film genre, from Godzilla to Irwin Allen and beyond, but with an emotionally powerful coming-of-age core that gives the film an uplifting resonance. A striking, memorable film.

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