Suzume (2023) Spoiler-Free Review
The latest offering from Your Name (2016) director Makoto Shinkai is a real sight to behold. Centered around a high school student caught in a struggle to fight supernatural forces and prevent natural disaster while also dealing with the loss of her mother, it’s a movie that hits all registers. Part coming-of-age story, part mystical epic, this is a very layered film. With plenty of heart in the script, and the slick visuals that have become synonymous with Shinkai’s movies, this has quickly become one of my favorite releases so far this year.
Something I really appreciated was the big swings Shinkai took in the writing of this film; from talking furniture and portals into the afterlife to huge earthquake causing worms, this movie leans more into the speculative than perhaps any other film in his oeuvre. Along with these risks, there’s plenty of emotion packed into the script, particularly with the relationship between Suzume and her aunt Tamaki, whose been her legal guardian ever since Suzume’s mother died. The movie doesn’t shy away from unpacking this dynamic, and it adds a lot of vulnerability which further endears viewers to these characters. There’s also Suzume’s friendship with Sota, for whom she eventually risks everything. The cast definitely deserves a lot of appreciation here; without the commitment they brought to these roles, I can see a lot of the dialogue not being as successful as it was. It's a hard balance, particularly when considering the element of social critique I don’t think Shinkai’s ever foregrounded so much.
It’s said that the worms only break out of the ever-after when the earth is hurt, traveling through gates opened in ‘lonely places,’ all of which have been abandoned, usually for reasons of funding. Though the film doesn’t meditate on the political implications of these narrative elements, I found it particularly effective how Shinkai never connects the dots for us; instead, he presents audiences with just enough to make the story engaging, then leaves us to our own devices. While it doesn’t shy away from the political, it also never feels as though we’re being lectured from behind the camera. Instead, we’re given a script that’s very emotionally authentic, brought to life by some pretty incredible visuals.
Despite the animation’s visually realistic style, there’s still a hand drawn feel to this movie that adds a ton of character. Shinkai earns every Miyazaki reference made in this film, with gorgeous skies and shimmering bodies of water for which he’s become known. The use of color, particularly in the setting, helps communicate different shifts in tone that adds to the immersive experience of this movie. There’s also something very cinematic about the way he arranges shots; despite the lack of a camera, he includes zooms, dolly and crane shots, and very creative angles in the composition. It’s a very dynamic approach that emphasizes specific emotions and helps highlight the overall ideas in each scene. Along with this very sophisticated visual language, the sound design here is phenomenal. Feet running on sidewalks, blades of grass shifting with the breeze, rusty gears kicking into motion; along with the fantastic music and score, this carefully crafted use of sound further places us on the edge of our seats.
By the end of this movie, there’s a phenomenal sense of closure that I think speaks to how well written it is, as well as how executed it was on a technical level as far as the filmmaking itself is concerned. Following Suzume’s journey not just to save the world (and the afterlife,) but to reckon with her mother’s death and reconnect with those around her is sure to leave viewers emotional long after credits roll. Death, friendship, family, community; while its themes are wide-ranging, its big heart and big visuals are consistent throughout. Look for Suzume in theaters near you, it lives up to the trailer, which is a rare thing. If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog in this way including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!