Twelve years ago, Japan found itself wracked by the deadliest earthquake in its history. Tens of thousands lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes thanks to these things and the nuclear meltdown, and many have never been able to return home. This incident has deeply scarred Japan in recent years, with many only now coming to grips with what happened. Suzume, the latest film from the director of Your Name, Makoto Shinkai, addresses the effects of that great disaster. It does it not in some grandiose fashion, but in a surreal, retrospective way.
Also, there’s a talking chair.
What the Heck is Going On?!?
After a surreal dream, the film Suzume introduces us to our main protagonist, the titular Suzume, a normal high-school girl living in Kyushu with her aunt. Then one day, after meeting this stranger named Souta, she finds this magical doorway in some ruins and picks up the keystone she finds on the other side. However, by doing so, she ends ups freeing this supernatural monster that causes massive earthquakes whenever it gets out. Even weirder, Souta, whose job is to close these doors so this doesn’t happen, gets turned into a chair. Before Suzume can process what’s happening, she’s dragged on this cross-country road trip to find the keystone, turn Souta back to normal, and fix this mess before it can destroy Japan.
I could not make any of this up even if I tried. Given all of the strange things that can happen in anime, though, a guy getting turned into a chair isn’t the most bizarre thing I’ve seen.
Suzume is a Bizarre, Supernatural/Road trip/Disaster Film
When I was a teenager, I got to read a copy of the nonfiction book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. It told the real-life story of Chris McCandless, a young man who left his life behind to become a nomad, traveling across the United States before dying in the wilderness in Alaska. While the circumstances of his death are sad, the idea of traveling the world while young has a certain appeal to audiences. Thus, getting to see Suzume take this unplanned trip across most of Japan was an interesting idea. On the surface, she’s doing it to fix her mistake and help Souta, on the inside, she’s doing it to make peace with her traumatic past.
Without getting into too much detail, Suzume’s revealed to be a survivor of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. Twelve years onward, people are still trying to pick up the pieces from that great disaster. One moment, they’re leading normal lives, only for catastrophe to change everything forever. It’s a bitter reminder of how bad things happen without warning, and how easy it is for people to lose what hey hold dear the most.
I still remember hearing news about the disaster, and its clear that its something that Japan hasn’t forgotten what happened. It also ties back to Shinkai’s previous films, Weathering With You and Your Name. Both of them involved dealing with natural disasters via the supernatural. It was a means of coping with what happened, and a good one, at that.
Suzume Makes an Effort Not to Repeat the Romances of Shinkai’s Previous Films
While I’m a fan of Makoto Shinkai thanks to his previous works, I don’t think that Suzume reaches the same emotional highs as that of Your Name. However, one thing that sets it apart from Shinkai’s previous films is how there’s less of a focus on the romantic aspect. Which is good, too, because Suzume’s a high schooler while Souta’s at least a few years older, given that he’s stated to be in grad school. There is some chemistry between the two, but the film solves this by having Souta remain a chair the majority of the time.
While the idea of someone getting cursed into a chair might sound weird (and it is), it’s brilliant from a storytelling perspective. It allows Souta and Suzume’s relationship to develop in a platonic fashion during the film, eliminating the threat of shipping. In addition, it also allows Suzume to become introspective at times as she thinks about her traumatic past and how it’s affected her life. She doesn’t realize it until the end, but this whole journey has been to help teach her an important life lesson. That lesson being that, regardless of how sudden life can change, it can also leave people open to new experiences.
A Heartfelt, Coming-of-Age Story
Not everyone’s going to enjoy the movie Suzume. Compared to the likes of Your Name, it feels like Makoto Shinkai failed to recapture that great spark he had. However, the ones who do like it are in for a treat.
Suzume is a good movie about overcoming past trauma through the bonds we forge, and as always, the art and animation are breathtaking. The look of the sky alone is good enough for an art gallery! If you got a chance, I recommend you give this film a shot.
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