Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume

Daijin considers himself a god, but he looks like a cat and he has a decidedly selfish, feline-like personality. Unfortunately, he doesn’t just walk on people’s laps with his penetrating paws. He is determined to open portals that would allow Namazu, the mythical worm kaiju, to enter our world, like when he caused the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. It is Sota Munakata’s calling to keep those doors closed, but he will need Suzume Iwato’s help in Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume, which opens Friday in New York.

Iwato is still haunted by the loss of her mother during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake-tsunami. Since then, she has lived with her Aunt Tamaki on picturesque Kyushu. One day, while biking to school, she encountered Munakata, who asks if there are any ruins on the island. In fact, there is an abandoned resort village. Intrigued, Iwato starts exploring the ruins, trying to find the mysterious door Munataka mentioned. The surreal looking stand-alone door certainly looks like what he had in mind, but as she pokes around, she inadvertently releases the “keystone” sealing the portal.

That keystone turns into an extremely mischievous cat that calls itself Daijin (sort of like Daimajin). With Munakata’s help, Iwato barely manages to close the door, but to keep it closed, they will need to put the keystone back in his proper place. Daijin leads them on a merry chase across Japan, opening door after door, with no regard for the death and destruction that could result. Adding a further degree of difficulty, Daijin also curses Munakata, transforming him into the old three-legged stool Iwato’s mother hand-crafted for her.

Only an anime master like Makoto could successfully pull-off a sentient, self-ambulatory stool, sort of like the
Beauty & the Beast candlestick, but in a contemporary dramatic setting, presented in a serious manner. Indeed, he pulls it off, while building some truly poignant chemistry between the two lead characters (even though one of them spends most of the film as a small piece of furniture). In this case, the relationship between Iwato and Munataka takes on romantic dimensions, but it is more complex and ambiguous than that of Your Name, Shinkai’s most comparable previous film.

’s animation is also incredible, especially Shinkai’s lush landscapes that capture the scenic beauty of Japan’s many provinces. It is a beautiful film, visually, and much of the soundtrack is quite distinction, especially the big band jazz-like theme for the first big Daijin chase.

Suzume is somehow related to other Shinkaverse films like Your Name and The Garden of Words, but it is not immediately obvious how, so new viewers need no prior familiarity (unlike your average Marvel movie). However, Shinkai’s warm humanism and unapologetic romanticism are immediately recognizable. This is probably the best anime feature release since Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle. Very highly recommended, Suzume opens Friday (4/14) in New York, including the AMC Lincoln Square.