This article is a web original

Veronica Nielsen (Hiroshima)

In November 2022, Makoto Shinkai’s latest anime film from Comix Wave Films, Suzume (Suzume no Tojimari in Japan), premiered in Japanese theaters about three years after his last movie, Weathering with You. As the director of several popular anime films like Your Name, Weathering with You, and 5 Centimeters per Second, Shinkai continues to captivate his avid fans and fellow anime fans alike with his latest title focusing on Suzume Iwato, a 17 year-old girl living in Kyushu with her aunt. After a mysterious encounter with a young man named Sota Munakata, Suzume joins him to locate and close various magical doors that randomly appear across Japan and bring about disaster when opened. 

As someone who enjoyed Your Name and Weathering with You (and read their corresponding books by the same name), I was shocked when I first learned Suzume’s novel adaptation would appear in bookstores across Japan before the anime film would air in theaters. For anyone who follows Shinkai closely, this may surprise them, as he has not done this with any of his previous anime films or novels until now. However, Shinkai confirmed this decision was intentional on his part, as he felt the ending’s connection to a significant event in contemporary Japanese history could bring back heart-wrenching memories that are too much for some fans to handle. After reading both the original story and watching the film, I can confirm Shinkai’s latest title may push some boundaries for viewers. But this isn’t exactly a bad thing, just necessary for reasons that become clear to viewers upon watching it themselves. 

From the get-go, Shinkai introduces viewers to a cast of characters that are charming with their personalities. At first glance, Suzume may not seem unique, as she wears her school uniform and does not display any magical capabilities or connections. However, she and the male protagonist Sota demonstrate maturity for their respective ages as they seek to prevent disaster from falling upon various parts of Japan. For someone who loves anime but gets tired of clichéd jokes that can seem childish, it was a nice change of pace to see an anime film feature mature protagonists who still display youthful personality traits. As Suzume helps Sota close and lock the mysterious doors, she displays a sense of courage and freedom that is adorable and yet oddly inspiring for viewers like me. Likewise, Sota possesses a strong ability to remain calm when encountering dangerous situations, as he stays determined to shut and lock the mysterious doors that unleash a monstrous and destructive worm when open.

The movie’s soundtrack is also excellent for providing Suzume with a whimsical yet occasionally dark atmosphere, which suits the movie’s plot line. Performed by RADWIMPS (the band who also produced soundtracks for Your Name and Weathering with You), the soundtrack consists of multiple melodies and two vocal songs that hit listeners differently from their previous energetic and upbeat vocals for Shinkai’s past anime films. The titular song “Suzume” portrays an uplifting feeling with its vocals and instrumentals, but it is neither cheerful nor melancholic. Various instrumentals in the soundtrack, like “The First Encounter” and “Soldier’s Break,” are enjoyable and may remind listeners of similar melodies from Studio Ghibli’s anime soundtracks.

That said, one major aspect that numerous viewers as well as myself noticed is how Suzume displays some heartwarming moments and scenes reminiscent of a Ghibli film. Whether or not Shinkai gained heavy influence from Hayao Miyazaki when producing Suzume remains unclear, but the movie’s atmosphere contains both action-packed and simple slice-of-life moments that reminded me somewhat of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. The magic interwoven in this film’s story is different from Shinkai’s previous films, but it helps in making the film’s message clear for viewers to understand. My only major criticism for this movie focuses on how the worm from the magical doors appears. The clear CGI effect on top of the hand-drawn visuals seemed awkward and distracting from the movie’s events. Nonetheless, the amount of detail in other scenes from traffic signs to background color will likely attract viewers’ attention throughout the film. 

On a side note, for anyone curious to enjoy more of Shinkai’s content, there are manga and novel adaptations available for many of his works. While they don’t differ much from the movies, they can be great items to add to your anime/manga collections for the visuals alone. The novels are also excellent for readers who wish to enjoy the stories in a literary format. The visual guides for Shinkai’s movies are must-have items for fans because they contain exclusive concept art, colorful background and scene panel art, interviews with the director, the voice cast, background artists, and more. While reading through these guides, it is incredible to learn how competitive it is to secure a voice acting role for Shinkai’s movies, and how many rounds of edits a movie’s plot goes through before we can see the finished product in theaters.

Out of the films he has created so far, Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume is arguably his best anime feature film yet, with its clear message and captivating characters that can appeal to a wide array of viewers. The film retains its lighthearted nature while taking the viewers on an adventure as Suzume and Sota aim to lock the mysterious doors across Japan before a mysterious monster brings disaster upon the country. The movie’s DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital versions are currently available in Japan. It is also available to stream on Crunchyroll online. With its consistent pace, viewers likely won’t find themselves bored watching as the movie reveals surprising points that demonstrate what a complex yet fascinating storyline Shinkai has imagined for his latest film.

Veronica Nielsen is a second-year Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) on the JET Programme in Hiroshima Prefecture. She has been to over half of Japan’s 47 prefectures and has made her way to visiting Shikoku for the first time this year. She aims to travel to Kyushu, the last main island she has yet to see, soon.