Makoto Shinkai is one of the animation greats, and with Suzume no Tojimari, he’s created yet another film to connect with that uses science fiction and fantasy to propel a duo through tribulations. Half fantasy and half coming-of-age drama, Suzume follows its titular protagonist as she travels a disaster-stricken Japan, closing mysterious doors along the way and saving the country from its devastation.
Beginning in Kyushu, Suzume is pulled on a journey with Closer, Sōta. Traveling to various ruins in different cities, Suzume’s journey begins when she encounters a Sōta on the road. He tells her, “I’m looking for a door,” and then, their lives are never the same. I mean, shortly after Sōta is turned into a chair after all. While the doors spew a destructive force, on the inside, they display the Ever After, a beautiful realm where all time has melted together in the sky.
A hero’s journey if there ever was one, Suzume no Tojimari‘s road trip unlocks Suzume’s strength, vulnerability, and hope. When Sōta is turned into the aforementioned chair, she takes on his duties as a closer. Finally feeling purpose in her life, Suzume embraces the challenge all the while growing closer to Sōta while he begins to fade.
While it’s easy to see the impact that the doors have on the world, and the necessity to close them, Shinkai uses Suzume to make a statement on overcoming past trauma, and closing our own doors must be done in order to move forward. While the pacing feels rushed when you look at the romantic connection between Suzume and Sōta, that isn’t the core of the film. The film itself is about closure.
Shinkai doesn’t explicitly state that the gates are tied to great tragedy but as you explore each one and learn about the places from other characters, it’s clear that that is the case. This makes it an extremely personal motive for Suzume as the film’s narrative and Daijin pushes her towards confronting her past. The film presented a gorgeous fantasy animated film, but it is grounded by the story of a girl who has forgotten her pain while still carrying it deep inside her. As much as the film is about gods holding a monster captive to keep humanity safe, it’s also about uncovering the layers of ourselves that we bury our pain under. Yes, Suzume falls in love with Sōta, but in the process, she embraces who she is.
The animation from CoMix Wave Films Story Inc. is breathtaking. It’s equal parts emotive and dynamic, taking great care to showcase fantasy as much as reality in its representation of Japan. This is particularly evident in how water is animated. A lot of this success comes from CoMix Wave’s ability to animate Sōta who is, for the majority of the film, a chair. The legs move independently and the simple design on the backing manages to become anthropomorphic in unassuming ways that allow the film to showcase human emotion through unusual circumstances. But as much as that comes from the animation talent, it also comes from the superb voice performances from seiyuu Nanoka Hara and Hokuto Matsumura as Suzume and Sōta.
And while the seiyuu performances pull you in, the score from Radwimps and Kazuma Jinnouchi sets the atmosphere so clearly that you can feel every emotionally heavy drop of rain falling from the sky. Whether it’s fast-paced jazz to score an action sequence or a rousing instrumental leading to a climactic event, everything in Suzume works to pull the viewer in and keep them locked in their seat. Throw in a thoughtful main theme sung by Toaka and it’s a recipe for beauty and success on a cinematic level that should be regarded by live-action critics as well as animation ones.
Suzume no Tojimari may be one of the oddest films that Shinkai has made. “Teen falls in love with a chair” isn’t necessarily a normal synopsis. But in truth, it carries the heart and strength of his previous films. It is about remembering in order to move forward and taking the step to close the doors to our grief in order to move forward, lest ignoring their presence wreaks havoc on our bodies. Not subtle in the slightest but better for it, Suzume shines as brightly as anything in the Shinkai filmography.
Suzume no Tojimari is playing nationwide April 14, 2023.
Suzume no Tojimari
Suzume may be one of the oddest films that Shinkai has made. “Teen falls in love with a chair” isn’t necessarily a normal synopsis. But in truth, it carries the heart and strength of his previous films. It is about remembering in order to move forward and taking the step to close the doors to our grief in order to move forward, lest ignoring their presence wreaks havoc on our bodies. Not subtle in the slightest but better for it, Suzume shines as brightly as anything in the Shinkai filmography.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.