Makoto Shinkai, director of Your Name and Weathering With You returns with Suzume, an enchanting but frustrating journey.
Hand-drawn animation on the silver screen is far from dead, thanks in part to filmmakers like Makoto Shinkai. His latest feature, Suzume, blends many of the same beats we’ve seen from the director and writer before. There’s the emotional teenager, genre-mixing set pieces, strong weather motifs, and of course awe-inspiring animation. Make no mistake, Suzume is one of the beautiful and alluring films of the year. Even if its story often falls short of those same highs.
The film centers around 17-year-old Suzume, who gets whisked into an unforgettable journey after discovering a dark secret about Japan. That the country is on the brink of constant natural disasters if not for the “Closers,” nondescript wanderers who monitor gates found in ruins that can set these calamities loose. Suzume’s own mother was a victim of such catastrophe years ago. And many more people will die if she doesn’t help Souta, a young and charming Closer, travel all the way to Tokyo to find the devilish cat that has turned him into…a child’s chair.
Anyone who’s watched and enjoyed a Pixar film can see where this odd-couple dynamic might be headed. Or anyone who enjoyed Belle last year and wants more plays on Beauty and the Beast but with updated writing. The only real problem in this case is that Suzume is a lot of action without verve. Suzume herself is a thin character for the majority of the film, often reacting to supernatural delights, not engaging with them in intriguing ways.
“The gates will open in lonely areas people have forgotten.”
For example, Suzume and Souta meet a variety of strangers who aid them in various ways. A delivery woman puts them up for the night. An entertainer and mother of precocious children gives them a lift to town in exchange for a night of babysitting. All of these misadventures are enjoyable, light-hearted, and worthwhile breathers when the main heroes aren’t rushing to close and lock a door before a gigantic red-cloud worm does something we’re told would be horrific.
And that’s really where the film, which is otherwise brilliant, somewhat falls apart despite Shinkai’s best efforts. He struggles to tie all these fascinating threads together in an illuminating way. As if he’s purposefully relying on the randomness of these events as part of the message he’s sending. As if chaos is the point. Only that doesn’t quite gel with Suzume’s coming-of-age enlightenment, juggled with what feels like an obligatory romantic tease to string viewers along.
If that all sounds harsh, it’s only because a film that looks this jaw-droppingly good deserves only the very best writing to go along with it. Shinkai has proven himself a master in this respect before with Your Name, one of the best animated films of the 2010s. For now, his latest effort is a door that doesn’t lead anywhere too surprising by contrast. It’s good, but in the way that leaves you wishing for something spectacular.
Suzume opens in theaters nationwide on April 14. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Crunchyroll
SUZUME - 7/10