Film Review: Suzume | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Studio: Crunchyroll
Director: Makoto Shinkai

Apr 11, 2023 Web Exclusive
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Suzume–the newest film from powerhouse anime director Makoto Shinkai–is a film whose parts are more likable than its whole. While the film boasts beautiful visuals and many timely metaphors, clichéd storytelling and redundant moments hold it back from having a larger impact.

The film centers around Suzume (Nanoka Hara), a 17-year-old who lives with her aunt in a sunny, quiet seaside Japanese town. After losing her mother at a young age, Suzume keeps one prized possession from her past: a small wooden chair with a missing leg. Her days are repetitive, but she approaches them with a carefree and positive attitude.

Things quickly change when Suzume meets Souta (Hokuto Matsumura), a mysterious college student, on her way to school one day. After he asks her for directions to nearby ruins, she follows him to an abandoned town near her city. There, after walking through a peculiar-looking door, Suzume discovers all across Japan, similar doors exist that are portals for giant worms–which only Suzume and Souta can see–to escape into the real world. If these worms fall, they will cause massive earthquakes, altering thousands of lives in the process.

To try and stop these worms from hitting the Earth, Suzume and Souta travel across Japan to reach each portal before it is too late. In the process, Suzume must confront her past to save herself and those around her.

Besides its fantasy-filled narrative, Suzume plays like almost any other adventure film. The narrative beats are simple, as they all revolve around Suzume and Souta trying to find another door and deal with the giant worm inside. While a plot like this is entertaining and leads to many action-filled set pieces, the story’s redundancies often make watching the film feel tiring, and eventually, unfulfilling.

This fact leads to a complicated paradox. It’s hard to tell if Suzume is original or derivative, because while the narrative doesn’t take any new directions early or risks, the film’s visuals and effects feel distinctly fresh and memorable. Throughout his career, Shinkai’s crisp, beautifully-colored animation has been the pinnacle of his filmmaking style, often supporting his films when dialogue or story cannot. That is most certainly the case here, because it’s nearly impossible to look away from the film’s magnificent visuals. The fact that the animation is so stunning makes Suzume all the more disappointing, as colors and hues like these belong with a narrative that would do them more justice.

Within its action-packed, constantly-moving narrative, Suzume houses a lot of emotional themes. The entire film hinges on the concept of disasters, represented and visualized by the giant worms and the massive threat they pose. More specifically, the worms represent the countless natural disasters that Japan has faced and continues to face. Suzume’s journey is a meditation on expectations, with the character doing her best to try and save as many people as she can, as well as a reflection on how personal trauma can manifest in different ways.

In light doses, the emotional moments created by these conflicts make a strong impact. This is most evident when Suzume must reckon with her mother’s passing, a thread laced throughout the entire film. At times, though, Suzume tries too hard to lean into its emotional elements, making them feel forced and, as a result, less believable.

Author rating: 6/10

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