It’s almost inevitable (in the English-speaking world anyway) that any animated film originating from Japan that happens to feature a young person embarking upon a magical quest, perhaps supported by talking animals and various sentient household objects, will be compared to the output of Studio Ghibli and its master, Hayao Miyasaki. It’s a compliment, albeit a slightly reductive one. Suzume, the exquisite latest offering from director Makoto Shinkai (Weathering with You) faces this inevitability head-on, name checking Ghibli films, and even featuring a town called Miyasaki. It’s a cute touch.
The movie doesn’t waste any time. Within moments of the story getting underway, Suzume Iwato (voiced by Nanoka Hara) encounters the mysterious Souta Munakata (voiced by Hokuto Matsumura), who’s visiting Suzume’s island home as he cryptically hunts for old ruins that happen to feature old, freestanding doors. These doors have a tendency to open, releasing gigantic, ghostly worms into the world, which cause earthquakes when they crash to the ground (naturally). It’s Souta’s inherited quest to keep these doors closed, and when he’s incapacitated, it becomes Suzume’s.
This richly textured, immersive animation makes it extraordinarily difficult to be cynical about what’s unfolding on-screen. Younger viewers will find something to enjoy, but it’s not a children’s film – although there’s nothing that’s likely to traumatise young minds (with some smoking being as racy as it gets). It’s all characteristically vibrant in appearance, as Suzume fleets between reality and a parallel plane of mysticism, forcing her to grow up in a way that’s contemplative and poignant, but is nicely built into the narrative.
But perhaps this is why animation of this calibre can satisfy on some primal level, since it allows grown-ups to succumb to their forgotten sense of childlike wonder. Suzume is an accomplished, spirited piece of work that’s set to receive a great deal of affection as it begins its global rollout.
Suzume is released nationwide on 14th April 2023. Watch our interview with the director here.
Watch the trailer for Suzume here: