It’s an undeniable fact that the life of a teenager is difficult. Peer pressure, dating, the occasional world ending monster – the struggle is real. At least, that’s the case when it comes to Suzume, director Makoto Shinkai’s latest captivating animated film. Thanks to its strong cast and thought-provoking exploration of the grieving process, a typical coming-of-age story is elevated into a moving fantasy adventure. And that’s before taking into account Suzume’s jaw dropping animation and emotionally charged score. The excellent Your Name and Weathering With You would seem like hard acts to follow, but Shinkai has another winner on his hands.
Shinkai specializes in otherworldly teen drama – a chance meeting with a stranger, childhood friends reuniting under strange circumstances, a budding romance that’s stifled by some supernatural event. Though the exact premise may differ, a lot of his films have the same tropes about a character’s rocky journey into adulthood and the relationships they forge along the way. Suzume is no different. Familiar to a fault, a lot of its plot runs parallel to both Shinkai’s previous work and coming-of-age anime in general. Fans of either will pick up on these formulaic elements right from the start, a few notable twists and turns notwithstanding. The good news is that while he may be reusing that formula, Shinkai also seems to have perfected it here.
Suzume Trailer Stills
Despite being somewhat predictable, Suzume remains intriguing partly because of its impressive handling of mature themes. Different aspects of grief, loneliness, and resentment associated with one’s responsibilities are explored through the titular character’s plight. The initial conflict, which sends Suzume (Nanoka Hara) rushing towards derelict landmarks across Japan in hopes of averting a catastrophic event, centers on remnants of the past causing problems in the present. In that way, these threatening ruins act as a collective metaphor for the lasting effects of trauma; an abandoned theme park is all but forgotten until a supernatural occurrence restores its power in a way that felt like shining a spotlight on an old wound.
This unique dilemma creatively showcases why the grieving process is important and how the passage of time doesn’t always lead to healing. On the contrary, it can cause untreated wounds to fester. A concept that’s not only referenced in Suzume’s life or death struggles, but also in the strained relationship with her aunt Tamaki (Eri Fukastu). Fukastu does a great job embodying the roll of a concerned guardian. Her lines are delivered with a passion that echoes the sincerity of Tamaki’s emotions during a given scene, especially whenever she interacts with Nanoka Hara’s Suzume. And because Hara is equally convincing as the hopeful teenager burdened with a dark past, their inevitable clash proves impactful. Their shared pain is conveyed through dialogue that realistically reflects the rift that had been forming between them, resulting in one of the most heartfelt scenes in Suzume.
Hokuto Matsumura, who voices Suzume’s friend and potential love interest Sōta, also does a solid job. Sōta’s eagerness to carry out his sacred duty of safeguarding Japan is evident in his demeanor. Nothing is more important than the lives of those in his care. When an odd predicament derails his plans, forcing him to depend on Suzume, his perspective changes a bit. Matsumura handles this shifting dynamic well by leaning into a more nurturing role, changing Sōta from a somewhat standoffish protector into a more supportive and caring companion. Matsumura’s performance, like that of his castmates, strengthens the credibility of their character’s relationships.
There’s also a moving score that helps in driving certain scenes towards even more powerful conclusions, but it’s really Suzume’s gorgeous animation that’ll keep viewers locked in their seats. It sports a vibrant color palette, impressive line work, and a strong attention to detail that rivals what’s seen in iconic Studio Ghibli films at times. There’s also a sense of weight that realistically anchors every action its characters take, even when something magical is happening. The same can be said of how their faces are depicted during key scenes, their emotions made believable due to the fluid and lifelike animation. Some of the added CGI can struggle to mesh with the more traditional 2D portions, but it’s never enough to outright ruin the scenes it’s used in though. Basically, the animators at CoMix Wave Films have outdone themselves with Suzume.