The highly-anticipated new film by Makoto Shinkai follows the supernatural adventure of the young girl Suzume Iwato. The seventeen-year-old lives in a small village in Kyūshū, Southern Japan, with her aunt Tamaki who adopted her after her mother died when she was just four years old. One morning, on her way to school, she meets a handsomely mysterious boy, Souta Munakata, who is looking for some ruins. Driven by curiosity, Suzume follows him to an abandoned village in the mountains where she finds a mystifying door and, driven by the impulse to open it, inadvertently unleashes a calamity on the city below. This entity, that has the resemblance of a red worm and causes earthquakes is a “giant force that dwells beneath the Japanese islands, that has no rhyme and no reason.” Thanks to Souta, the danger is averted but, due to a series of unforeseen events, the two will be forced to embark on a journey across Japan to ensure similar doors are closed. During this expedition Suzume will discover what lies behind these terrifying phenomena that somehow seem connected.
Suzume no Tojimari was presented in competition at the 73rd edition of the Berlin Film Festival and marks the seventh feature film by the author and director of Your Name. Berlinale hadn’t welcomed an anime in its competition for twenty years, the last one being Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki. Award-winning creator, writer and director Makoto Shinkai has been a visionary in the animation space for decades, and today is a leading animation auteur with international viewers. In fact, Makoto Shinkai has been referred to as ‘The New Miyazaki’ by Steve Rose from The Guardian and Motoko Rich from The New York Times.
Suzume has a compelling storytelling that is aggrandised by the wondrous sceneries that are brought on screen, phantasmagorically enveloped in the stars, sunset, and morning sky. Although audiences enter the world of the fantastic they are encouraged to ponder upon the issues of contemporary Japan. As a teenager wanders around her nation with a broken chair, to safeguard her home country from disaster, viewers will inevitably think back at the 2011 earthquake and tsunami known as the Great Sendai, in the Tōhoku region (northeastern Honshu), that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In Shinkai’s film, the dynamism of the animation brings forth the power of images, as the sky becomes an active force that reveals the changes that are occurring, which is not a mere background to the enterprises of Suzume and Souta. The wild blue yonder can be beauteous and oneiric, but at times it may transform into a ferocious welkin that provides uncertainty towards the new dimensions it leads to. It is a place “where all time exists simultaneously,” and in which we observe in awe the magnitude of nature that can be creator and destructor at the same time. It bestows a feeling of sublime, through its terrifying majesty that makes mankind feel insignificant and powerless.
The teenager traverses a coming-of-stage where she has to confront trauma and embrace her tomorrow. Magic sprinkles the narrative with vivacity and bewilderment. The archetype of a story beginning with a door and a crossing is remarkably rendered in a visionary spiritual manner. Shinkai seems to apply concepts of animism to his tale of wonder, where his characters keep stumbling upon divine presences. Mother Nature in all its glory unleashes arcane beings that somehow echo the Shinto tradition of worshiping the founders of the family.
All that is transcendental, nevertheless, returns to earthly and mundane as a teaching for the young heroine who is confronting adulthood. This highly philosophical experience provides a relatable tale of courage. Spectators empathise with the idea of confronting their inner demons and pursue an emotional balance. The fluidity of this cinematic therapy session is beyond extraordinary, as Suzume shines a ray of hope upon our own struggles and pains that cause anguish and perturb our spirit.
Final Grade: A