The Theater and Quick Thoughts
This latest Makoto Shinkai film finally came out in the United States. I saw it finally on a Friday in the afternoon at my local theater and it was a good time. I mean that I watched it around 1:00 pm on a weekday and there was almost no one there. Two random people in the back and my friend and my dad were in it with me. Maybe this movie needed some sort of crowd to go along with it, but at the same time we didn’t have to face any sort of annoying audience either. Or in some ways, it was the perfect sort of audience for it. I am worried about this small theater continuing to survive though. I don’t think anime films are going to help at all.
Suzume is a film that I left generally positive about. In general, it is a well realized film that has a cast of two characters that, despite how strange the relationship is since one of them turned into a chair, is very endearing and you can feel it throughout it. Then there is a point where the anime film changes a bit after something happens to one of the characters and it doesn’t feel like it knows what it’s doing in a complete way into the ending that was great. So in general, it is a very disjointed sort of film but it means well and even those ideas that don’t fit as well into the narrative are still good too. The reason why I don’t work tooI hard at it.
The Simple Story of Suzume
This is a film that starts on the word jump. We start with a flashback to Suzume’s childhood in a utterly screwed up world where boats are on top of buildings and everything is on fire. Suzume receives a chair from some figure that is from her childhood and then she is rescued by her aunt while looking for her mother that is long gone. Then in the current time period, Suzume meets one random young man while riding her bike to school. A man that is looking for rings near Suzume’s house that couldn’t be more close by talks about a door that left her wondering. She could have gone to school, but she was curious about this entire scenario.
So before school, Suzume opens up a mysterious door in a fantastic looking former bathhouse with a statue that turns into a cat. She returns to school later afterwards and then suddenly there is an Earthquake warning on her and everyone else’s phones and there is a red worm popping out of that door that no one else can see. It’s all her fault and after running to this ruin to help this young man, whose name is Souta, to close it. The young man is hurt from the endeavor so she takes him to her and her aunt’s house to patch him up. Then the cat shows up and Souta turns into the chair from her childhood.
Suzume is a road trip movie with a runaway girl and a young man in a chair stopping doors in ruins from all across Japan opening to stop it from opening. A chair cannot cross Japan by itself without appearing on social media, so Suzume is there to make the situation a bit more normal. Ha. (There is so much weird fanfiction that can come from the fact that Suzume sits on the chair and steps on it at times). But Suzume runs into a really cool cast from many areas of Japan with others helping her while she follows the cat which appears on twitter all over the place. The ending of this, which is the first half, could have been where the film ended.
The second half is about fixing this end with a different cast of characters and dynamic until the end which was really good honestly. A really funny sort of road trip that captures what it is like to be stuck in a car with someone you really don’t want to talk to for hours on end. Where is the destination? Where Suzume’s house used to be when she was growing up. Some of the ideas and sort of themes behind the film from the beginning are put into this corner of the film because it does help it reach a really good conclusion that makes the entire film worthwhile. It is just awkwardly placed in there like this group of people in this somewhat cheap and broken car in the rain too as well. But eventually, the car does work in the end after using a lot of tape.
Suzume and Her Great Developing Friendships
This film is great when it comes to characterizing people and even possible life long friendships almost instantly. I love the people that Suzume meets along her way even if everyone seems a little too positive about the fact that this girl is running away from home even if it was for a mission to save Japan. You know what, maybe it is different in Japan. So I can see Suzume and Chika becoming lifelong friends after Chika took her in for the night. The two really hit it off in a way that made a lot of sense. Maybe it was because they were both Juniors in high school. In general, it doesn’t matter.
Then Suzume also really connected with this single mother of two kids, Rumi. Suzume was a complete stranger waiting at a bus stop that a bus wouldn’t appear at for six hours. So Rumi was the kind woman that was returning home and basically going to the same place Suzume was going to stop a door from opening and well, she allowed Suzume to baby sit while she worked downstairs at her bar. Some really cute and yet convenient stuff but the connection also hit there almost instantly too. Same with the young man that knew Souta when he was a human, Serizawa who is very concerned about him because he’s been gone for a long time.
Lastly, there is the core relationship between Suzume and Souta that is the entire backbone of the entire film itself honestly. Maybe a lot more chaste than it could have been because Souta is a chair throughout the whole thing, but it is still very honest. Especially since the two spend a lot of time just being around each other in really bad places like Souta and Suzume sleeping on a deck of a ship or just weird corners of his world. Then we also see how both characters have dreams beyond the current mission they are on or how Souta’s secondary job of literally saving Japan doesn’t pay well and he wants to become a teacher. It is really sweet and just feels so good too.
Suzume and Classic Fantasy Goodness
I miss anime series like this one. How many times recently can you picture in your head a normal character getting caught in a supernatural part of their current world and ending up helping everything? I’m not talking about the isekai series, I’m talking about things like Noragami, Jujutsu Kaisen, Yu Yu Hakusho, and so on where the super natural part of a world is in danger and this normal person is important to saving the entire world? That is Suzume and I really miss stuff like that. No one what Makoto Shinkai puts out is so different from what everyone else puts out these days which helps him to stand out and you know what? I can dig it. It helped connect me to the film a bit more.
Plus, Suzume is a great character for the entire film to build off these sorts of fantasy and emotional things at once. She isn’t a complex character perhaps, but one that feels more and more fleshed out the more the supernatural elements come into play as well as her being housed by normal people in every location too. Especially since Suzume has been in a supernatural world after a massive disaster when she was a kid and it helped separate her from the rest of the world around her since she was young. It only took until she mistakenly forgot to close a door as a Junior in High School for her to realize all of those facts. Her destiny didn’t come into place until it was the right moment for her too.
The Weaker Road Trip
It’s hard to call the after middle section weak at all because if this film was about this roadtrip with these characters, it would have been great. Serizawa, who I mentioned earlier, was the car driver and he constantly tried to keep the mood of the trip positive despite not knowing anyone. Suzume obviously had to be in the car because it was her mission and that makes sense. Then we had Tamaki, Suzume’s aunt, who has worried sick about Suzume since she left her house, has some conflicted feelings about Suzume at this moment, and is going along to make sure Suzume stays safe. The topper of this is the one or two talking cats in the back that the two normal people see as weird but keep going on their trip without questioning it anyway.
So yeah, that in itself sounds funny right? Possibly full of emotion too? Yeah, because it is. The whole thing here for me that makes it stick up as the part that doesn’t belong is because it feels like just one way to get characters from point A to Point B to conclude the film finally. It is awkward that Tamaki is taken over by a dark cat and just shouts her worst feelings about Suzume and her situation and then just cries over it even if that is all true. It feels like this film noticed this fact and made the encounter longer and a bit more enjoyable to flesh it out a bit more but it didn’t work as well as it could have. Possibly needing a few more readings through the script to smooth out this portion in order to make it be more cohesive.
Bringing It Together
I don’t think I have to say anything about the visuals of any Makoto Shinkai film because besides one obvious choice that was when Shinkai was starting out, all of them look great. You can tell when it is one of his films too because of his particular art style and particular aesthetics that he enjoys throughout the film, including some shots of feet. Suzume is much more of that with a lot more locations than his other films because of the nature of it being a road trip movie and needing big locations as well as small locations. The main difference here is that there was a lot more fantastical action animation with fantasy creatures against fantasy creatures. Not something our characters got involved with, but it provided more energy.
As a whole though, I enjoyed this film quite a lot. One thing that I did again this time was not pay attention to any sort of trailer so I could watch it fresh and I feel like it really helped with the whole experience of it. The character writing was fantastic and really held up the film in ways that it probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Especially during the sort of awkward parts that didn’t connect too well. Then I feel like there are some elements the film didn’t have enough time to say anything about like that the nature of a job meant to save the entire nation from this ancient evil doesn’t pay well at all. So a lot of that commentary on older stuff not being as important in these modern times was left behind. It was a busy film with some issues, but it was worth it.
My wife and I went to a Saturday afternoon showing. It had been in the theater for a week, and this showing, there were only 5 people there, including us.
We enjoyed the movie, but it didn’t feel as interesting as “Your Name” or “Weathering with You.” The pacing felt off. I also thought there were too many interesting side stories that just didn’t go anywhere. Maybe if I’d considered it a road trip movie, I would have viewed it differently. In a true road trip movie, the destination doesn’t matter; it is the experiences along the way that we want to see.
It has a lot of plot similarities to the other two movies. I hope Shinkai isn’t going to become a one-trick pony. The age gap between the hero and heroine (17-22) will be slightly problematic with some American audiences. He could as easily have taken his teaching exam and ended up being her teacher the next year.
My personal favorite Shinkai movie remains “The Garden of Words.” It is entirely relationship-driven, and no cataclysms to be fended off.
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The road trip kind of angle was the only way that I could see it because they were stopping from one place to another and meeting all of these interesting individuals. I guess it would make sense that not as many people would go to a theater a week after the hype kind of left.
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