Suzume no Tojimari is, at its core, the story of a little girl on a literal journey to overcome a deeply ingrained pain that she shares with a large percentage of Japan. Suzume survived the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. Her mother, on the other hand, did not. Though she looks to be a regular, cheerful adolescent, this is her mask—her defense against the outside world. Suzume doesn’t let anyone in, not even her school pals or the aunt she’s lived with for a decade. Sure, because of the distance she’s constructed, she’ll never be as hurt as she was when her mother died, but she’ll never completely heal.
Despite the fact that this film is about deep-seated emotional agony, it is a hopeful story. Suzume is repeatedly forced to rely on the kindness of complete strangers during her travels. Despite not knowing each other, they open their homes and hearts to her each time.
At the same time, her bond with the chair-ified Souta deepens as he is forced to rely on her to get them where they need to go. Fighting mystical powers that no one else is aware of strengthens their bond, unlike any she has had since her mother’s death. The longer they travel together, the more she fears losing him. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that being separated from his body isn’t good for him. And, all too soon, she is forced to confront loss once more—this time of her mother’s and possibly Souta’s.
Suzume no Tojimari has the same three-act format as writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s previous films, your name and weathering the storm with you. The first act introduces the supernatural and includes a lot of lighter humour. The second act becomes increasingly serious as a major threat is revealed—and presumably resolved. The third and final act is then devoted coping with the second act’s unanticipated ramifications and disclosures, with our hero struggling to reclaim what has been lost.
While this structure results in a strong picture full of surprises, it is also predictable. If you’ve seen your name. and Weathering With You, you know exactly where this picture is heading at any given time—even if the story details change. This, in turn, dampens the film’s emotional impact, which is a shame because the film’s bread and butter is playing on your emotions.
While the film’s framework is similar to Shinkai’s prior works, there is one big variation that significantly alters how the viewer interacts with the picture. There is no true villain in your name and Weathering With You —unless catastrophic disasters and faceless gods are villains.
Suzume no Tojimari, on the other hand, features Daijin as its antagonist. While Daijin is a cat, the fact that it can be communicated with as well as confronted adds a whole new element to the plot. What exactly is Daijin? Why is it so preoccupied with Suzume? What caused it to transform Souta into a chair? Why is it going from door to door across the country? All of these questions have clear answers—at least, as long as Daijin addresses them. As a result, Daijin assists to bring the plot into sharper perspective. It’s a goal, an opponent, and a mystery all rolled into one—and it keeps the tale moving when things become too slow.
Suzume no Tojimari makes wonderful use of light and color throughout, notably in the world on the other side of the door, which has a visual paradox of both sunlight and a star-filled sky. With one major exception, the film looks just as good as you’d expect from a Makoto Shinkai film. Unlike the other creatures in the film, the eldritch entity Suzume sees in Tokyo appears to be a cheap CG effect slapped over otherwise good animation and integrated poorly. It clashes so violently that it detracts from what should be one of the film’s most pivotal, emotional scenes. Fortunately, this is the one aesthetic flaw in an otherwise gorgeous animated film.
The music in the film lives up to the high standards set by Makoto Shinkai’s previous works. The music is once again primarily written by the band RADWIMPS, albeit it is more haunting and mysterious than the alt-rock they’re known for. This is most evident in the film’s main recurring song, ” Suzume “, which features mostly strings, piano, and percussion—along with a backup chorus providing as an additional instrument to guest singer Toka’s withering vocals. It’s an earworm if there ever was one, and it perfectly complements the film’s alien tone.
Overall, Suzume no Tojimari is a terrific film. The narrative features wonderful characters and is designed to make you laugh and cry. It’s a strong exploration of coming to terms with loss and learning to let people in. The graphics are beautiful, and the music is equally so. If the film has one flaw, it is that it follows in the footsteps of its famous siblings and Weathering With You a touch too closely—to the point where the film becomes more predictable. Having said that, it’s difficult not to be swept up in this film’s cyclone of spectacle and passion towards the end.
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