Makoto Shinkai’s ‘Suzume’ Brings Everyone Along For A Quaking Ride Across Japan

The tune from “Sky Over Tokyo” by RADWIMPS echoes and pauses every few seconds like an alarm as a maroon worm emerges from the underground station. It coils like a suffocating ceiling, ready to crush the city and unleash disaster.

“Suzume no Tojimari” is a Japanese animated fantasy adventure film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, director of “Your Name” (2016) and “Weathering With You” (2019). Released in the U.S. on April 14, the film explores Shinkai’s fresh take on the formation of earthquakes through the transcending love story of 17-year-old Suzume Iwato and university student Sōta Munakata. The pair work together to close doors from which the worm exits, so that citizens can stay unharmed. However, during this process, the two characters face curses, tormenting memories, and sacrifices.

Similar to road movies such as “Nomadland” (2020) and “Rain Man” (1988), “Suzume” takes the audience on a tour around Japan’s rural areas, especially lesser-known gems based on real-life locations. For example, Shinkai took inspiration from the Bungo Mori Roundhouse in Oita to create the old onsen resort at the beginning of the film. As Suzume and Sōta go from place to place, their relationship develops and eventually, they reach Tokyo. This repeated motif of two young adults taking care of each other while going on an adventure is Shinkai’s signature theme and distinguishes his films from others.

A main reason for Shinkai’s success is his masterful attention to detail in his animation. Not long after Suzume met Sōta, Sōta was transformed into a chair by the mischievous “keystone” Daijin. Shinkai is able to go past the limit of a chair’s appearance and expressionless nature, using movements to match with the voiceover perfectly. Apart from that, he manipulates color palettes to convey different emotions and intensity. In order to give a sense of mystery and serenity to the “Ever-After” — a world where time converges — Shinkai uses deep blue and purple tones.

In terms of character development, Shinkai could have fleshed out each of their personalities and motives with more plot variations. Instead of going over the same door-closing procedures for every location, the characters could have interacted more. More information could have been given, especially about the two “keystones” because it is unclear whether they are helping the protagonists or not.

Another flaw of this film would be the large expanse of themes it put focus on. The function of the “Ever-After” is overly complicated as it could be a sacred haven for the dead, house for the earthquake worm, and meeting point of all time periods. This leads to digressions from the main plotline and gives more opportunities for others to question the story.

Overall, Shinkai came up with an ambitious theory of the origin of earthquakes, and combined the theory with a pure, feel-good romance. The cohesiveness of his art and directing style across films gives people a strong impression of him as a filmmaker. If you are interested in Japanese culture or simply wanting a stress-relief activity, then watching “Suzume” is a great option. “Suzume” receives a 4 out of 5 stars for its grippingly innovative central idea and its extraordinary animation.