Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Suzume (2023) dir. Makoto Shinkai

A chair-raising tale from one of anime's recent auteurs


Director Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, Weathering with You) loves a select few things: the rain, the sky, McDonald’s product placement, and love itself. His latest film, Suzume, has all of those things, but the man has tamped down his most out-of-control impulses I was worried he could no longer do. Weathering saw him doubling down on everything that made Your Name a success to the point of exhaustion; Suzume manages to tell a similarly apocalyptic tale with a gentler, cartoonier touch. We don’t even get a Radwimps song until the credits!

Like most anime protagonists, Suzume is a 17-year-old high school student living in a small town on Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. When biking to school one day, she encounters a mysterious long-haired man, asking her if there are any abandoned buildings nearby. She answers, goes on her way, realizes that may have been weird, and decides to track him down. In the abandoned part of town she discovers a door standing on its own that seems to connect to another world, though she cannot pass through. While investigating the door, she knocks loose a cat statue, which promptly comes to life and runs away. When she returns to school, she sees what appears to be an enormous worm in the sky rising from the door, though no one else seems to notice. When she runs back to the door, she aids the man in sealing it shut, preventing the release of this worm. Suzume takes the injured man back to her house, where he tells her his name is Souta. Before we can learn much more about this supernatural event, the cat appears and traps Souta’s soul in Suzume’s childhood chair.

He is now a chair. He’s a chair that’s running around town chasing a cat onto a ferry, and Suzume has no choice but to follow. What follows is a road movie with gorgeous animation as always, albeit one with an assault of proper nouns. It’s easy to get lost in the heady lore setting up this conflict, but the fact that it’s all coming out of a talking chair with a missing leg helps. The cat, now called Daijin, is going viral on social media, a digital breadcrumb trail for Suzume and Souta to follow. Daijin, while cute, seems to be something of a menace, leading the girl and her chair to more doors and more worms across the entire country. Suzume meets plenty of friendly faces along the way, gaining an understanding of the world outside her town and some cute Uniqlo outfits. Like Suzu in Belle, Suzume is voiced by a first-time performer (Nanoka Hara), a strategy that’s working really well for anime. Any naturalism is appreciated when penis-like worms are spinning above Tokyo. 

It’s not hard to see what this film is really about. Suzume lost her mother in the 2011 earthquake, while Daijin warns that the release of the Tokyo worm could result in destruction on the level of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. We see the removal of toxic soil from one of the door’s abandoned hiding places. Souta’s family has worked for generations to minimize human suffering, but there will always be trauma. The trick is not losing yourself in the process, or being turned into a chair. Shinkai emphasizes the importance of human connection in all his films, and Suzume is no different. Our protagonist is getting dragged along by supernatural mishaps, but she won’t let these things destroy her or Souta. While the idea of the talking chair may seem a step too far for some, I promise leaning in is worth the journey.

Dir. Makoto Shinkai
122 min

Opens Friday 4/14 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

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