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REVIEW: Makoto Shinkai film ‘Suzume’ faces Japan’s collective grief head on

By Jerald Uy Published Mar 27, 2023 9:30 pm

Through the years, celebrated animator Makoto Shinkai has touched on different facets of love.

While he only appeared on the radar of the general movie-going public with the 2016 hit Your Name and its companion movie Weathering With You in 2019—both featuring pairs going against time, space, and tempests, Makoto previously helmed a heart-wrenching love story in 2007’s 5 Centimeters Per Second and an unlikely friendship between a student and his teacher in 2013’s The Garden of Words. It’s only fitting then that his latest film Suzume carries a different message—dealing with Japan’s collective grief a decade after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. 

Like the two films prior, Suzume’s plot revolves around a supernatural creature: a worm that causes earthquakes based on the mythological catfish Namazu. It’s up to the teenage girl Suzume (Nanoka Hara) and an aspiring teacher Sōta (Hokuto Matsumura), who turned into her favorite chair, to chase the cat, Daijin, across Japan. Apparently, doors are opening at Daijin’s every stop—or so it seems. Let’s say for most parts of the movie, you’d hate felines. 


This road trip film takes viewers to three of the four major islands of Japan, starting from the southernmost Kyushu, where Suzume was taken in by her aunt after the earthquake killed her mother. It then highlights the people, the culture, and even the abandoned places in utter disarray. Beyond a lesson in geography, it revisits how Japanese society needed to move on after every tragedy.

Metaphorically, Suzume is also trying to recover her hazy memories with her mother. Her mom’s last gift—a child’s chair with a missing leg—is now embodied literally by Sōta. A minor spoiler: When she shouts that she loves him, I surmise that Suzume is also pertaining to her deceased mother and everything the chair stood for. This rationalizes my disbelief that Suzume fell in love with a man in just a matter of days.


Suzume is also representative of every individual who was greatly affected by the events of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The movie can be more cathartic to Japanese audiences who lived through the cataclysm. Filipinos might also find it relatable, with us being located likewise on the Pacific Ring of Fire. 

Your head might also hurt if you’d try to figure out the third act. You might have noticed Shinkai’s fascination with time travel in Your Name, where events are not fixed and can still be altered. In Suzume, a time paradox exists and will have viewers asking a chicken-and-egg question after exiting the cinema. Make sure to consult a nerdy sci-fi friend.

Given that the story centers on natural disasters, the animation is riddled with breathtaking backgrounds, scenic shots, and dazzling cityscapes that looked like they were plucked from a travel magazine. Shinkai knows how to visually add depth to a wonderful script.

Suzume deals with Japan’s collective grief a decade after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Shinkai’s musical collaborator RADWIMPS is also back for the official soundtrack but the band’s music is now more subdued compared to what they contributed for Your Name and Weathering With You. It also did not have trademark music video openings.

While the actor who voiced Taki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, joined the cast for a different character, Suzume did not show cameos of characters from the previous films. This is a good thing anyway as the solid story of Suzume does not need to rely on any fan service. It does destroy the fan theory of Mitsuha’s red ribbon from Your Name as it is a part of Suzume’s school uniform.

Yet still, Suzume is enchanting and heartbreaking enough to look deep into the feelings of loss and grief. They say people mourn differently, and this is how Japan does it. 

Suzume is now showing in Philippine cinemas.