Suzume Review: A Beautiful Yet Busy Story of Love and Grief

Animation offers everyone a chance to visit worlds they've never imagined, and director Makoto Shinkai excels are building those wondrous places. From Your Name to Weathering With You, the Japanese director has made a name for himself with his world-building. Suzume marks Shinkai's latest attempt to take moviegoers on a trip to a sun-kissed world filled with romance and melodrama. To very little surprise, Shinkai succeeds with Suzume even when its magical tale strays off the beaten path.

Suzume follows in the vein of Shinkai's most recent films as the otherworldly drama brings romance and adventure to its forefront. We meet a high school student named Suzume who lives a quiet life in Kyushu with her aunt before life turns upside down. After meeting a mysterious boy looking for a door, Suzume learns her new friend Sota is hunting for a dangerous portal that could spell humanity's demise. The pair's fates become intertwined when Sota's journey is derailed by a cat who turns him into a rickety chair, and Suzume must help this stranger save the world.

In many ways, Shinkai's new film will feel incredibly familiar. It follows the same narrative beats as Your Name as two young adults are forced together in a crisis. With destiny hanging heavy from their shoulders, our two protagonists team up to save the other, and we freely admit Shinkai has nailed this sort of arc. Suzume is like a breath of clear air as her headstrong spirit will no doubt endear fans. She is a challenging compliment to Sota's stubbornness, and this makes their journey all the more delicious.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Suzume's story comes in its poignant approach to the past. Suzume wants to look to the future just the same as Sota, but things like their heritage or trauma keep them anchored. Shinkai approaches these two characters carefully as grief guides their paths. Suzume is filled with subtle visuals which draw these heroes back into the past. As the story moves forward, we watch Suzume and Sota unlock the doors keeping them trapped, and Shinkai does this all with sweeping visuals.

After all, Suzume is a Shinkai film; There was never a doubt it would be a feast for the eyes. The director is a master at bringing the real world into animation and somehow heightening it. Food looks better, tears taste saltier, and love feels richer here in Suzume. The film is sensory overload in the most gorgeous way, and it certainly helps bridge the gap where Suzume's story is concerned.

At times, Suzume falls victim to its own world-building as it tries to fit too much in. The film wants viewers to focus on its protagonists and their journey forward, but one too many side characters get in the way. The juggling Suzume does with its characters gets rather frustrating at points, especially as the movie enters its final act. It is hard to be too upset given how gorgeous Suzume looks even when wasting time. Still, there is certainly some fat Suzume could have trimmed to keep its juicy narrative better focused.

Despite its bloated plot, Suzume manages to instill the kind of wonder that Shinkai made famous in Your Name. Its animation is second to none as expected, and Suzume's thoughtful handling of grief will no doubt leave many fans in tears. This gorgeous film is another worthy addition to Shinkai's portfolio. Suzume's heart is hard to miss even through its busy storylines.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars 

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