Suzume REVIEW – One Messy Spectacle

Suzume no Tojimari
Suzume no Tojimari

I wish I could give Suzume a perfect score based on ambition alone. The story of a girl traveling with a human-turned-chair across Japan in order to prevent a monster worm from causing massive earthquakes is a peculiar premise, and while the film has its humorous moments, it mostly plays this premise completely straight.

Suzume is a true-blue Makoto Shinkai film, which means it has all of the director’s strengths and weaknesses. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the movie’s biggest strengths is its animation. Suzume is an absolute spectacle. This is a movie you need to see on the big screen — its visual prowess comes at you like a raging bull, many of its scenes leaving your eyes widened and your jaw dropped.

Suzume actually made me especially thankful that 2D animation still remains the standard for Japanese animation, because while 3D-animated films like Lightyear and Strange World are gorgeous in their own right, Suzume achieves beauty in ways only 2D animation can. Some scenes lean more towards 2.5D animation, but even those scenes challenge the supposed limitations of the medium.

Suzume markets itself as a fantasy adventure film, which it is, but parts of it are also a coming-of-age road trip film, resembling something like The Short History of the Long Road. As such, Suzume and her friend-turned-chair travel long distances and meet different people along the way, and the sizeable cast of strangers who help Suzume out all make for really likable characters.

There’s something so warm and cozy about watching Suzume succeed thanks to the kindness of strangers, each filled with plenty of personalities, that spending time with them is a joy. Suzume herself is easy to root for and so is her friend, Sōta — an impressive feat considering how he spends most of the film as a chair.

While Suzume does take its premise seriously, it has enough self-awareness of its bizarreness to sprinkle several funny moments here and there, and I found myself enjoying more belly laughs than I had expected. The jokes never feel mean, either, the film instead pulling its humor from the sheer ridiculousness of going on a road trip with a sentient chair.

Unfortunately, the film also carries with it the biggest problem of a lot of Shinkai’s works — it doesn’t feel like one complete film, but instead three or four different films all stitched together, kind of like the movie version of Frankenstein’s Monster. Five Centimeters per Second had this issue, and so did Your Name, but Suzume is the Shinkai film that suffers from this problem the most.

A third of Suzume is a monster film, another third is a coming-of-age road trip film, and the final third is a fantasy adventure, but the multiple transitions between these three genres often feel rushed and out-of-nowhere. One minute the characters are having a good time and developing their friendships with each other, and the next Suzume and Sōta are rushing and fighting to stop a monster worm from entering the world.

Many times, the pacing feels off, as the monster scenes are all fun and exciting, but without the necessary build-up. This is especially true for the third act, which starts off with heavy tension and high stakes, only for the film to turn into a road trip film again. It really is jarring, and while I could adjust to all the changes in tone the film had to offer, others may not be so lucky.

Still, it’s hard to fault Suzume too much when it’s also so damn refreshing — the film just feels confident, and how could it not, with such gorgeous animation and a proudly bizarre premise?

Makoto Shinkai fans should walk away from this film satisfied, as Suzume carries all the director’s trademark strengths, from its animation to its characters to its humor. Anyone unfamiliar with the director might walk away exhausted, but it’s near impossible to imagine someone walking away without even the slightest sense of awe at the film’s visual marvel.

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Suzume no Tojimari
There are times when Suzume crushes itself under the weight of its own ambition, but when it doesn’t, the film offers endearing characters, good-natured humor, and stunning imagery you can’t (and won’t want to) look away from.