“Suzume” in the cinema: alarm sirens in fairyland – culture

Maybe coming here was a mistake after all. The 17-year-old schoolgirl with long, dark hair secretly followed a strange young man this morning. He had asked her for directions to a deserted part of town, now she is here, but the mysterious stranger is nowhere to be seen. So Suzume walks around in her school uniform between the abandoned houses, restaurants and shops until she comes to the remains of a swimming pool. There is a door in the middle of a round pool, the wall in which it was located is no longer there.

Beyond is a view of another world: grassy hills under a starry night sky. The girl cannot enter this scene – but something can leave her. A gigantic worm wriggles through the door in Suzume’s world, higher and higher, up to the clouds, then crashes down to earth. Only she can see the worm, but everyone else feels the shock of the impact. Earthquake warnings appear on mobile phone displays.

For the Japanese, these images and processes – the alarm sirens, the search for protection, the number of deaths on television – are part of a collective memory of pain. The homeland of Makoto Shinkai, the director of “Suzume”, is hit by earthquakes about 1500 times a year due to its special geographical position on four tectonic plates.

“The weight of human feelings” is stifling the country, says the young man

It is this pain, the fear of nature, that Makoto Shinkai explores again and again in his anime films. In his world hit “Your Name” (2016) a comet raced towards the earth, in “Weathering with You” (2019) the weather is getting out of control. He depicts these catastrophes in a genre-typical way, colorful and with fantastical elements; However, Shinkai repeatedly emphasizes that his films are inspired by today’s urban Japan be inspired. And there nature is extremely present as a danger. Less than 15 years have passed since the Fukushima tsunami, which claimed the lives of around 20,000 people.

In “Suzume Shinkai touches the tragedy concretely for the first time. The one that was triggered by an earthquake tsunami also rolled over the life of its protagonist when she was still a child. “The weight of human feelings” suffocates the land, says Sōta, the strange young man she followed into the ruins. Suzume and he go together to prevent more earthquakes.

More magical portals will soon appear in ruined cities. Sōta, as the “closer”, is responsible for sealing them and thereby preventing the worm from invading the mortal world. But then the young man is transformed from a talking cat into a yellow talking baby chair. Destined to save the country, the male hero now needs the help of a seventeen-year-old girl. He needs someone to carry him.

Shinkais Movie is an ambitious undertaking – and he doesn’t always succeed in combining the numerous motifs and levels of allusion, the different pitches of fairy tale and genre film into a harmonious picture: talking furniture, talking animals, a “Sailor Moon”-like glitter key, a worm-like deity and over and over Japanese hits. “Suzume” is a film that wants to be many things at the same time.

The pictorial compositions, however, are lovingly detailed, the dialogues exude a cheerful innocence. The story also takes seriously the small disasters and distractions in a young person’s life. The lightness they create is sorely needed on this journey into Japan’s national pain.

It ends with breath-taking images: a burning Japanese city in the in-between world beyond the portals, home of the worm. Anyone who was socialized in the Christian culture may see hell here. For the Japanese, on the other hand – similar to the natural disasters in Shinkai’s films – it should represent something concrete, taken from the real world: the firebolts that tore them in two. Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The art lies in this simultaneity: a young woman who struggles with death and loss, and who occasionally flirts with a talking chair. Life is just chaotic. Even more so when you’re young.

suzume, Japan 2022 – Written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. Animation: Masayoshi Tanaka, Takumi Tanji, Ken’ichi Tsuchiya. Wild book, 122 minutes. Theatrical release: Theatrical release: March 13, 2023.

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