Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

Review: ‘Suzume no Tojimari,’ grab a tissue for the waterworks

By Billy Huang and Isla Seitz, April 25, 2023

Makoto Shinkai released his latest work “Suzume no Tojimari” April 14, opening the audience’s eyes to the life of a 17-year-old schoolgirl in rural Japan to anime fans all over the world.   

Based on a magnitude 9.1 earthquake that shook the entire country and killing almost 20,000 people on March 11, 2011, Suzume Iwato (Nanoka Hara) was seen living through the disaster. As a result, she lost her mother at the age of four to what is known today as the “Great East Japan Earthquake.” 

With a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and just one week of being in American theaters, the film was ranked the fourth highest-grossing Japanese film of all time and can most notably be compared to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli co-founder, who produced top-grossing Japanese movies like “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.” 

In the film, Suzume is seen biking down the usual hill that takes her to school. On this particular day, a dashing young man known as Sota Munakata (Hokuto Matsumura) passes by asking if she has seen a door in an abandoned ruin. 

In an attempt to follow a cute boy and see what he’s really up to, Suzume decides to skip class to chase Sota down. While doing so, she accidentally stumbles across a door in the center of a ruin that resembles what he was describing, and unknowingly releases the keystone that was used to lock the door in place.  

We then meet Daijin (Ann Yamane) — the keystone Suzume accidentally releases — the adorable Twitter-trending Cat-God everyone thought would be the main antagonist of the movie. However, as the movie progresses, Daijin shows himself to be Suzume’s guardian angel, leading her to where she needs to be to close the doors and return the land to its original guardian spirit. 

Releasing the keystone was a significant part of the story as it meant that the “worm,” which is a cursed god in the after-life realm capable of unleashing catastrophic earthquakes, was able to escape into the human realm.  

In Japan, it is believed the original guardian spirit of the land, Ubusunagami, watches over the land and provides protection to those who were born there from birth to death. Due to growing concerns of the decreasing Japanese population, Shinkai wanted to portray how the Japanese citizens have moved from rural areas into metropolitan cities, leaving behind these forgotten ruins.  

Shinkai also tried to use the title of the movie, “Suzume no Tojimari,” which directly translates to “Suzume’s locking up.” While the motion of shutting up doors is shown repeatedly throughout the movie, he is also trying to portray Suzume’s traumatic past as she tries to lock and suppress those memories. 

Using beautifully drawn sceneries that perfectly encapsulates Shinkai’s own unique art style, he was able to convey many messages in the movie including common Japanese people’s fear of death, natural disasters and chronic loneliness — emotions that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.  

Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

On her journey traveling to the afterlife once again as a 17-year-old, Suzume courageously helped Sota defeat the worm, while also coming back full circle to find out what had really happened to her 4-year-old self. Throughout the entire movie, the audience followed Suzume to find out about herself and her past, and by the end, there was an overwhelming feeling of relief and happiness when she finally accepted the loss of her mother.  

Shinkai’s work unlocked the door to millions of people’s hearts with his amazing storytelling techniques. His gift for relating real-life experiences, incorporating many elements of Japanese folklores and cultural references into his films, Suzume will without a doubt become another classic in the anime world.  

Like his other recent works “Your Name” and “Weathering With You,” there seems to be a common theme of relaying fears of common natural disasters and apocalyptic events in people’s minds that tie in with Japanese folklores and the lives of Japanese people. All three films spoke on how real the possibilities of these events occurring in the future, while metaphorically referring to the youth as saviors of the world that can make a difference. 

For fans of Shinkai’s work, this movie is a must watch. He can move his audience through a rollercoaster of emotions and is fluent in relaying specific messages through his films. Even if you are not an anime fan, “Suzume no Tojimari” will evoke your emotions through an action, drama and romance packed story. The realistic animations were truly captivating as the glimmering waters and beautiful landscape transported viewers into the heart of Japan. 

“Suzume no Tojimari” is rated PG and is now available in U.S. movie theaters and will be available on streaming services in late May.  

Feature image courtesy of Lauren Wong

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