As a huge Makoto Shinkai fan, I took it upon myself over the years to create The Makoto Shinkai Series where I went back and reviewed every film and anime that he either created or had a hand in. With the release of Suzume no Tojimari, it’s about time that I add his latest film to the series!
Suzume is on her way to school one day when she rides past someone on her bike. She is captivated by his looks and slows down. As she passes, the person turns around and asks her if there are any ruins nearby. She gives him directions and heads to school… at least at first. She decides to turn around and follow him to an abandoned town. There, she finds a lone door in the middle of some shallow water. When she opens it, she sees something foreign, yet familiar on the other side of it. She tries to enter but passes straight through to the other side, not really going anywhere. When she realizes it’s futile, she closes the door.
She looks down and sees a small cat-like stone statue. When she picks it up, the ice that surrounds it melts and it turns into a real cat that runs away. Feeling she’s had enough weirdness for one day, she heads back to school. There, she looks out at the mountain and notices a giant red worm-like cloud billowing up from it. Suddenly, she realizes that she is the only person who can see it. While her friends think she’s crazy, she runs out of the school and returns to the abandoned town. There, she finds the boy she passed earlier trying to close the door. She ends up helping him out and they manage to close the door. When they do, the worm explodes into rain.
Soon, the boy learns that Suzume can see the worm and the other side of the doors. He introduces himself as Souta and explains that he is a Closer. It’s his job to make sure that the doors around Japan remain closed. The cat that Suzume picked up was one of the keystones keeping the worm locked inside. Now, they must travel across Japan and shut the remaining doors otherwise a massive catastrophe will occur… there’s only one problem… when the cat pays Suzume and Souta a visit, fuses Souta with a small chair! Suzume must now take on this mission with a talking chair guiding her!
Most of Makoto Shinkai’s characters are flat and one-dimensional; however, that is not the case with Suzume. While she does seem that way at first, as the movie goes on, there are several layers to her. On the one hand, she’s a typical girl who fell in love with Souta, seemingly at first sight. However, when she realizes what she did by opening that door, she is filled with a sense of guilt and responsibility. So much so that she doesn’t think twice about journeying across Japan to close the other doors. As she does, you see that she coupled that sense of duty with a bit of a rebellious phase. Having lost her mother, her aunt took her in but they have a rocky relationship. Her carefree attitude about ditching her shows that they’re not as close as they would seem.
All the while, what she saw on the other side of the door was like a dream she once had. There’s something about what lies beyond that is connected to her in some form… something about a remembrance of the past. Once you come to understand what it is, it takes the form of a lingering regret that ties all of her other emotions together. The depth here exists on a lot of layers but they are all very subtle. As such, they create a well-balanced character that truly shines in the leading role. Honestly… this is probably one of Shinkai’s best main characters to date.
Souta also has a bit of depth to him as well. He starts just being the handsome guy who goes around closing doors; however, when he’s fused with a chair by the cat, you see a few different sides to him. In a way, he almost acts like a big brother to Suzume while never forgetting his sense of duty. He’s also quite fearless by rushing head-first into danger despite being a three-legged chair. However, that fearlessness is only temporary. As the events of the movie unfold, we learn a bit more about Souta, who he truly is, and how he’s just the same as everyone else… minus the whole door-closing side gig.
Without spoiling much, towards the end of the film, Souta finds himself in a rather tough situation and we get to see some of his inner thoughts. The brave face he puts on is simply that… a mask to hide how he truly feels. It’s symbolic of things a lot of people do in everyday life. We all wear our masks so that no one will worry about the things we’re going through and those fears and insecurities that Souta faces are very real. It paints him in a different light… someone you can relate to. His playful side also pairs well with Suzume as he helps keep her in balance. He’s a great accompaniment to her!
I guess we can give the cat a name. Daijin is… well… rather mysterious and outside of being a keystone, I don’t really want to talk much about him as it would spoil a lot of the movie; however, there is a yin/yang effect to him that makes you feel a cornucopia of emotions. I’ll leave it at that but I think there are some misses with this character.
While I understand the reasons behind some of Daijin’s actions, I also don’t understand them at the same time. It wasn’t really explained all too well about Daijin’s motivations for doing the things that he did. When the explanation did some, it felt like a complete 180 was taken for no apparent reason whatsoever. Maybe I’m missing something here but the character just felt incomplete and/or misunderstood. Either way, I think a better job could been done explaining some of the things that happened with him.
The rest of the cast played minor roles with Tamaki Iwato, Suzume’s aunt, having the most prominent impact. Let’s say that taking in Suzume and raising her left her with some regrets which manifest later on in the film. When they do… well… it makes you ask “How?” and “Why?” It is, unfortunately, another thing that the film doesn’t really explain well.
As for the others, we have Minoru who is a co-worker of Tamaki’s who seems to have a crush on her as well as Serizawa, a friend of Souta’s who wants to know where he disappeared. There’s also Rumi who helped Suzume when she was roaming across Japan and sort of takes on a mother role for a short period of time. While they lend some help in their own ways, they are decent gap-filler characters who bridged events when needed but it did make them come off like plot devices more than anything.
Art, Animation, and Sound
What can I say that I haven’t already said about Shinkai’s other films? Every single frame could be a desktop wallpaper. The artwork is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous but… rather than fawn over it… I’m going to offer up a bit of a complaint.
Shinkai needs to do something different. For the past three films, we’ve seen that morning dawn/evening dusk sky one too many times. As always, a train was in it because he loves to use that as symbolism, and we also get very detailed shots of the city… namely Tokyo. While it’s all pretty to look at, it feels like I’m watching the same movie with a different plot. The Garden of Words, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, and Voices of a Distant Star… these films stick out in my head because they all have different settings; however, Your Name, Weathering With You, and Suzume all share common backgrounds, skies, and artwork. Sure, the plots are different, the characters are different, but it’s practically been the same setting over and over again as of late. He needs to return to doing something different and take a chance on his next film.
I get it… it’s pretty to look at but it’s also getting boring.
The animation is top-notch as one would expect from CoMix Wave; however, this time… the soundtrack REALLY stood out! Outside of a RADWIMPS song (to which there was one here, too), the movie’s OST has just been there. This time, I came out of this film with at least three or four tracks stuck in my head. All of these were very driven and emotional pieces that brought you right into the scene and helped you get absorbed into it. It’s probably one of the best soundtracks of any Makoto Shinkai film to date!
I will say that I did enjoy Suzume no Tojimari; however, in typical Makoto Shinkai fashion, there are just some plot holes that hurt this from becoming a masterpiece. I think by now we all know that any film he puts out is going to look fantastic. From an art standpoint, CoMix Wave is incapable of making a bad-looking film so if you’re going to go into this just for the eye candy, you’ll love it but that’s not why we watch movies.
We watch them for the characters and the story and I will commend Shinkai here… these characters, while still grounded, have the most depth that I’ve seen of any of his so far. He really did a great job with them and to show off all of their different sides in such a subtle way takes talent.
The story, on the other hand, was solid. Once again, Shinkai blends reality and fantasy… the real world and science fiction… and wraps a love story inside of it. It’s been his winning formula all this time and the fact that he can keep reinventing it over and over shows that he will always find a way to make the same plot feel fresh.
However, this is also his downfall and his biggest problem. He focuses too hard on maintaining that formula that parts of the story slip through the cracks, don’t get fleshed out as much as they should, and problems arise. This film, sadly, is no exception as the side characters felt like plot devices, and some of the moments were literal plot devices just for the sake of setting up the ending to the film… one of which (that involves Tamaki), came from out of left field with no explanation of how or why it even happened… especially when there was dialogue earlier in the film that explained things. It’s things like that which make you shake your head.
It’s becoming a pattern where you think that Shinkai is going to get it right and with each film that comes out, you see that he does learn from the previous film… but it seems as if he’s only fixing one of the problems, and leaving the rest of them to be fixed in the next film. Better characters are a nice step in the right direction but, Shinkai, my man… fix your plot holes! Tell a more cohesive story!
Despite the issues with the film, from beginning to end, it’s still a good story that will tug at your heartstrings in some places. I am confident that if you watch it, you will find something to enjoy. I remember loving Your Name a lot; however, another film came out in 2006 called A Silent Voice and when I had to pick, I went with A Silent Voice for one simple reason… it was a more complete film.
Shinkai’s movies are all “very good” but they never feel “complete.”
I hope the next time he releases a film, I can come back here and say that it’s about time he learned to pay attention to every detail of his story. We’ll have to see.
If you would like to check out the rest of the Makoto Shinkai Series, check them out below:
Part I: Dareka no Manazashi
Part II: The Garden of Words
Part III: ef – A Tale of Memories
Part IV: ef – A Tale of Melodies
Part V: 5 Centimeters per Second
Part VI: Voices of a Distant Star
Part VII: Children Who Chase Lost Voices
Part VIII: The Place Promised in Our Early Days
Part IX: She and Her Cat
Part X: Your Name
Part XI: Weathering with You
Suzume no Tojimari
Suzume no Tojimari continues the tradition of looking incredible. Makoto Shinkai learned his lesson about adding depth to his characters; however, he still makes the same mistakes when it comes to plot holes in his story.
- Great artwork
- Great main characters
- A good blend of slice-of-life and science fiction
- Phenomenal Soundtrack
- Some characters are obvious plot devices
- Some story plots make no sense or are not explained well enough
- Overall Score