While director Makoto Shinkai has frequently been compared to his more famous contemporary Hayao Miyazaki, the truth of the matter is his films are very different from the director of Spirited Away. While both directors make beautifully animated films that take audiences to another world, Miyazaki tends to create worlds in which he comments on life, war, and family. While it would seem like Shinkai does the same thing, he tends to make films that are grounded in reality in which fantastical and spiritual forces force themselves upon the real work. Shinkai is also commenting on the world’s state of affairs, yet his films are self-aware enough to understand that magical forces are unnatural.

With his previous film – Weathering with You – he crafted a love story that commented on the threat of global warming while wrapping it in a love story between two teenagers. With that film there is still some debate if the ending was a forced happy ending or a sad commentary on the youth’s concerns about the issues of the world at large. In Suzume, Shinkai is not only addressing a topic that has likely been weighing heavy on his heart since he released Your Name, but he may also even be expressing some survivor’s guilt.

What is the Story of Suzumi?


Suzume revolves around a teenage girl named Suzumi who discovers a single door in the middle of an abandoned building. She opens the door not realizing what she is doing and soon notices that there are Earthquakes popping up as a result of a dimension worm exiting the door, with a sole college-aged boy trying to close it. With her help, the door is closed, but Suzumi is told that there are other dimensional doors that will be opening, and they all must be re-closed and re-sealed, or else destruction will reign on the people in those cities.

It should be noted that all these doors are in Japan, leading to the real-world event that inspired everything. Before that becomes obvious though, another creator that escaped the door is a white cat named Daijin, who turns the young man – Souta – into a children’s chair and hopes to “play” with Suzume for a bit. This leads to a cross-country journey where Suzume and Souta must save the world from dimension-hopping worms while also facing down demons from the past.

The Tsunami Connection


While this may be considered a spoiler to an extent, those who follow Japanese culture will start to realize that many of the images and events that wreak havoc on the characters in Suzume are eerily similar to the Tonoku earthquake and tsunami, which hit Japan on March 11th, 2011. For those unaware, on March 11th a massive earthquake triggered a tsunami in Tonoku, Japan, which left thousands of people dead and many buildings destroyed. If you look up the footage of the tsunami on YouTube you can’t help but feel queasy at viewing the powerful wave wash through buildings, cars, and people.

Many family members lost their lives that day, and that includes the characters in this movie. Suzume herself is an orphan who lives with her aunt because her mom died twelve years ago. When you look at the date of when her mom died with the knowledge that Suzume’s mom is a nurse, and you have a very clear picture of what happened to break up her family. While Suzume is an overall happy girl, she does have a strong sense of survivor’s guilt, where she wonders why her mom is gone, and she’s not, while she also wonders if her presence at her aunt’s house caused her to miss out on the prime years of her life while she was taking care of a child she never asked to raise.

For the past several years Makoto Shinkai has seemed obsessed with natural disasters and how those who survive reacted to these acts of God. Shinkai himself was quoted of the event:

When I saw the city that had been swept by the tsunami, I couldn’t help but feel its beauty. There was nothing, and I felt it was beautiful. Of course, the scenery before me was also terribly cruel and horrifying. Just to imagine being there made my body tremble. But human beings are that kind of living creature who can’t help but feel beauty in every landscape with light from the sun, shining and creating shadows.

Before the 2011 tsunami, Shinkai made movies about purpose in life and the human connection with films like The Place Promised in Our Early Days and The Garden of Words. Now he is aware of not only how fragile life is, but how fragile our planet is, and how Mother Nature having one bad day can change the course of many lives forever. These are concerns he has as a survivor, and his imagination brings those concerns to life beautifully.



Even if one is unaware of the circumstances that inspired Shinkai, Suzume is a magical film with a lot of heart and a real emotional punch. The animation is some of the finest ever seen on a big screen and a human heartbeat pulse through the characters and their relationships. It works as an adventure film, a romance, and a tear-jerking drama. With a family-friendly PG rating, this is a great option for families who have already seen The Super Mario Bros. Movie and may be looking for a movie to watch that has a bit more substance to it. Suzume not only has that substance, but it may also even be more visually appealing than the movie about the plumber brothers as well.

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