“Suzume”, the trauma of the tsunami revisited by Makoto Shinkai

February 23, 2023 by No Comments


by Makoto Shinkai

Japanese animated film, 2:02

(Released in theaters on April 12)

What secrets hide behind a door? This crossing point between the everyday and the intimate is often used in the cinema to embody the transgression of a taboo, the approach of a threat or the crossing into a parallel world. This is the case in susumethe latest animated feature film from anime star Makoto Shinkai, whose last three films (susume included) each attracted more than ten million viewers to Japanese theaters.

In competition at the Berlinale, where it was screened on Thursday February 23, susume owes its title to the first name of its heroine, a jovial 17-year-old girl raised by her aunt since the disappearance of her parents in her early childhood. Suzume meets one morning, on the way to high school, a handsome stranger looking for an old disused factory.

Curious, she decides to follow him and discovers, in the middle of the ruins, a dilapidated door similar to the one she had seen, in a dream, the previous night. Its opening unleashes supernatural elements capable of triggering formidable earthquakes. The young man, apprentice guardian of these divine forces, will then take him in pursuit of a mischievous spirit having taken on the appearance of an adorable kitten, determined to open other doors in the four corners of the country…

His most successful film, the least “blue flower”

susume uses the recipes that made Makoto Shinkai so successful. Chronicler of adolescent malaise, this 49-year-old filmmaker seeks to sublimate his country’s concerns and traumas through his romances: climate change in children of time (2019) or the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Your Name (2016) and, therefore, susume.

Undoubtedly the most successful, the least “blue flower” of his films, susume approaches his subject in a less allegorical and twisted way than his previous works. True to form, he meticulously and explicitly reconstructs the scene of the disaster, between razed villages and anti-tsunami wall, which he films not without a certain emotion, abandoning spectacular camera movements during earthquake sequences .

Japanese daily life is also shown in such a realistic way that the film seems to have first been shot in live action, the director playing on staging and editing effects (accelerated, halos of light in the objective) that we see more often in American comedic dramas.

Prince Charming transformed into a wobbly chair…

Despite these formal mannerisms, there are pretty ideas in the film and its underlying theme, the work of mourning: in order to close the famous doors, Suzume must know how to hear the voices of those who have visited the place…

Animated series: from “Harlock” to “Attack on Titan”, the transmission of an imaginary world

Often funny, the scenario does not hesitate to stage earthy characters, possessive aunt or fellow gambler, or to manhandle the classic figures of the romances that Makoto Shinkai likes. The “Prince Charming” is thus transformed from the first quarter of an hour, into a wobbly child’s chair galloping behind the mysterious feline.

Multiplying nods to his masters (Miyazaki is the name of the town where Suzume lives) and his own films, the Japanese director delivers here a kind of synthesis of his cinema and his sources of inspiration. But where Hayao Miyazaki celebrated group mutual aid as the only recourse in the face of threat, Makoto Shinkai conveys a much more individualistic vision of the world. To collective impulses, he prefers those of the heart to heal the wounds of the past.


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