So last month we were invited to attend a screening of Suzume at London's BFI South Bank cinema, with the director Makoto Shinkai himself in attendance. We've covered the Q&A here, so let's concentrate on the film proper which is in cinemas from today.
Mild spoilers follow:
Teenage Suzume lives with her aunt Tamaki in a small coastal town. On the way to school, she meets a stranger named Souta, the image of whom tugs at her memory. She directs him to a ruined area he is looking for, then, at school Suzume can see smoke in the distance - coincidentally spewing from the very location she sent Souta, though none of her friends seem able to see dense smoke spiralling into the air.
Racing from school to the derelict area, Suzume opens a mysterious door which leads to very unfortunate circumstances - a glimpse of the past, disturbing a mischievous godly cat which in itself leads causes Souta some considerable misfortune. Once Souta has been given time to explain the situation to a thoroughly confused Suzume, the race is on to catch the cat that's opening more doors and putting the world at risk. Thus she embarks on a journey across Japan with a hobbling Souta – a Closer of doors – to lock away one mystical door at a time.
Joining Suzume on her journey is a three-legged chair she had as a child. Having become animated by the mystical events surrounding her, Suzume and her three-legged friend leave her bewildered and worried aunt behind. This deficiency of a single leg is a stroke of genius, forcing him to skitter along absurdly. It's a great way to introduce an element of slapstick to the proceedings, with the stakes being incredibly high, watching a three-legged chair stumbling around trying to control events is absolutely riotous, yet underscored with genuine danger and emotion. It's both heroic and ridiculous at the same time and even an old cynic like me finds it charming. Oh, yes, Shinkai is no fool, he walked into the Q&A after with a replica of the chair. He knows how to entertain an audience, to win them over with the smallest of things. More so for making no mention of it.
Being a Shinkai film of course we cannot avoid mentioning that it looks beautiful, but that to me is the tip of the iceberg because for all that it accomplishes visually, it’s a feast of emotion and the humour underpinning the feature that makes it so meaningful. If the animation and direction weren't enough to make your head spin, the soundtrack, yet another collaboration with Radwimps, is absolutely on par with any of their previous work too. In all it comes together to be the sum of its parts and more besides, possibly the film that most readily relates to the soul of its director to date.
As much as Shinkai may want people to stop saying he’s the next or the new Miyazaki, he is arguably very much the spiritual successor. It feels to me that the comparison really should be about how they as artists are able to transcend the medium.
Shinkai doesn’t need to try and be anything other than himself.