Mysterious doors and empty Japanese villages in 'Suzume'

A scene from director Makoto Shinkai's ″Suzume″ [TOHO CINEMA]

“Suzume” is a masterful fantasy animation about a young girl who discovers mysterious doors that lead to unexpected places in Japan.

Makoto Shinkai, the maestro behind “5 Centimeters per Second” (2007), “Your Name” (2016) and “Weathering With You” (2019), has directed another powerful film with a slightly different narrative approach from his previous works.

A heartwarming film with a message of healing amid a story of spectacular adventure, “Suzume” shows that there is no right answer on how to heal, but that some wounds can only be healed by facing them head-on.

“Suzume” begins with Suzume Iwato, a 17-year-old girl living in a quiet village in Japan. She meets Sota Munukata, a young man traveling in search of a mysterious gate.

Suzume follows Sota and finds an old gate in the ruins of a mountain. When she opens it out of curiosity, a disaster threatens Suzume’s village. She helps Sota close the gate to end the disaster and travels around Japan to stop the harm from spreading to different parts of the country. In the process, Suzume comes face to face with a forgotten childhood memory.

As the film follows Suzume and Sota on their journey, the narrative travels to spaces abandoned and devastated by natural disasters and offers a message of comfort to those who live with scars. Using the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 as a central event, the film dynamically unfolds as Suzume confronts and overcomes her own trauma.

Shinkai’s vibrant colors and cinematography are also particularly striking in “Suzume.” Shinkai’s love for people and life itself is evident in his delicate yet strong compositions and the warm colors that permeate the screen. The soundtrack also stands out with addictive and dreamy melodies.

“Suzume” was conceived as a project while Shinkai was traveling around Japan to give talks about his past works, according to the director in an interview with Nikkei Asia. Due to Japan’s aging population and dropping birth rate, more locations were becoming vacant or abandoned, so Shinkai had the idea to write a narrative about “mourning deserted places.”

“I felt that I should express the impact I felt through the large earthquakes and tsunamis, instead of continuing to depict them as metaphors,” Shinkai told local reporters in Japan upon the release of “Suzume” in Japan in December last year.

The team behind “Suzume” had planned the project from January to March 2020, according to press releases and local reports from Japan. Because the project process coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, Shinkai said in an interview with TV Asahi that the production for “Suzume” was “less tangible,” but that “the mood of the times is indelibly etched into the script."

“Suzume” opens in theaters in Korea on March 8.