Reviews TV + Movies

Suzume Review: An (Almost Lesbian) Epic Road Trip Traversing Love And Loss Through Japan

Even though Suzume is an absolutely epic movie centering the old ‘boy meets girl’ trope, it would have worked wonders as a lesbian romance.

Makoto Shinkai is no stranger to weaving mesmerizing epic love stories situated in Japan, having created the massively successful anime movies Your Name in 2016 and Weathering With You (2019). Suzume is along the same lines as it follows Suzume, our protagonist, trying to stop earthquakes from happening while facing some sinister forces. Following critical acclaim and much love from audiences, Suzume is already one of the most successful anime movies of all time.

An Almost Lesbian Romance

Even though Suzume is an absolutely epic movie centering the old ‘boy meets girl’ trope, it would have worked wonders as a lesbian romance. Shinkai, the everything-person behind the movie, recently discussed how it was supposed to be a lesbian romance. He said, “Personally, because I have done that so many times, I pivoted. I wanted to pivot to a more sisterhood type of romantic story, but I had to change that because my producer said, ‘You may be tired of these romantic stories, but your audience loves it.’ So in order to not make it too much of a romance, I decided to make her primary interest a chair.”

This experience only points to the marketability of so-called heterosexual romances and how the people who hold power in the film industry prevent narratives that are more inclusive. Shinkai also said that the movie is more about Suzume than about heterosexual romance so that should be the focal point. However, given that Shinkai’s 2016 film Your Name featured a body swap trope between the male and the female lead, there is much to play around gender and sexuality with his films. Hopefully, that will be taken up in future films.

Fantasy Elements and Rich Lore

The geography of Japan makes it susceptible to earthquakes too often and the movie makes use of this phenomena by giving it a fantasy-based angle. The primary plot of the movie is about closing mysterious gates from another world, which, if open for too long, unleashe a worm that will wreak havoc through earthquakes. As the movie progresses, we see the protagonists go from one gate to another till they reach a point where they have to make the ultimate sacrifice or release an earthquake of a magnitude that will destroy the earth. It is a commentary on growing capitalism as all the gates are in places like abandoned schools or amusement parks, where people and their memories and their hearts do not reside anymore.

The beauty of the majestic scene where the characters have to deal with difficult choices cannot be described in words. The haunting score only adds to the chase and to the sense that time is running out. This is a theme persistent in all Shinkai movies, where a choice has to be made that will alter the course of the lives of our beloved characters – supplemented by a choice that’s rooted in sacrifice of love. There’s a certain sense of excitement to see how far Suzume will go for love, and love here isn’t at all in the conventional sense. It’s situated in the sense of family, within the intimacy you share with someone, and the kindness of random strangers.

An Epic Romance That Navigates Love and Loss Through Worlds

Japanese anime in general has thrived on exploration of complex human nature entangled within the world of spirits or mystical forces. Suzume follows a similar path, going a bit beyond, almost similar to Spirited Away though we don’t get to spend enough time with the spirits or the other world in the case of Suzume. Within this struggle, the sense of love and loss is persistent and it ends on a note that will fill your earth up to brim. Suzume explores love that’s almost like a tapestry of life, and beyond being just romantic. Additionally, every character in Suzume is well fleshed out with an important contribution to the plot.

The opening scene of the movie is absolutely heartbreaking, and that feeling of helplessness stays throughout the movie as we navigate Suzume going back to her childhood days to recall what happened to her mother. Grief and loss is by no means an easy theme to navigate as it doesn’t lie in simple moments. It has to be built and it lingers, which happens in Suzume. Towards the end of the movie, you will end up shedding a tear or two. Even though Shinkai’s movies are a coming of age story, Suzume is the only one that handles it maturely and delicately. It’s a meditation on how you find what is lost.

Suzme deserves to be seen on the big screen and on IMAX specifically. While we do get popcorn entertainers from time to time, it’s rare to witness an epic along the lines of Suzume. It’s an uncanny road trip movie, defying the stereotypes that are usually established for road trip comedies or rom coms. It’s also absurd as it’s a budding romance between a high school girl and a chair. Perhaps the only issue that lies in the movie is the uneven pace in the second half. It falters as it tries to cover everything and then finishes off too quickly. Along with that, the age difference has been an issue with much of Shinkai’s work, and it depends on the audience to evaluate their perspective and reaction to the same.

Suzume is playing in theaters near you.

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Rajeev completed their under graduation in Political Science Hons. from Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi in 2020. They graduated with Masters in Women’s Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in 2022 and were a participant at the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute, University of Iowa for the 2021-22 session. They have been the recipient of Mavelinadu Collective’s grant for non-fiction for the first issue of Debrahminising Gender. Their work can be found in EPW, Women’s Link Journal, Shuddhashar, Gaysi Family, Feminism in India and Hindu College Gazette among others. Their research interests include queer experiences, feminist ethics of care, and masculinities.

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