Just what a talking cat, an equally vocal three legged chair and a young lady have in common is a crazy mystery. And in Makoto Shinkai‘s latest film, Suzume (すずめの戸締まり, full title: Suzume’s Locking Up), the investigation into this has far reaching consequences! This film’s title is also her name, and it follows familiar beats as his past works, namely Your Name and Weathering With You (movie review)
Part of this latest tale considers how she deals with PTSD in an Alice in Wonderland type tale. This young lady (voiced by Nanoka Hara) is one of the few survivors from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami and when she was a toddler, she had little comprehension about all that happened. She could not find her mom and that grief sets the tone for what’s to come. This film starts off with images of the devastation and it’s dark. Although this child gets taken in by her Aunt Tamaki (Eri Fukatsu) to become her new mom, is that enough? Although she hasn’t talked about those days with auntie, life in Kyushu seems pretty good.
But that all changes when she meets a young college man searching for abandoned places. When Sōta (Hokuto Matsumura) asks her if she knows of any where a door still remains standing–an usual query–curiosity frees the cat (instead of killing) when she decides to follow him. What she accidentally sets loose is an adventure that almost mirrors the legend of Pandora’s Box.
Although Suzume doesn’t understand what’s going on, she can now see strange things. Nobody else has her gift and thinks she’s going crazy. When she goes to investigate a strange pillar of smoke, she meets that young man again, and tries to help. Eventually, he agrees to let her be an assistant, and teaches her portal magic. He’s a “Closer,” an agent whose job is to ensure these doorways are properly closed. Some lead to other dimensions and others to a mystical underground where an ancient slithering creature exists. According to Japanese lore, earthquakes are caused by Namazu, a catfish wiggling its tail. The close captions use the word worm, but I knew otherwise.
Although the identity change doesn’t distract from the movie, perhaps not using the same script as the dub for lip matching is best. While the threat didn’t look like a fish and vaguely resembles a worm, the fact this force of nature is dangerous says it all. Although its design is very basic, and covered in tendrils and smoke, I immediately recognised which legend it was drawn from.
According to tradition, Takemikazuchi is supposed to be the guardian to keep the weird at bay. But this god of thunder may have taken ill and his avatar, Sōta’s grandfather, is conveniently bed ridden. This movie is great at making me think about what legends were used, but overall, it’s a road trip movie and hero’s quest all rolled into one.
Although I don’t think this culture has door gods like others who follow Taoism, I wondered if there were any other parallels concerning preventing Namazu from destroying the world. This movie isn’t about Ragnarok. All these details whetted my appetite to want to learn more and I’m glad there’s an English adaptation of the manga. Hopefully it’ll make a deeper dive into the lore when it gets printed. It may also further develop what exactly Suzume is feeling for Sōta. Although the movie presents the relationship as puppy love, an issue concerns their difference in age. Although a few years isn’t a big deal in some cultures, the fact Tamaki is very concerned says a lot.
When he gets transformed into a chair, that’s when things get serious. They go through a lot during the course of the film, and all he wants is to get his body back. He can’t do it alone without the teen’s help. But to catch up with the magical cat is difficult. This furball named Daijin (Ann Yamane) likes one of the two, but what he’s doing is rather problematic. Those moments make for some great action and the humour in watching a chair do amazing feats is like watching a Jackie Chan movie!
The world Makoto Shinkai presents us with is just as magical as his previous films, and I really want to know more. Not every detail is from Shinto beliefs, and hopefully the bonus videos in the eventual home video release will explain the finer points. Although I know these portals can take people to any place in time and space, just where it takes Suzume to find closure is more important.
4 Stars out of 5