This article contains spoilers for the film Suzume.
Since its American debut on April 14th, 2023, the Japanese animated film Suzume, also known by its Japanese name Suzume no Tojimari, has been hailed as one of Makoto Shinkai's best films, if not the best. Aside from its enthralling and masterful animation, the film also features a heartfelt message about grief, disaster, and the sacrifice and loss of loved ones.
The film is centered around the protagonist Suzume Iwato, a 17-year-old girl who has a mysterious connection to supernatural doors that are the one barrier protecting humanity from a devastating threat. On her way to school one day, she meets a man named Souta Munakata whose job is to keep these doors closed and the dangers behind them at bay. Inspired by the compassion of her late mother, Suzume stands by Souta and supports him in saving Japan from complete destruction. Suzume's actions are a driving force within the plot, but at the core of her actions are her emotional connections to her mother and Souta. With the themes that Shinkai carries throughout the film, these key points all build up a beautifully powerful message of sacrifice in the wake of disaster.
Suzume's Connections With Heroes and Their Sacrifices
Driven by her great sense of compassion as well as her sense of moral responsibility, Suzume is a high school student beyond her years. This is due to her resilience in facing grief at a young age. When she was a small child, she lived with her mom, who proudly worked as a nurse. Suzume shared a tight bond with her mom, but sadly, the loving parent-child relationship ended after the 2011 Earthquake in Japan. With no one else around to watch her, Suzume roamed the town searching for her mom who, most likely, died in the line of duty. As a teen, Suzume already has high hopes for following in her mother's footsteps and becoming a nurse herself, which is what leads her to help Souta, not only with an injury early on in the film but also with his arduous journey.
As Suzume tackles the risks of putting her life on the line, she is guided by Souta, who is a "closer" -- someone with the ancient task and mystical duty of keeping the nation safe from the threat of a cataclysmic entity known as "the worm." Similarly to Suzume's mother, Souta is diligent in his responsibility over civilians, placing his life on the line time and time again. His mentality in regard to his remarkable job is "Most important jobs, people shouldn't see." This sentiment echoes back to Suzume's mother and how the work of a nurse, among other heroes of society, goes unnoticed. While the mother isn't given much screen time and, therefore, much characterization, Souta is given the role of representing unsung heroes like her and the sacrifices they make.
With these two characters, Suzume's mother and Souta, being key examples for Suzume to follow, a central focus of the film is set on the risks and sacrifice of first responders as well as medical professionals. Though the film is certainly about coping with the tragedy of natural disasters, it pays incredible homage through these characters to the sacrifices of first responders and medical professionals who are lost to these kinds of horrifying events. There's a powerful tonal shift that is balanced, going from the acceptance of unavoidable sacrifices, like with Suzume's mother, to a reminder that these unsung heroes are people who deserve as much of a chance to live as anyone else. This complexity of the film is found to be practiced within the titular character, Suzume.
The Power of Suzume's Actions in Makoto Shinkai's Latest Movie
As the protagonist comes into her own as a risk-taking hero, she comes to understand how fragile life is for those on the front lines of disaster. From losing her mom, she knows too well the pain of loss and grief yet isn't resentful of her mom or Souta. From her coping, she finds nothing short of great pride and respect for them both and pushes herself to her limits in following their paths to protect the greater good. Unfortunately, what she learns from her partnership with Souta is that responsibility often comes with moments of tough decision-making.
Later on in the film, when Suzume must choose between saving Tokyo's millions of citizens and the life of Souta, she chooses the former with great heartache. Despite saving the masses and understanding that sacrifices happen in this line of work, Suzume still aims to save Souta, seeing how much potential he has in his life. Accepting death is part of life, and in finding the strength to be unafraid of it, Suzume spends the last third of the film with the full intention of sacrificing herself to save Souta and spare her nation. Her resilience in supporting those around her despite the risks and tragedy is a testament to what the film is all about.
Altogether, Suzume is a fantasy film that takes the most tragic parallels from reality and shares a bold message for humanity. Shinkai himself said in regard to his film, "Over the decades of our lives, we’ll experience many forms of disaster, I think. Many things in society will come to a dramatic end, or be dramatically changed. But even after that, people will continue to find a way to survive." With these words in mind, it becomes clear that the film is about humanity's drive to survive and cope with natural disasters. The heroes of this supernatural movie are core to the ideas of duty and sacrifice that are found in the real-life heroes who risk everything so that another may have even just one more day to live.