Make SUZUME Your Last Movie of 2023

On April 14 of this year, Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume released in theaters in the United States. It then returned for another limited release in late October. Depending on your taste in movies, Suzume may have been appointment viewing. In that case, you already know everything this piece will have to say. Alternatively, having heard some buzz, you might have caught it upon its limited release. Or, like me, it’s possible you saw it pass on the outskirts of your cinematic awareness, intended twice to see it, but upon discovering a large part of the plot focused on a character turning into a chair, let it slip by. This was a sad mistake, now happily corrected. Although we have seen many exceptional movies in 2023, Suzume‘s gorgeous animation and perfectly bittersweet, fantastical tale make it one film worth watching before the year ends.

Suzume and chair by the door

Suzume is in deep conversation with another 2023 movie you almost definitely saw, or, at least, heard about—Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron. With the overall appeal of Studio Ghibli, the initial idea this might be Miyazaki’s last movie, and the English-dub’s star-studded cast, the movie rightfully made a lot of waves. But if you enjoyed The Boy and the Heron, you will enjoy Suzume equally, if not more, depending on your tastes. Both movies feature a young protagonist who is coming of age while dealing with the sharp loss of a parent and the weight of both personal and structural griefs. Although the heroes literally contend with their pains, the process also takes the shape of monsters and adventures into fantastical realms.

But while The Boy and the Heron goes on an incredibly abstract adventure, Suzume keeps a more streamlined narrative. And it brings to the forefront characters that are a touch more relatable to modern audiences.

Suzume and Rumi

Suzume, herself, and the sisterhood of women she meets on her travels offer an endearing array of femininity. Of special note is Suzume’s Aunt Tamaki. Aunt Tamaki is allowed to both resent Suzume for becoming her defacto child and to love her deeply. This creates a complex meditation on motherhood that is not often explored. Every woman Suzume encounters aids her, offering her something to take on the rest of her journey. And together, they weave a beautiful found family.

Suzume and Tamaki

Of course, Souta, who I wouldn’t precisely call Suzume’s love interest, is nothing but charming—a kind-hearted and dashing fellow with a bit of mythology and magic to him. He carries off his role perfectly in both human and chair-form. (Yes, he turns into a chair for basically 80% of the movie!) Kudos on that characterization because I was initially very concerned about the chair. But the chair works. The relationship between Suzume and Souta is also well-balanced. It holds an intimacy beyond friendship, one of shared journey. But it does not go so far into romance that it distracts from the ultimate story of the movie, which is more self-driven.

Suzume and Souta as a chair
souta from Suzume

Suzume also brings to life an exceptional modern-day fairy tale. Technology and modernity interweave in the fantasy narrative, as if to say, we haven’t lost our ability to immerse ourselves in magic, even if it is almost the year 2024. Many magical stories almost require their characters to lose technological connections so that the magic can stand out. Blocking a hero’s ability to make calls, or swipe into the subway, or other conveniences that technology brings leaves them only with the peril of the fantasy. But Suzume folds these everyday occurrences into its dream effortlessly. Social media, phones, and other technologies enhance the greater feeling of magic and don’t for a minute break the spell.

technology in Suzume

It must be mentioned that this movie so beautiful it could bring you to tears. Every character design, every piece of animation, every last moment in Suzume is breathtaking. If you can still see it on the big screen somewhere, I would. It is legitimately one of the most gorgeous movies I have ever seen. It is definitely the most beautiful movie of 2023. Skyscapes, the ocean, abandoned ruins, cities, trains, and fantasy realms alike, every last part of it this film transforms into something truly magical. Beyond the overt impact, there were also many little details and marginalia to look for in every turn, enriching the universe.

Finally, Suzume invites us to look at the wounds we all carry. But then it asks us to engage with them and close certain doors, leaving some things only to the gods. As the year reaches its end, there’s a tendency to account. We think of our accomplishments, but also of failures, tragedies, and hardships that linger. But Suzume wants us to find the magic of abandoned and lost places, both inside and out. We can grieve them, embrace the life they held, and allow them peace.

As Suzume is able to do for herself, we can embrace pain, but make sure to look at how far we’ve traveled and where the road has brought us. Sometimes, it really is the friends we made along the way.

Suzume is now streaming on Crunchyroll. It will release in Blu-ray on March 12. “The limited edition Blu-ray edition of Suzume will include a beautiful 60-page art book, four art cards, a director’s commentary from Makoto Shinkai, and much more!”  


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