BLOCKBUSTER ANIME. This image released by Sony Pictures Entertainment
shows Suzume (top photo), voiced in Japanese by Nanoka Hara and dubbed
in English by Nichole Sakura, in a scene from the animated film
Suzume. (Photo/Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Makoto Shinkai arrives at the premiere of Suzume at The
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California, on April
3, 2023. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Makoto Shinkai poses for a portrait to promote the film Suzume
on March 28, 2023 in New York. Suzume has already grossed more
than $200 million. (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V33, #5 (May 1, 2023), page 7.
The anime hit Suzume and Shinkai’s cinema of
By Jake Coyle
AP Film Writer
NEW YORK — Makoto Shinkai was never the same filmmaker after the 2011
earthquake struck Japan.
When the tsunami and quake ravaged the Tohoku region of northern
Japan and prompted a nuclear meltdown, Shinkai, a now 50-year-old
director and animator of some of the most popular anime features in the
world, could feel his sense of storytelling crumbling.
"The shock to me was that the daily life that we had become
accustomed to in Japan can suddenly be severed without any warning
whatsoever," says Shinkai. "I had this odd, foreboding feeling that that
could happen again and again. I began to think about how I wanted to
tell stories within this new reality."
The three blockbusters that have followed by Shinkai — Your Name,
Weathering With You, and the new release Suzume — have
each tethered hugely emotional tales to ecological disaster. In Your
Name, a meteor threatens to demolish a village, an event that
dovetails with a body-switching romance. In Weathering With You,
a runaway teenage boy befriends a Tokyo girl who can control the
weather, spawning fluctuations that mirror climate change.
"With these three films, I didn’t set out to make a disaster movie. I
wanted to tell a love story, a romance, a coming-of-age of an adolescent
girl," Shinkai said on a recent trip to New York, speaking through an
interpreter. "As I continued to make the plot, this idea of disaster
kept creeping in. Suddenly, I felt surrounded in my daily life by
disaster. It’s like a door that keeps opening."
Shinkai has emerged as one of cinema’s most imaginative filmmakers of
contemporary cataclysm. His movies aren’t just about surviving
apocalypse, though, but living with its omnipresent threat. And it’s
made him one of the biggest box-office draws in movies.
After it was released in 2016, Your Name became the
then-best-selling anime of all time, dethroning Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved
Spirited Away with nearly $400 million in ticket sales.
Weathering With You made nearly $200 million. Before opening in
North America, Suzume has already crossed $200 million, including
$100 million in Japan and nearly that in China. It’s easily the biggest
international release of the year so far in China, more than doubling
the sales of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Much of that success is owed to Shinkai’s earnest grappling with
today’s ecological upheaval in sprawling epics that are filtered through
everyday life. National trauma mixes with supernatural fantasy. While
Japan has been home to many extreme geological events, it’s a tension
that most in the world can increasingly connect with.
"It can be anything: earthquakes, climate change, the pandemic.
Russia and Ukraine, for an example," says Shinkai. "This idea that our
daily life will continue to maintain the status quo should be set aside
Shinkai, who writes and directs his films, has become convinced that
young people shouldn’t be pandered to with stories where the natural
world is heroically returned to balance, calling such approaches
"egotistic and irresponsible." Instead, his disasters take on
metaphorical meaning for young protagonists who learn to persist, and
find joy, in a world of perpetual danger, shadowed by loss.
His latest, which was the first anime in competition at the Berlin
Film Festival in two decades, is a road movie where the 17-year-old
Suzume (voiced by Nanoka Hara) travels from the southwestern island of
Kyushu with that mysterious young man, Souta (Hokuto Matsumura), who
happens to get transformed into a three-legged chair while closing a
As a wooden sidekick, Souta recalls a Miyazaki side character like
the hopping scarecrow of Howl’s Moving Castle. But Shinkai, who’s
often been cited as among the heirs to Miyazaki, says his film is no
homage. But he grants Miyazaki’s influence is so pervasive in Japanese
society that it seeps into everything. He imagines Suzume, herself, grew
up on his films.
Shinkai liked the symbolism of a chair, something we use every day.
His father made him one as a child. While promoting Suzume,
Shinkai has travelled with a chair just like the one in the movie,
packing it in a suitcase, bringing it with him on stage, and
occasionally taking pictures of it at places like Times Square or the
Museum of Natural History.
"I’ve picked very daily items — a door, a chair — that are perhaps
relatable to a wide range of audiences," he says. "This symbolism of the
door, I think people are able to translate to their own story. We start
thinking about: How do we maintain our daily routine?"
Shinkai is known for photorealistic panoramas of glittering splendor.
As much as doorways make up the iconography of Suzume, the most
indelible image is one he uses at the beginning and end of the film.
Suzume rides her bike on a steep hill with a sparkling ocean set behind
her. The waters below, which to her could signify the tsunami that left
her an orphan, are at once gorgeous and perilous.
"In a weird way, I feel that with Your Name and Weathering
With You and Suzume that I’m creating this sort of folklore
or mythology," Shinkai says. "In mythology or these ancient legends,
what they’re doing is taking real-life events and transforming it into a
story that can [be] relayed to others."
Whether Shinkai will continue on this quest in his next film he
doesn’t know. It’s a blank slate, he says. But he doesn’t close the
"As I continue to make more stories," he says, smiling, "that door
might start creaking open again."
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