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The world is pretty heavy at the moment. We’re at the tail end of a pandemic, thirteen years into a Tory government, and the economy is so fucked that Age UK is running ads about how they can stop pensioners from freezing to death. Where we might seek some escapism from it all at the cinema, things aren’t much brighter there either. Every big franchise film, particularly those from the MCU, just seems to be one world-ending threat after another, to the point that it’s questionable as to why anyone would bother trying to lead a normal life with so much going on. While Suzume follows that lead to an extent, it does it in a way that’s so sweet, and so human, despite how fantastical it is, that it becomes something just what we needed.

Just like Shinkai’s previous films, Your Name and Weathering with You, Suzume is a story that’s rooted in reality but soars a bit higher with some magical twists. The heart of it all comes from its titular character, Suzume herself. She’s an orphan who feels tremendous guilt for being a burden on her aunt in what would be considered the prime of her life. All she has left of her mother is a child’s chair that she’d built for her as an early birthday present some years ago.

Upon meeting Souta, this is where things go awry. At first, it plays into the usual boy-meets-girl tropes as the two get along very well, but then a talking cat places a curse on Souta which means he must now live as the child’s chair that Suzume’s mother built. This is all happening while Suzume finds out that she’s been roped into Souta’s extraordinary life as a Closer, someone who acts as a sort of gatekeeper when mythical beings find their way to our version of reality. The consequences of them not being able to fulfil Souta’s mission is quite literally the end of the world, but along the way, it’s a beautiful story of a girl and the chair that she loves, as well as the boy stuck in it.

Tonally, there’s lots of Studio Ghibli about it. There’s an overt reference to Whisper of the Heart, but it could quite easily pass as a Hayao Miyazaki masterclass on how to find a memorable, heartfelt story in an otherwise overwhelming situation. Where the usual end-of-the-world narrative tends to focus on how much danger everyone’s in and the high-stakes environment that comes from it, Suzume instead focuses on something that’s far more pertinent. Even in a set of circumstances where a talking cat has turned a guy into the chair your mother made while the world might be about to end, normality resumes.

Suzume and Souta can still get to know one another, and she’s still allowed to feel guilty about the sacrifices her aunt has had to make in order to raise her. It’s just so refreshing that it can be so sweet as well as so huge.

Visually, it’s stunning. There’s something about it that just feels nostalgic, but it’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on. The landscapes, the art style and the special effects all come together to occupy a space that’s usually full of late-eighties and early-nineties animations, but it still comes across as totally authentic. Maybe it just feels so good that my mind has convinced itself that it’s been in there for longer than it has.

Suzume is refreshing, sweet, and exactly the kind of film that 2023 needs it to be. While the world is ending around us, it’s nice to be reminded that the little things still mean a lot.

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