‘Suzume’ Review: Gods, Spells and Instagram Posts

Makoto Shinkai’s latest animated film, about a girl who accidentally unleashes chaos over Japan, is at once mythical and thoroughly modern.

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By Maya Phillips

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Makoto Shinkai is often praised as a descendant of the great Hayao Miyazaki for his masterly animation, and his latest film, “Suzume,” is no exception. The film speaks the same cinematic language, employing an ethereal, emotive color palette that enlivens every splash of water and blade of grass.

You can spot Miyazaki’s influence in more than just the visuals. There are familiar symbols and themes: The portal doors, the cursed male hero and a few narrative moves in the resolution all scream Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle,” while the exploration of memory and grief mirrors his “Spirited Away.”

I’ll stop the Miyazaki comparisons there because Shinkai showcases plenty of his own narrative and directorial signatures in “Suzume.” He’s created a thoroughly modern world of both old and new forms of magic, of spells and old gods and of Instagram posts and texts. Like a locomotive chugging uphill, the story’s stakes are quickly raised to the scale of natural disasters and mythical phenomena, while Shinkai puts an emphasis on specific towns and regions in Japan, grounding us in the real world even as he whisks us away to other worlds.

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