I swear Makoto Shinkai would rather turn one half of a straight couple into a chair for the majority of a movie instead of penning something even remotely queer. A strange position to find ourselves in given Your Name cemented itself as a message of hope for transgender people and is crammed with subtext outside its central romance. It remains an undeniable masterpiece, while Weathering With You sought to replicate its unparalleled success with weaker characters and a stubborn attachment to the past that was downright pandering.
The upcoming release of Shinkai’s next film – Suzume – makes it clear that the director’s cinematic universe will continue to be expanded upon, once again centering on a starstruck couple who find themselves dragged into fantastical circumstances that stretch far beyond their own existence. This past week saw an extensive trailer released for the movie that provides a detailed glimpse at its characters, narrative, setting, and some truly unexpected developments. Our main dude straight up turns into a chair. Funniest shit I’ve ever seen.
I’m being facetious obviously, since the film does look incredible. The 2D animation is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, while the narrative concept of a couple traveling across Japan to close a series of mythical doors intent on causing the apocalypse is a fantasy twist that previous films in the series have never thought to explore. I’m pretty sure it takes place in the same universe anyway, especially given the flooded landscape and references to past events. Here’s hoping needless cameos aren’t thrown in for no reason this time around.
Suzume is an adventurous schoolgirl who one day comes across Sota, an older gentleman with long, luscious hair who asks her if a door can be found nearby, obscure gates into new dimensions that seem to crop up in places that civilization has left behind. Think abandoned military vessels and architecture that has long since surrendered itself to nature. Turns out these ‘Doors of Disaster’ can only be closed by using specific keys and working together, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Suzume and Sota fall in love before the credits roll.
Your Name was groundbreaking when it was released in 2016, and Weathering With You was a worthwhile successor for a lot of people even if I hated it. Suzume could abandon this tired trajectory and strive for something more ambitious, and it almost is, but the predictable love story at the centre threatens to drag it down. As I mentioned earlier, it seems an event in the film causes Sota to be transformed into a sentient chair. He hops around the place with comedic exuberance, and his lack of a body will likely throw a lot of responsibility onto Suzume’s shoulders as she must close doors across Japan and reunite with her future boyfriend. She even says “I can’t live in a world without Sota” in the trailer because she is simping so hard, and all her value as a character is placed into this sudden connection.
The world is coming to an end, and instead of considering the wider picture Suzume must try to save a hunk she’s just met instead of caring about, you know, every other living being on the planet. I understand this formula worked for Your Name – and still very much does – but Shinkai’s insistence on repeating the same trick over and over while hoping we fall in love with it in the exact same way didn’t work for me a second time around, let alone a third. I can’t even remember the name of Weathering With You’s characters because they were immediately placed alongside Mitsuha and Taki from Your Name, viewed as lesser beings who followed in their footsteps who only existed to facilitate desperate cameos that treat the audience like love drunk fools. It could have been so much better, and I really hope Suzume can learn from its mistakes. If not, at least it will look incredible in IMAX I suppose.
Shinkai’s work has always focused on the human condition and our planet as a living being, taking into account how we’ve come to treat it alongside the cultures we’ve cultivated and fostered, especially in his homeland of Japan. Your Name was unafraid to explore this with Mitsuha’s upbringing, while the onslaught of comets raining down from the sky and the aftermath of its destruction was achingly reminiscent of the 2011 earthquake. Characters were displaced and had their livelihoods snatched away, while younger souls on the cusp of adulthood were lost due to an event they had no control over. The film gave agency to this destiny, and allowed our couple to reunite under circumstances of their own making even when all seemed lost. Weathering With You attempted to do the same with the climate crisis, making it clear that we can keep moving forward and find love even as the planet begins to fall apart. Yet it was so enamoured by copying what came before that its disparate themes and attempt at a love story all felt rushed. It was a fun film, but it didn’t have anything to say.
Suzume is going to have a lot to say too, given it focuses on two young characters trying to prevent the literal apocalypse from unfolding as older generations refuse to believe or help them put a stop to it. It will play with heavy themes while simultaneously hoping to tell a love story with the same impact of everything that came before. Even from the trailer alone, as stunning as it looks and as likeable as the characters might seem, is already falling down the same holes as its underwhelming predecessor. Five Centimetres Per Second and The Places Promised in Our Early Days were at least more fantastical and bittersweet, but Shinkai’s modern library is far more enamoured with saccharine romance and happy endings instead of treating its audience like people who can think for themselves.
Maybe it will be great and I’m worrying about nothing, but Shinkai’s transition into a globally recognised director has seen his once delicate artistic touch transform into one of haphazard deliberacy. Your Name was a masterpiece, but he is yet to live up to its achievement.
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