NATIONAL NEWS

The anime hit ‘Suzume’ and Shinkai’s cinema of cataclysm

Apr 10, 2023, 8:02 AM

Makoto Shinkai poses for a portrait to promote the film "Suzume" on Tuesday, March 28, 2023 in New ...

Makoto Shinkai poses for a portrait to promote the film "Suzume" on Tuesday, March 28, 2023 in New York. Shinkai was never the same filmmaker after the 2011 earthquake stuck Japan. His top three films since – "Your Name," "Weathering With You" and the new release "Suzume" -- have each tethered hugely emotional tales to ecological disaster. And they account for some of the biggest anime hits of all time. "Suzume" has already grossed more than $200 million. (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)
Credit: Invision

(Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Makoto Shinkai was never the same filmmaker after the 2011 earthquake stuck Japan.

When the tsunami and quake ravaged the Tōhoku 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.

the earthquake of 2011. Suzume, whose mother perished in the tsunami, years later meets a mysterious young man responsible for racing to close portals — literal doorways that appear around Japan — before they unleash a giant, earthquake-causing worm.

“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 and challenged.”

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 Festiva l in two decades, is a road movie where the 17-year-old Suzume (voiced by Nanoka Hara) travels from the 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 portal.

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 traveled 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 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 door.

“As I continue to make more stories,” he says, smiling, “that door might start creaking open again.”

___

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

National News

Associated Press

2024 Election Latest: Harris has secured enough support to earn party’s nomination, AP survey finds

Vice President Kamala Harris had a busy 24 hours after being endorsed as the Democratic presidential candidate by President Joe Biden. She has secured enough delegates to earn the party’s nomination and raised more than $81 million, a record sum for the 2024 political cycle. Meanwhile, The Secret Service director testified before a congressional committee […]

40 minutes ago

Associated Press

2 killed when small plane crashes after takeoff from Long Island airport

RONKONKOMA, N.Y. (AP) — A small plane crashed shortly after takeoff on New York’s Long Island, killing both people who were on board, authorities said. The single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza A36 took off from MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma at about 6:15 p.m. Monday and crashed after the pilot tried to return to the runway, Suffolk County […]

54 minutes ago

Associated Press

Kamala Harris is preparing to lead Democrats in 2024. There are lessons from her 2020 bid

ATLANTA (AP) — Kamala Harris was greeted by a massive, cheering crowd during the first rally of her newly announced presidential campaign in 2019. Speaking on a late January day outside city hall in her hometown of Oakland, California, she framed her bid as part of something bigger than simply winning an election. “We are […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Unsold 2024 Escalade utility vehicles sit in a row outside a Cadillac dealership on June 2, ...

Associated Press

With US vehicle prices averaging near $50K, General Motors sees 2nd-quarter profits rise 15%

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. customers who bought a new General Motors vehicle last quarter paid an average of just under $49,900, a price that helped push the company’s net income 15% above a year ago. And GM Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson said he doesn’t see his company cutting prices very much, despite industry analysts’ […]

2 hours ago

FILE - In this July 27, 2021 file photo, Simone Biles, of the United States, watches gymnasts perfo...

Associated Press

Biles, Osaka and Phelps spoke up about mental health. Has anything changed for the Paris Olympics?

Lydia Jacoby was a breakout star in the pool for the United States at the last Summer Games, earning a gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke and a relay silver. Part of what comes to mind from those heady days in Tokyo? “People talking about post-Olympic depression,” she said. She was 17 at the time, […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Harris to visit battleground Wisconsin in first rally as Democrats coalesce around her for president

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris is making her first visit to a battleground state Tuesday after locking up enough support from Democratic delegates to win her party’s nomination to challenge former President Donald Trump, two days after President Joe Biden dropped his reelection bid. As the Democratic Party continues to coalesce around her, […]

4 hours ago

The anime hit ‘Suzume’ and Shinkai’s cinema of cataclysm