While “Suzume” wears its Ghibli/Miyazaki references on its sleeve, Makoto Shinkai infuses the story with his own eccentricities that allow the film to stand on its own. This is evidenced in the scenes where Sōta turns into a three-legged chair, leading to lengthy physical comedy segments that elevate the film’s road trip elements. While inanimate talking objects are often a Ghibli specialty, Shinkai takes this idea further by reveling in the absurdity of the situation, using it beyond a run-of-the-mill gag by allowing Sōta and Suzume to develop a meaningful bond in the process. Plus, there’s the way Shinkai dwells on the subtle allure of everyday events, expressed boldly and beautifully, as intimate, personal moments of friendship unravel at a languid, indulgent pace.
Shinkai seems to be in no hurry to reach the mystical climax, which plays into the favor of this deeply moving film. As a result, none of the big emotional moments towards the end feel forced, as everything is thoroughly gained through the lingering little vignettes the characters engage in, including conversations that are mired in a shared sense of desolation. and longing. This accentuates the wonder inherent in the magical segments, where stunning imagery is used to convey the beauty and poignancy of a world that lives between the sands of time.
What makes “Suzume” work for me is its use of the “one must travel back to one’s past self to save oneself” trope. Without making him feel heavy, Shinkai manages to convince us that Suzume is the one to save herself and grant her broken childish self the hope and optimism needed to move forward in life, which is ultimately worth loving. What is more life-affirming than that?