Makoto Shinkai wants Suzume to build a memory bridge between generations

by The Insights

In susume, your name And grow old with you director Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, an ordinary high school girl finds herself drawn into a life of hunting otherworldly creatures and sealing portals that would otherwise unleash catastrophic tectonic devastation across Japan. Of all the animated features of Shinkai, susumeis one of his most direct in the way it draws on real-life Japanese history with natural disasters to tell an epic story that plays like a love letter to the country and all of its natural beauty.

For all its interest in Japan, however, there is an undeniable universality for many susumethe messages to grow and understand one’s relationship with the past. While Shinkai didn’t necessarily plan on making a movie that would speak to everyone, when we sat down to chat recently before susumeat this week’s release, he insisted on his desire for the film to appeal especially to young moviegoers.

You were very candid about susume to be a story about the existential crises facing Japan as it deals with natural disasters and issues such as population decline. Both of these issues are so serious and hard to call anything but negative. What was the hardest thing for you about telling such an honest and unwavering story about the issues that Japan faces, even though those are things that people may not want to face forehead ?

As you mentioned, the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake is a very central theme in susume, and I wanted to use the movie to help put it all into perspective. The disaster happened only 12 years ago, but for me it was important to put this in the context of entertainment. This combination of taking such a serious subject and putting it in front of an entertainment backdrop… there was a lot of resistance, I think, from the Japanese audience. But for me, because the subject was so serious, it was important to give it comic relief or put it in a more entertaining context.

If I had said, “Hey, I’m making a film about the 2011 disaster; it’s an exposition documentary, and it’s like a manual on how to navigate it,” I don’t think anyone would have come to see this film, especially with younger audiences. So it was important to me that susume to be both serious and entertaining because I think a lot of young moviegoers didn’t experience that incident 12 years ago – that massive disaster – directly, or even if they did, they were so young that they probably don’t remember it at all. Without [Suzume] being a show, I don’t think people would have even been open to seeing it.

I think there are a lot of these issues that we have to deal with that demand our attention. But it’s hard to confront them in a way or place them in a context where younger audiences will be open to discussing them. So in some ways I think susume connects older and younger generations through this kind of common or unified experience.

The verses in the movie are such an interesting and terrifying metaphor for Japan’s history with earthquakes, but I was really struck by the idea that closing the doors is the only way to avert disaster, for opposed to, say, the protagonist of a story who simply has to fight a big monster. . Tell me about how these ideas came to you.

When I was growing up in Japan when I was young, it was Japan’s so-called golden era, when the economy was booming and the population was growing. Personally, I grew up in the Japanese countryside and despite this, new houses were built one after another. But when I became an adult, that era of economic growth and boom ended, and I think instead we became more and more shrouded in stagnation or even ruin as a result of a natural disaster, simple human behavior or population decline. In my mind, it wasn’t really the time to open new doors, in a way.

This idea stayed with me, but in the case of susumeI thought making a film about opening new doors would be unreasonable and wouldn’t resonate with Japanese audiences – partly because I was developing this film during covid, during lockdowns.

There was a lot of talk at the time in Tokyo about “do we have the Olympics? Do we postpone it or do we do it? Even that discussion and the willingness to host the games despite the pandemic and all the world events that are happening, to me, felt irresponsible to some extent. You were opening this new door and you weren’t sure what was on the other side without putting a stop to it or understanding or accepting what was behind you. I want to say that a large part of the Japanese population felt the same way. There was this kind of awkward air around us, and now really wasn’t the time to open new doors without first thinking about what came before us.

you talked about susume partially being a rumination on Japan’s declining population, and you can feel some of those anxieties reflected in Tamaki’s relationship with Suzume. But there’s also a distinct sense of hope between them, especially in the way they both seem to trust each other to make the right decisions, even as they bicker. What aspects of Japanese society did you want to define Suzume’s dynamic with her aunt?

Thinking about the relationship between Tamaki and Suzume, I feel like the very fabric of Japanese society is rooted there – this idea of ​​a traditional nuclear family where you have two parents and children who are obviously bonded by the blood, and it is this family’s responsibility to navigate society and conform to these social values. But I don’t think that type of family structure is really a reality, or requiring that in our current environment is realistic because, of course, you have single mothers or children with no parents at all, and there can be different types family structures.

Despite all this, society demands that we conform to this ideal form. I think there’s a huge divide right now, and I wanted to show that there are certain parental relationships that can exist – maybe even unrelated to blood – and people who think about seeing that there Maybe there are other ways we can create what we understand as a family.

We only get to see a tiny bit of how Daijin becomes something of a social media celebrity as he travels around Japan, but it’s such an interesting little character detail, especially for an antagonist. What ideas about everyday people and society in general did you want to illustrate through Daijin’s fame?

It’s a very interesting way to look at Daijin and its relationship with social media. After finishing the film, it was only then that I realized what kind of irony this antagonist has – how we turned him into a celebrity as a society. But I don’t think I’ve given too much thought to this relationship; it was more my intention to depict the current form of our society.

We are surrounded by technology; everyone has a smartphone. But at the same time, in Japan in particular, there are a lot of traditions, routines and ideas with deep-rooted cultural roots that are also very confining and that I think a lot of younger generations feel trapped by.

Take Sota’s work as a closer, for example. Of course, it doesn’t actually exist, but praying and wanting something to exist goes back to Buddhist and Shinto roots. We can still see artifacts of these traditions in our society today, and there is a certain level of slightly illogical and almost ineffective behavior that is part of our daily routine.

The purported goal of technology is always to find ways to remove friction and inefficiency from our daily lives despite all the routines we go through to maintain some sort of semblance of tradition. But there’s always a gap there, and that’s what I wanted to put into perspective with Daijin and social media.

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