While watching the new movie Suzume, I was distinctly reminded of Star Wars. If you’ve seen Suzume (and if you haven’t, what are you doing?) then you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. In what way could a fantastical anime movie about a girl travelling across Japan with a living chair to prevent earthquakes be in any way like Star Wars?
Ok. Fair enough. But hear me out. In my eyes, Suzume has thematic and tonal links to the science fiction movies; specifically, A New Hope.
Both share a grand sense of exciting adventure, as they follow the story of a young orphan who is opened up to a mystical reality more wondrous and ethereal than they could have imagined. Throughout, there’s a building sense of exhilaration and tension as these characters witness thrilling, dangerous sights, navigating disaster and god-like antagonists. In short, they share a tone: fun and fantastical.
But beyond tone, thematically Suzume is undoubtedly more richly textured than A New Hope. Examining the impact of the present on the perception of the past, Suzume bends time and reality in an attempt to confront the audience with the source of their traumas. While it perfectly executes the classic hero’s journey arc, A New Hope is about big-ship-goes-boom. However, at their core, the two movies do share a fixation on the growing weight of responsibility and the motivating power of sacrifice.
So hopefully I’ve justified myself. Admittedly tenuous, there is a link – at least to me – between Suzume and Star Wars. But here’s the thing: Suzume does it better, and Star Wars needs to take notice.
There are three new Star Wars movies on the horizon, as announced at Star Wars Celebration 2023. Each sounds promising in its own way, but they leave me with a twang of anxious discomfort. I love Star Wars and everything that it can be, but its present status at the forefront of blockbuster movie culture is at risk of losing its footing through a lack of creativity and a lack of focus on character.
The majority of my concern stems from The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Rise of Skywalker in particular. Each can justifiably be accused of being too focused on the world of Star Wars itself (with all its past battles and characters) to the detriment of characters and creativity. At their very worst, these movies navel-gaze longingly into Star Wars’ own past instead of looking forward with new exciting stories and faces.
This creates a stifling effect on what Star Wars should be all about: wondrous adventure. It’s hard to create these extraordinary stories when adventures are either the same as before, just tweaked (as with the sequel trilogy), or limited to filling in the blanks.
Part of what makes Suzume so excellent is that against the backdrop of worldbuilding, it’s the characters – and relationships between them – that drive the story. Whether it’s Sōta, Tamaki, or Daijin, Suzume’s connection with these characters shifts and grows. This growth gives the anime movie an emotional centre which is far more arresting than anything from the vapid The Rise of Skywalker.
It also prioritises creativity first and foremost. I was equally dazed and astonished when one of the main characters was turned into a small three-legged chair, but I was also very happy. When I got to watch this living in-animate object fight a kitten? I was even happier.
Set in front of truly gorgeous animated landscapes with staggeringly beautiful sights to behold, Suzume provoked excitement and surprise in me in exactly the same way that Star Wars used to. It was genuinely weird – and not just in a superficial way – but also deeply relatable. In telling a fantastical story of adventure, it’s what Star Wars should aim to be.
If I could force every director and writer of a new Star Wars movie to sit and watch Suzume – to study it, and to absorb it – I would. I would strap Dave Filoni to a chair in a heartbeat and compel him to bask in the splendour of Suzume. Then, they might take note that a focus on great characters, supported by heaps of creativity, is what makes fantastical movies feel so fantastical: and Star Wars is at its best when it embraces the fantastic. By looking to Suzume, Star Wars movies can get back in their groove.
For more, check out our guide to the best anime movies and best movies of all time. Or, get more into Star Wars with our guide to the Andor season 2 release date. You can also read our interview with Suzume creator Makoto Shinkai to learn more about the movie.