Makoto Shinkai talks about Suzume, his childhood influences, and Indian audiences

Suzume is a coming-of-age story about the eponymous 17-year-old girl written and directed by acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai who shared his thoughts about the film at a recent event held at PVR Cinemas in Mumbai.

Shinkai was asked about his inspirations behind Suzume, to which he answered: “So, I have two critical points of inspiration for this movie. Twelve years ago, we had a massive earthquake and tsunami on the northeast coast of Japan known as the Tohoku earthquake. That had a lot of significance.

“Just imagine, one day you wake up, a giant earthquake happens, then a tsunami follows and it wipes out everything along the coast. The next thing you know, the nuclear reactors have a meltdown. As you knew it, your way of life was just wiped out one day, and everything’s gone.

“So what that brought home to me was that what we know as our everyday existence, it doesn’t take much to wipe it away. It can be gone at any time, but I didn’t want to make a story that just ends with that. I wanted to say that there’s always hope, there’s always a day ahead.”

“The second was abandoned buildings, ghost towns, and abandoned communities which are seen a lot in Japan now. In many countries, you see that there’s more and more aging of the population, what used to be thriving communities are now dying.

“And there are other reasons for this as well. Sometimes we have earthquake-prone areas and people can’t get there anymore, or there are natural disasters that happen that change people’s lives.

“So there are many factors, but what happens is that you get all these abandoned buildings, abandoned homes, and I wanted to weave a story around that.”

He also spoke about his experiences in India and with Indian audiences, stating: “My first visit to India was three years ago. Weathering With You brought me here first.

“I didn’t know that there were so many people who loved my movies or who loved animation until I reached Delhi. That was such an eye-opening experience. And I’ll never forget the amount of energy those young people had. It was amazing.

“What I love about Indian audiences is the passion that they show which is amazing. I’ve been to the US and Japan, and I’ve gone off all across Asia but nothing compares to the audiences here.

“When I’m in Japan, everyone’s so well-behaved. I get on the stage and they clap politely but when I come to India, I feel like a rock star. The people coming, touching my feet, to feel like a guru. It’s next level.”

Shinkai touched upon the three-legged chair which is a central focus of the film, sharing that it was inspired by his childhood, recounting that when he was a young boy, his father made a chair for him which gave him so much happiness because it was his chair.

“So for a small child like me, for me to get my own chair, it was like having my own room, having my own house, because it is mine. It’s the one thing that’s only mine, and I wanted to keep that feeling intact somewhere.

“So that’s why, when I had to think of Suzume, I gave her a little chair that she could hold close to her heart.

“The reason why it has three legs is that I think all of us have three legs in one way. Suzume, she’s gone through a lot, she’s feeling a lot, she’s not complete, and it’s not perfect.

“But even without a perfect life, you can run happily on three legs. You can do a lot. You can do enough. That’s the message of the film, and I hope I was able to convey it through this three-legged fellow”, he added.

When he was asked about what animated series or characters inspired him growing up, Shinkai had this to say: “Doraemon has a serialized version on TV, but you also have a longer version. And there was one about his adventures in the summertime. I used to love that one, and if you ask about the one movie that changed my life in animation, it is, of course, Castle in the Sky.

“I was a young boy, a schoolboy. I paid money myself to go watch the movie, and I was blown away. I was like, this can be a way of life, this can be a way of art. It opens a new door in my mind.

“And as a grownup, I’m proud to say that I was blown away by Pixel’s Frozen; I really like that one. And the reason why I like it so much is because of the craft of the storytelling in that movie.

“You don’t have a typical “Princess Gets Saved” sort of script there. It’s a very modern interpretation of what a princess/prince is supposed to be, but at the same time, it’s very entertaining.

“It is not didactic. It has a lot of jokes. It really pulls you in as a story. So I think in terms of the techniques, the craft of storytelling, I think Frozen did a great job.”

The director was then asked about the influence of music in his films, to which he replied: “I’m glad you asked about the music because I know music is such an integral part of Indian movies. I’ve collaborated with a rock band called Radwimps for a long time now they have worked very, very closely on Suzume with me.

“Whenever I’m done with the script, the first people that I share the script with are Radwimps, and they give me feedback. They don’t give me feedback in terms of emails or anything. They send it back in the form of music. They interpret my script into their music, and they send it back to me.

“So an interesting story about what happened in Suzume is that once I sent them the script, they sent back songs. Those songs are not featured in the film. Imagine the storyboard isn’t even put together and they just send out a song.

“The song was titled Tamaki. Now, the movie is about Suzume, but the song that they sent back was not about Suzume, the main character. It was about a lady who worked hard to raise her as a single mother, Tamaki.

“I had been focusing on Suzume because she’s the main character, but what was beautiful in the feedback, in the song that they sent, was that they looked at things from the point of view of this aunt who took in a small child, who has been orphaned by an earthquake.

“The entire song revolves around how she grew into taking care of this young child. What all happened to her to become a mother to a young child. So what happened with that is that it made me realize that there are nuances that I should add to Tamaki’s character, so I built that into the script and I shared it again with them.

“So the music actually takes the story forward in a very important way. And I love your question because it points to a really important fact; it shows that music is really important to Indian movies as well as to my movies in Japan.

“But in India, the songs are interpreted in terms of dance. We don’t have a scene where we can depict dance, but I think that the way the music is similarly important in my movies, and it carries the story forward in a different way, but music is a common denominator.”

Suzume was first screened on November 7, 2022, in Japan followed by a staggered release in select countries. Anime streaming site Crunchyroll, Sony Pictures, and Wild Bunch International acquired the global distribution rights with Crunchyroll handling the North American region and partnering with Sony Pictures to distribute it in Asia.

Sony Pictures and Wild Bunch International are handling the release of the film in Europe. Here’s a look at the trailer of Suzume:

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