‘Suzume’ Director Makoto Shinkai Explains How the Tragedy of the 2011 Japan Earthquake

‘Suzume' Director Makoto Shinkai

Suzume Director Makoto Shinkai

In a recent conversation as part of Variety’s Artisans Screening Series, Makoto Shinkai delved into the inspiration behind setting the tone for “Suzume” and his approach to themes of natural disaster. Moderated by Variety’s chief film critic Peter Debruge and translated by Mikey McNamara, Shinkai shared insights into his creative process.

Reflecting on his previous work, Shinkai expressed surprise at the comedic turn of “Barbie” when paired with “Oppenheimer” under the moniker “Barbenheimer.” Despite expecting a serious tone akin to “Oppenheimer,” he appreciated how the film skillfully wove deeper feminist themes into its comedic framework. This realization led him to acknowledge that creating entertaining content with underlying depth is his artistic aspiration.

‘Suzume' Director Makoto Shinkai

Turning to “Suzume,” a film centered around the impactful 2011 earthquake in East Japan, Shinkai emphasized his intention to avoid a solely dark and heavy portrayal. Instead, he aimed for a foundation of entertainment throughout the narrative. The 2011 earthquake served as a pivotal moment for Shinkai, prompting him to question the relevance of animated entertainment in the face of humanitarian crises. Despite some on his team leaving to assist with relief efforts, Shinkai recognized animation as his unique skill and means of contribution.

Contemplating the role of animated films in addressing natural disasters, Shinkai drew parallels to his 2016 film “Your Name,” using metaphors to explore disaster themes indirectly. As time passed since the earthquake, he felt both himself and audiences were more prepared to confront the direct depiction of such disasters in the context of entertainment, marking “Suzume” as a culmination of 12 years of contemplation and creative evolution.

‘Suzume' Director Makoto Shinkai

Discussing specific elements of “Suzume,” Shinkai highlighted artistic and narrative choices, such as a chair attempting to kiss Souta, as tools to maintain levity amidst heavy subjects. He concluded the conversation by reflecting on his unexpected journey to becoming a film director, starting with personal projects shared among friends and evolving over 20 years into collaborative endeavors with a growing team. This, he noted, has brought him to the present juncture in his filmmaking career.

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