Suzume and the wildly ambitious films of Makoto Shinkai

With his 13th film Suzume now in cinemas, renowned filmmaker Makoto Shinkai continues to fill his filmography with some of the most wildly ambitious films to hit the big screen. Liam Maguren spotlights five of those titles.

There’s no bigger name in Japanese animation cinema than Hayao Miyazaki, but Makoto Shinkai is getting mighty close. While the Studio Ghibli master revels in whimsical fantasy and cautionary environmental tales, Shinkai’s made his name with ultra-high concepts fuelled by the rush of romance.

With 13 films now under his belt, Shinkai shows no signs of stopping—and thank goodness for that. Here are five films that exemplify his wildly ambitious storytelling skill set.

5 Centimeters Per Second

This reflective, one-hour exploration of young love follows Takaki at three pivotal moments of his life—as a young teenager, an older teenager, and a young adult—and how the love he had for his estranged childhood friend Akari, who’s as sensitive and introspective as he is, proved both incredibly precious and far too powerful for either of them to understand.

Thematically guided by sumptuous visuals of falling snow and cherry blossom petals, Shinkai gently relays the ever-relatable feelings of longing and heartache—as well as the sombre aftertaste those fading feelings leave behind. Some may wince at the adolescent poetry being narrated at them, but Shinkai’s words feel true and earnest to these lonesome teenagers begging for connection.

As slight as it sometimes feels, it’s a difficult film to forget—much like the memories of intimacy Takaki keeps hold of.

The Garden of Words

A chance encounter between a 15-year-old boy and a 27-year-old woman becomes a regular occurance—but only on rainy days—in this dialogue-heavy drama about loneliness and fleeting intimacy. Given the age difference, the subject matter could be considered a little dicey (he touches her feet a lot, just sayin’) though it doesn’t go the full Licorice Pizza if that means anything to you.

Did this need to be animated? Technically not. But no one can deny the quiet audacity of such a project. And to Shinkai’s credit, the striking images of the titular garden and the visual comfort of animated rain creates an engulfing world-beyond-the-world where, seemingly, only they exist. At only 46 minutes long, it’s as if Shinkai intentionally shortened the running time to simulate the briefness of the pair’s encounter—and it works.

Your Name

Shinkai’s box office monster hit is also a copywriter’s nightmare with all the sci-fi fantasy concepts he jams into a single synopsis. It’s a teenage romance at heart; it just so happens to contain body-swapping, dream logic, a one-of-a-kind comet, selective memory, and some very specific time mechanics.

It’s a lot, and yet, the weight of Shinkai’s ambition feels feather-lite with the muscular way he tells this story. Rural girl Mitsuha and city boy Taki are hugely entertaining as the star-crossed lovebirds trying to navigate their odd situation, making them the perfect audience avatar (if imperfect as each other’s avatars) guiding us through this wild premise.

Unlike the two previous naval-gazing films mentioned here, Shinkai sets his gaze upward, igniting the screen with some of the most stunning illustrations of the day and night skies you’ll likely ever see.

Weathering with You

Another Shinkai film, another teenage romance. The catch here? It follows a runaway high school lad who meets a girl with the ability to manipulate the weather. And what do two dumb teenagers do with such power? Monetise it, of course, opening a business that takes weather requests from patrons. Unsurprisingly, trouble follows them like a storm cloud.

Though it’s the least ambitious Shinkai film on this list—a weird thing to say about a film on the financial pros and cons of mutant abilities—it might just be his most beautifully rendered one too, acting as a sort-of visual compendium of his previous weather-related works. And despite a somewhat overly dramatic climax, its relatively straightforward story remains infectiously good-hearted.


With his 13th film, Shinkai has finally delivered a goofy tone to match its bonkers concept—it involves another dimension, portal doors, a magical jerk cat, more time stuff, some kind of doom worm thing—that poor 17-year-old Suzume’s been left to wade through. I haven’t even hinted at the single goofiest trick this film pulls and nor will I; you need to let this thing take you by surprise.

It’s less of an evolution and more of an extension of Shinkai’s work, not quite as capable as Your Name in tying down its sky-high concepts or delivering a convincing love story. However, Shinkai successfully expands his comedic chops while placing the titular teen on a fast-paced, impossible-to-resist coming-of-age trail littered with friendships and kind-hearted strangers.

Additionally, and it goes without saying at this stage, Suzume looks drop-dead gorgeous on the big screen.