*photo credit: Suzume
Acclaimed director Makato Shinkai may not have envisioned the immense success that his latest film Suzume has received, but he did envision the titular lead in a queer relationship.
Since its release in April, Suzume has broken international box office records and has received rave reviews. This anime film focused on a young girl named Suzume who teams up with a man named Sota to prevent a series of disasters within Japan. The boy-meets-girl romance trope is a common one within this style of anime film. However, in an interview for Looper, Shinkai originally deviated from this trope by placing Suzume in a relationship with another girl.
“At first, I wanted to turn this story into a movie about Suzume and another girl journeying. Why I even wanted to go in that direction in the first place is because I personally felt a little bit tired of telling the very traditional romance story,” said Shinkai for Looper. “I felt that in Your Name, I [did] everything that I possibly could in terms of ‘boy meets girl’ and ‘will they, won’t they, will they meet.’ That element of romance is very relatable to the masses, which is why it was a subject matter that resonated with a large audience.”
Shinkai’s film Your Name emphasizes the relationship between its two leads, a teenage boy and a teenage girl. Suzume was going to deviate from that formula, but Shinkai added that his original story was altered when his producer persuaded him to change it to match “audience expectations.” Shinkai’s producer thought that a queer romance wouldn’t sell in a Japanese market due to conservative views.
In order to not focus on a boy-meets-girl-romance, Shinkai made the male lead into a chair for the majority of the film. By doing so, Suzume’s development could be spent on her and the platonic relationships within her orbit.
Additionally, Shinkai believes that Suzume’s story could have also been told even if the titular character had not identified as a girl.
“I think it would also work had [Suzume] been a boy or had she been non-binary,” said Shinkai. “It’s not necessarily the context of male/female; it’s about a human overcoming something. In my future films as well, I want to focus on that human story as opposed to too much commentary on gender or sex.”
As a filmmaker, animator, author, and manga artist, Shinkai has used anime films to tell stories about human experiences and intricate romantic relationships in which characters are separated by distance and time. His first feature film The Place Promised In Our Early Days delivers just that, as did subsequent releases. His most recent films Your Name, Weathering with You, and Suzume, have all achieved critical acclaim and commercial success. Your Name became the highest-grossing anime film in 2017, surpassing Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
While Suzume missed its chance to be led by a queer romance, other anime films and TV series have surfaced with queer storylines at the helm. The series Wandering Son focuses on the connection between two transgender children and Revolutionary Girl Utena paved the way for bisexuality in magical anime. The anime film Classmates centers on the romance between two high school boys, giving Heartstopper-esque moments in anime.
Even though Suzume didn’t deliver a queer romance, as it was originally intended to do, anime films and series continue to bring queerness to screens in Japanese markets and worldwide.