It’s a Summer Film! (サマーフィルムにのって, Soshi Matsumoto, 2020)

“Movies connect the present with the past through the big screen” according to the jidaigeki-obsessed heroine of Soshi Matsumoto’s charming sci-fi-inflected teen movie It’s a Summer Film! (サマーフィルムにのって, Summer Film ni Notte). True to its title, Matsumoto’s whimsical drama very much belongs to the grand tradition of high school summer movies as its youthful heroines contemplate eternity, romantic heartbreak, and artistic fulfilment while secretly plotting to best their vacuous rival by filming their very own teen samurai movie ready in time for the all-important school cultural festival. 

Aspiring director Barefoot (Marika Ito) is completely obsessed with classic samurai movies, arguing with her similarly devoted friends about who is hotter Shintaro Katsu or Raizo Ichikawa. She is a key member of the school movie making club, but intensely resentful of star player Karin (Mahiru Coda) who won the tender to make the film for this year’s cultural festival with a sappy teen romance which mostly seems to involve repeated scenes of the central couple loudly declaring their love for each other. Barefoot thinks a film should convey love without words and has written a script for a teen samurai movie in which adversaries become too emotionally invested in each other to engage in the expected final confrontation. All she’s lacking is a star and after spotting a handsome guy apparently as moved by a local rep screening as she is decides she’s found her man. What she doesn’t know is that Rintaro (Daichi Kaneko) is a secret time traveller from a future in which she has become a renowned master filmmaker but film itself sadly no longer exists. 

Being from the future and all explains Rintaro’s reluctance to star in the film, dropping accidental hints that he’s from another place as in his amusement that humans still staff removal companies and total mystification by the word “Netflix”. Yet he too is completely obsessed with classic jidaigeki from the heyday of the genre which had largely gone out of fashion by the early 1980s. As many point out, Barefoot’s hobby is slightly unusual, though she learned her love of chanbara from her grandma, receiving messages from the past she hoped to pass on to the future. Gathering most of the other rejected, outsider teens from a boy who looks about 40 to a pair of baseball nerds who can correctly guess the player from the sound of a ball hitting a glove and a bleach blond biker, she assembles a team to make her movie dreams come true as if to prove there’s something more out there than the, as she sees it, vacuous high school rom-coms favoured by the likes of Karin. 

Among the series of lessons she finally learns is that Karin need not be an adversary but could be a friend if only she look beyond her snootiness and resentment of the popular crowd even if Karin’s all pink, needlessly extravagant and egotistically branded crew shirts don’t do much to dispel Barefoot’s perception of her as entitled and self-obsessed. Another lesson she learns is that she’s not as disinterested in romance as she thought she was, though falling for Rintaro leaves her with a secondary dilemma realising that he’ll eventually have to return to his own times while also contemplating what the point of the future even is if they don’t have movies there. What she’s going to do with the rest of her life if the art of cinema is already obsolete? 

With some ironic help from Karin, what she realises is that even if something is destroyed it doesn’t disappear, films live on in the memories of those who saw them who can then take their memories with them into the future. Where her first draft had ended with an emotional anti-climax that saw her heroes too emotionally involved to engage in conflict, she now realises that samurai movies are love stories too and that “killing is a confession of love” in a slightly worrying though not altogether inaccurate take on the homoerotic subtext of the chanbara. A charmingly whimsical coming-of-age tale filled with meta touches from the constant references to classic jidaigeki to the heroine’s sci-fi-obsessed sidekick who seems to have an unrequited crush on her best friend idly reading The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, It’s a Summer Film! more than lives up to its name in its cheerful serenity as the teenage old souls defiantly learn to claim their own space while connecting with each other as they contemplate love and transience in the eternal art of cinema. 


It’s a Summer Film streamed as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

colorless (猿楽町で会いましょう, Takashi Koyama, 2019)

“I think I could capture the real you” a photographer pleads of a subject he has become obsessed with, little knowing the deeply problematic implications of his statement. Shot with a photographer’s eye, Takashi Koyama’s colorless (猿楽町で会いましょう, Sarugakucho de Aimasho), paints its heroes as just that, wandering zombies of modern day Tokyo as estranged from themselves as they are from others, but even as it attempts to draw similarities between their mutual lifelessness cannot help but reflect a misogynistic world view in which the conflicted heroine remains little more than an empty shell, a blank canvas onto which various men project their inner desires leaving her essentially robbed of an identity by an exploitative society. 

When we first meet aspiring freelance photographer Shu (Daichi Kaneko), he is in much the same position, kept waiting by an arrogant magazine editor who has stepped out of the office despite having arranged an appointment to look over his portfolio. When he eventually arrives, Kasamura (Kenta Maeno) rudely dismisses his work, claiming that the selection of photos he’s assembled doesn’t make sense in that it gives no clear indication of his style or intent and aside from that his shots are cold and lifeless. He attributes this lack of passion to the likelihood that Shu has never truly been in love, something which turns out to be true though as we later discover Kasamura is also a cold and cynical man who proudly proclaims the same of himself. Nevertheless, he hooks Shu up with a side job shooting publicity shots for an acquaintance, Yuka (Ruka Ishikawa), hoping to become a “reader’s model” as a path to fame. 

For whatever reason, Yuka seems to incite in him the passion which Kasamura claimed was missing in his work, becoming both muse and object of desire. She describes herself as colourless and wonders if there is a “her” that can be captured, while Shu assures her that he feels much the same but fails to appreciate the various ways in which he is attempting to colour her with his camera, filled with nothing but jealous anxiety when confronted by the possibility that she exists outside of the image he has created of her. The incongruities between what she tells him of herself, his own self created vision, and the evidence presented to him by others bring out an unpleasantly chauvinistic side of him which he perhaps does not even like in himself, abruptly attempting to stop her leaving his apartment without consenting to sex by threatening to withhold the data for the pictures he took, breaking into her phone to check her messages, and later feeling humiliated in realising that she may have hidden from him a prior (or current) life in sex work.

Yuka, meanwhile, remains a cipher. Unexpectedly interviewed as part of an audition she is asked to describe herself but can only reply in terms of the way others see her, answering only that she is often said to have a sunny disposition. We see her parrot back lines she’s heard from one man to another in an attempt to please him, as if wilfully erasing her essential identity to better conform to male desires in an attempt to keep herself safe but also perhaps betraying that she has few words of her own to offer. Yet in private we see a much less complimentary side of her in which she is petty and jealous, resentful of a friend’s success while she seems to get nowhere and, the film uncomfortably insists, willing to use men by exploiting their desire for her which is in essence a desire for a colourlessness they can dye with their own self projected ideals. 

Yuka claims that she does not want to know who she really is, perhaps afraid to know or realising that there really is no value in knowing because her existence is defined by male desire. Her tragedy may be that she isn’t cynical enough, unable to manipulate men to the same extent as her more successful friend, still longing to be known and loved for who she is even while insisting that she does not exist and wilfully misrepresenting herself to those around her out of embarrassment and dissatisfaction with her life. The story she tells in her interview implies a lasting trauma of male abuse which has caused a rupture in her sense of self, unable to grasp an identity other than that granted by others, but still we’re largely left with Shu’s resentment in his inability to “capture” that which cannot be captured in his desire to possess not only Yuka’s body but her image by replacing it with that of his own creation. A dark and cynical take on modern romance, colorless leaves its heroes much where it found them, floundering in an inherently patriarchal society itself devoid of the colour they each desire. 


colorless streamed as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Narratage (ナラタージュ, Isao Yukisada, 2017)

Narratge poster 1Isao Yukisada made his name with the jun-ai landmark Crying Out Love in the Centre of the World back in 2004. Adapted from a best selling novel (which had also been adapted as a TV drama around the same time), Crying Out Love was the epitome of a short lived genre in which melancholy, lovelorn and lonely middle-aged heroes looked back on the lost love of their youths. Jun-ai has never really gone away though it might not be so popular as it once was, but the focus has perhaps shifted and in an unexpected direction. Narratage (ナラタージュ), once again adapted from a best selling novel though this time one by an author still in her early 20s when the book was written (incidentally smack in the middle of the jun-ai boom), is another sad story of frustrated love though in contrast to the jun-ai norm, its tragedies revolve around loves which were tested and subsequently failed, leaving the broken hearted romantics trapped within their own tiny bubbles of nostalgia.

The heroine, Izumi (Kasumi Arimura), narrates her tale from three distinct periods of her young life speaking from the perspective of her still young self now living as a lonely office worker. A lonely high school misfit, she found herself drawn to a sensitive teacher, Hayama (Jun Matsumoto), who rescued her from despair through an invitation to join the drama club. Relying on him ever more, she began regularly visiting his office for guidance and the pair bonded over their shared love of cinema. On graduation Izumi decided to declare her love, but earned a sad story in return and resolved to move on with her life. Then in the second year of university, she gets an unexpected phone call, calling her back to help out with a play at the school’s culture festival.

Yukisada begins with a rather unsubtle metaphor in which the older Izumi lovingly fondles an antique pocket watch which has long since stopped ticking. 20-something Izumi apparently has very little in her life, a pang of melancholy envy passing her face as she talks to a friend on the phone at home with a new baby while she prepares for another lonely night of (unnecessary) overtime. Where the heroes of jun-ai obsess over true love lost, Izumi struggles to face the fact that the man she loved did not, could not, love her in the way that she wanted him to. There is, of course, something deeply inappropriate in the awkward relationship between Izumi and Hayama who are a teenage student and her teacher respectively – connect as they might, there are moments when a line is crossed even while Izumi is still a schoolgirl which is in no way justified by the presentation of their (non)romance as a natural consequence of their mutual suffering.

Hayama and Izumi are presented as equals but they aren’t and never could be. As if to continue the chain, university era Izumi gets a love confession of her own from old classmate Ono (Kentaro Sakaguchi) who has apparently been carrying a torch for her all this time. Ono’s love, like Izumi’s, is originally generous and altruistic – he understands her unrequited affection for Hayama and perhaps even sympathises, but once Izumi decides to try and make things work with someone who loves her it all starts to go wrong. Ono is jealous, possessive, desperate. He demands to inspect her phone, insists she erase Hayama from her mind and devote herself only to him. Izumi, sadly, goes along with all of this, even when her attempts to turn to Ono for protection when afraid and alone are petulantly refused. When the inevitable happens and she decides to try and sort things out with Hayama, Ono tries to exert an authority he doesn’t really have, ordering her to bow to him (literally), and harping on about all the hard work he personally has put into their relationship which, he feels, she doesn’t really appreciate while berating her for not really loving him enough. As it turns out, neither of Izumi’s romantic options is particularly healthy or indeed viable.

At one particularly unsubtle moment, Izumi (alone) attends a screening of Naruse’s Floating Clouds – another film about a couple who fail to move on from a failed love affair though their struggle is ultimately more about the vagaries of the post-war world than it is about impossible love. Meanwhile the school play is to be A Midsummer Night’s Dream which is also about misplaced and unrequited loves which spontaneously sort themselves out thanks to some fairy magic and a night in a confusing forest. No magic powers are going to sort out Izumi’s broken heart for her. Like the pocket watch, her heart has stopped ticking and her romantic outlook appears to be arrested at the schoolgirl level. She and Hayama maybe equally damaged people who save and damn each other in equal measure, but the central messages seem to be that difficult, complicated, and unresolved loves and the obsessive sadness they entail produce nothing more than inescapable chains of loneliness. Simplistic as it may be, Izumi at least is beginning to find the strength to set time moving once again prompted perhaps by another incoming bout of possibly requitable love lingering on the horizon.


International trailer (English subtitles)