Soushi Matsumoto has followed a similar path as many directors. Before making his first foray in cinema, he crafted and showed off his skills in commercial videos, music videos, and tv- drama’s. Now, in 2021, Matsumoto does not only deliver one, but two feature films: The Aobas’ Dining Table (2021) and It’s a Summer Film (2021).
80 days before the summer festival, Karin Tsukishima (Mahiru Coda) is in the middle of filming a romance film with herself as main actress with the film club. While most club members happily give their support – even feeling honored to wear pink shirts adorned with the words ‘Karin film crew’, Barefoot (Marika Ito) is repulsed by her sugary and highly self-indulgent romance film.
Barefoot is, in fact, a period-film-geek and wants nothing other than to make her own period-film called Samurai Youth. Her friends Blue Hawaii (Kirara Inori), member of the kendo club and fellow period film enthusiast, and Kickboard (Yumi Kawai), who is not that into period films, would gladly help her. One day, after leaving their hidden cinematic paradise in an abandoned buss under a bridge, Barefoot starts waving a stick in the air as if it was a katana and seemingly disturbs the flow of time and causing a fleeting appearance of Rintaro (Daichi Kaneko).
It’s a Summer Film offers a fluid and pleasing blend of genres. It does not only deal with adolescence and the coming-of-age of some of its characters, but it is also a romance film and – maybe to people’s surprise – a science-fiction narrative. This genre cocktail, when mixed all together, allows Matsumoto’s narrative to become a tribute to the art of ‘indie’ filmmaking, the emotionality of cinema, and youthful passion as such. His narrative, furthermore, delivers a subtle celebration of the often-forgotten beauty of the mesmerizing dramatic theatricality that marked post-war jidai-geki films.
Yet, It’s A Summer Film is only able to become a tribute to these diverse elements by centering the narrative around a subjective conflict and allowing us to follow the path to its resolution. Barefoot, as is clear from her reluctance to create her film outside the film club, is marked by an inhibition. Even though she has the desire to craft a period film – her somewhat finished script proves this, she is unable to pass through her inhibiting anxiety – ‘I can’t find the right actor’, … etc. The firm wall of anxiety that stands invisible before her makes it impossible for her to take the leap of faith. What can enflame her desire and allow her to shatter the towering wall of inhibition?
Simply said, the appearance of the boy who can play Inotaro, her main character. Yet, her ‘cinematic’ desire does not only enflame because Rintaro embodies her fantasmatic hero completely, but also because the ideal imaginary elements – i.e. sad eyes, vulnerable, beautiful – of Inotaro’s appearance are the very elements that enflame and guide her own romantic desire. While it is therefore not surprising that their interactions are marked by subtle romantic undertones, it is not all that clear that Barefoot has realized that she has, in fact, fallen in love.
It is, in other words, by bringing the moment that her desire blossoms forth and breathes life into the body and comportments to life in such a pleasant and vivid way that the celebration of the craft of filmmaking can become so captivating and endearing. But Matsumoto celebration of filmmaking does not only center on the infectious passion of the director and the enjoyment of the crew responsible for lighting and sound, but also by underlining, via Rintaro, the very joy of acting in a film.
If It’s a Summer Film reveals anything, it is the very fact that a movie is a marriage of diverse elements (i.e. directing, sound, lighting, acting, …etc.) and that the source of excitement of crafting a film lies in the intermingling of passions and the excitement that the act of crafting an ‘indie’ visual narrative generates among the crew. Yet, Matsumoto’s celebration also lightheartedly reveals that the journey of crafting of a filmic narrative is riddled with very obstacles – e.g. actor who is too stiff, the sound-crew entering the frame, hungry actors, a drone disturbing the shoot, a script that does not feel on point, a shoot that does not go as planned, … etc.
The science-fiction element of the narrative concerns the mystery that surrounds Rintaro’s sudden appearance, his quirks (e.g. not knowing Netflix, never eaten marshmallows, … etc.), and the intentions that underpin his behaviour. Who is he? Where does he come from? From the future? Why does he demand that director barefoot completes her film but refuses, at first, to appear in her film as its main star?
Yet, while this science fiction element lightheartedly warns us what could happen to full feature films in the future – i.e. the deterioration of the importance of stories and films reduced to merely 5 seconds, those spectators that think deeply about Matsumoto’s time-travel twist might stumble upon some seemingly irresolvable contradictions (Narra-note 3). Luckily, the somewhat haphazardly integrated science-fiction element is unable to derail Matsumoto’s narrative. On the contrary, the time-travel twist still succeeds in allowing the narrative’s finale to become more emotional poignant.
What makes the composition of It’s a Summer Film engaging for the spectator is not only the Matsumoto’s pleasant play with compositional rhythm, but also his thoughtful way of blending static and dynamic moments together. Even though some compositional choices are made for variety’s sake and more cinematographical punch could have been applied, Matsumoto nevertheless proves that understands that the camera is a grammatical tool, as a tool to speak with (Cine-note 1).
To give his narrative a pleasant summery atmosphere, Matsumoto relies on a warm but natural colour-design and on his rich lighthearted musical accompaniment. Yet, the music is not merely used to imbue the imagery with a summery feel. In fact, it plays an instrumental role in (nostalgically) evoking what the summer, as signifier, represents and symbolizes (Narra-note 2). Summer is revealed as a period of opportunity, a fleeting moment to give expression to one’s youthful enthusiasm, to chase one’s passions and dreams, to let romantic feelings blossom, and to indulge oneself freely in one’s friendships and establish new ones (Narra-note 3).
That Matsumoto’s narrative is so pleasing and heartwarming for audiences is also function of the performances. They are instrumental in giving the emotional moments its ability to touch the spectator and the funny moments the possibility to put a smile on his/her face. Yet, the standout performance is Marika Ito, who plays the main character. She does not only give her character and her emotions its pleasing charm, but also the celebration of filmmaking its power to enthusiast the spectator.
It’s a Summer Film is a highly entertaining film that offers a nostalgic and touching dive into youthful passion and romantic feelings and lighthearted celebration of indie-filmmaking and often-forgotten beauty of post-war period films. Yet, what stops Matsumoto’s narrative to become a true triumph, is its lack of narrative tightness and cinematographic sharpness. With a zestier composition and a better braiding of the various narrative strands, Matsumoto would have delivered one of the best and most uplifting genre-blends of the year.
Cine-note 1: In some rare cases, Matsumoto utilizes techniques that have no added value to his composition, e.g. jump-cuts.
Narra-note 1: The simple mentioning of the fact that the time-paradox is static does not resolve the contradiction that marks the narrative’s plot. If Barefoot’s fame as director depends on making her debut film, then it is rather strange that Rintaro, who is the very reason why she can make this film, does not remember being in her film.
The only explanation that enables the narrative to keep its consistency is that the act of time-travel which made the meeting between Rintaro and Barefoot possible fused two worlds together into a third world. This possibility of this event is vaguely hinted at by Doc, Rintaro’s friend.
Narra-note 2: Of course, Matsumoto’s exploration of adolescence is somewhat idealized in It’s a Summer Film. It is this subtle idealization of youthful passion that allows the narrative to attain a nostalgic flavour.
Narra-note 3: Yet Matsumoto also touches upon the less peaceful aspects of youthful life like romantic rejection and disillusionment.