Every year, new faces appear in the field of Japanese cinema. One of these new faces this year is Yuka Ibayashi. For her first feature film, she chose to set her narrative in her home prefecture, Toyama.
Ever since her parents divorced, Kanata (Konoha Nogishi) has been living apart from her younger sister Sumire (Nonoka Ikeda). Kanata is dutiful both at school, as an attempt to deal with her new school environment, and at home, helping her mother run her night-time snack bar.
Then, one day, her mother informs Kanata that her grandmother invited her and her younger sister to come and stay at her place for two days. Dutiful, Kanata accepts and heads to her grandmother’s house in the countryside. While she gives her sister the cold shoulder, she accepts her grandmother’s request to take Sumire to find some fireflies.
The Wonder Of A Summer Day is a narrative that explores the subjective deadlock that certain events can cause render as well as the need to find signifiers that, by echoing one’s subject, crumble the deadlock.
Kanata’s submissive attitude, i.e. her readiness to let the rules of the Other fully dictate her comportment, is nothing other than such a deadlock, a construction that defends her subject by locking it up. Her passive submission is not driven by a desire to please the Other – she finds not pleasure in submitting herself passively to the Other’s demands, but functions as an attempt to silence her subjective emptiness and avoid the frustrations that linger within her.
Yet, as all subjective defensive constructions fare, Kanata’s submissive shield occasionally falters. Certain well-meant signifiers by others or perceptions reflecting her own unresolved fantasies are enough to complicate the subjective shield and allows her subjective emptiness blossom into a kind of fleeting depression. The power of these signifiers and images resides in the fact that they confront Kanata with her own lack. The grocery shop’s owner who says that life tends to provide us all with something we enjoy or her grandmother pushing her to decide what her favourite food reflect Kanata’s lack of pleasure in her current subjective situations. The coincidental sight of her father’s car reveals the lack of pleasure that marks her and confronts her what she has lost due to her parent’s divorce.
The coldness that marks Kanata’s interactions with Sumire is, in this sense, function of the fact that she, without consciously meaning to, confronts Kanata with the familial loss. Sumire’s enthusiasm as well as her stories about Saki, who might be her father’s new girlfriend, are merely reminders of what she does not have – i.e. a sense of pleasure in life. Yet, can Kanata’s outing with Sumire to see the fireflies cause a subjective change to take place within Kanata? Can this trip allow her to finally vocalize the negative kernel of frustration that sucks out the pleasure from her life? Or even enable her to express something of her subjective position to her sister and thus renew the bond with her sister?
The composition ofThe Wonder Of a Summer Day stands out due to its simplicity. While there are some moments of minor dynamism are present, Ibayashi relies mostly on static shots to visualize her narrative. Such kind of cinematographic simplicity allows her to explore the complex fabric of interactions between subjects, to give mundane daily acts a certain poetic touch, and to highlight the beauty of rural and urban landscapes.
Yet, what truly breathes life into Ibayashi’s narrative, allows the summery atmosphere at the countryside to come to its full right, and even instigate a certain longing in the spectator for his youthful summer days is the exquisite sound-design. Ibayashi took great care in creating a rich palette of contrasting and blending summer sounds (Chirping crickets, one-man trains chucking forward, children playing, pattering sound of rain on leaves and umbrellas, … etc.). The performances are also noteworthy. That Ibayashi’s narrative succeeds in being such a touching heart-warming is due to the charming performances of Konoha Nogishi and Nonoka Ikeda and their chemistry in the screen.
The Wonder Of a Summer Day is a visually pleasing narrative that underlines, in a charming and touching way, the importance for the subject to find the kind of signifiers that can unlock his/her deadlock. Ibayashi’s wonder of the summer is, in truth, nothing other than the wonder of full speech. That kind of wonder has, in contrast to the fleeting beauty of fireflies, lasting effects. Similarly, let us hope that Ibayashi can avoid fading away like a fireflies and attain, by making more narrative, a shining sparkle within Japanese cinema circles.