Spectators might know screenwriter Makoto Ueda from his most sci-fi work Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020), yet without knowing that his first work was an equally beloved time-travel narrative. Now, thanks to Third Windows Films, spectators can rediscover the time-travel classic Summer Time Machine Blues (Katsuyuki Motohiro, 2005), in all its glory.
The five members of the Sci-fi club (i.e. Atsushi Soga (Munenori Nagano), Daigo Ishimatsu (Tsuyoshi Muro), Masaru Niimi (Yoshiyaki Yoza), Takuma Komoto (Eita), Shunsuke Koizumi (Daijiro Kawaoka)) and two members of the photography club (i.e. Yui Ito (Yoko Maki) and Haruka Shibata (Juri Ueno)) spend their time in their shared club-room. One day, Takuma instigates a series of unfortunate accidents that leads to the destruction of the air conditioner’s remote control, hereby rendering it useless. Atsushi asks professor Kohtaro Hozumi (Kuranosuke Sasaki) to fix the remote, yet until then they need to try and survive the summer’s heat.
Not that much later, they encounter a strange and rather awkward person (Chikara Honda) in their clubhouse. Shy as he is, Mushroom quickly runs away, leaving a large machine-like thing behind. Shunsuke quickly realizes that it resembles a time machine. Thinking it is fake, Takuma orders Soga to use it. Yet, upon trying it out, the machine turns out to be the real deal. After fleetingly wondering who the mysterious Mushroom is, they quickly set out to take the machine for another spin – and use it to undo the destruction of the remote control.
Summer Time Machine Blues is structured in such a way that its beginning puzzles the spectator with a myriad of riddles (e.g. Why do our sci-fi nerds do a baseball shoot?; Who took Masaru’s precious Vidal Sassoon; why does Ishimatsu take the penguin-like statue from in front of Matsui pharmacy/udon?; Why is Soga questioned about a part-time job he does not have; Why is Takuma confronted by Haruka about a girlfriend he does not have, who is the strange guy they call mushroom?; where does the time-machine come from?; … etc.). While some of these riddles quickly find their answer as the narrative gains steam, other riddles persist longer, hereby keeping the spectator engaged.
The evocation of Summer Time Machine Blues as a mysterious riddle is further emphasized, in the opening of the narrative, by the interruptions in the compositional flow (i.e. the cut-to-blacks) and the sounds that accompanies those interruptions (i.e. the rewinding of time). Yet, the sound of rewinding as well as the visual and auditive emphasis on the ticking of time offers an important clue as to where the solution of all those narrative riddles will lie: in the modulation of time (General-note 1).
Summer Time Machine Blues expertly avoids the many contradictions that plague other time-travel narratives. While the many contradictions that time-travel might create are touched upon in the narrative (e.g. two time-lines cannot co-exist at once), Motohiro’s narrative conceptualizes time-travel as happening on one time-line where everything has, in fact, already happened. The past is already marked and structured by the time-travel before our friends discover the time-machine. Their intention to change the past is thus in vain, because the past is already written and determined by their time-intervention. It is, in fact, seeing how our sci-fi nerds fail to change the past in accordance with their intentions and ‘complicate’ their present intentions with their failures in the past that makes Summer Time Machine Blues such an enjoyable and engaging experience.
The composition of Summer Time Machine Blues has a pleasant and engaging rhythm due to Motohiro’s rich use of dynamism and the fluid incorporation of cinematographical decorations (e.g. jump-cuts, slow-motion, split-screen… etc.). Motohiro’s play with dynamism, however, is not merely about his reliance on different kinds of camera-movement to stage his narrative but also his thoughtful use of the cut to modulate the rhythm of his composition. Moreover, by effectively playing with decorations in his composition, Motohiro is able, from the get-go, to channel the light-hearted nature of his narrative.
Besides evoking the light-hearted nature of Summer Time Machine Blues, Motohiro also effectively visualizes the summery atmosphere. The summer is not only evident in the yellowish tint that marks the imagery but also by adding visual decorations like shimmering heat hazes. This summery feel is further brought to life by the sounds of summer – e.g. the whizzing of the cicada, …) that accompany the imagery.
The musical accompaniment, for that matter, plays an important role in echoing the light-hearted nature of the narrative. Moreover, Motohiro thoughtfully plays with his musical accompaniment to effectively heighten the pun-like moments of certain comical sequences.
Summer Time Machine Blues is a fantastic time-travel narrative that will not only please sci-fi fans but also please spectators who love Japanese comical narratives. What allows Motohiro’s summery narrative to be so satisfying is not only the charming performances of the cast, but the fact that the time-travel element, by being consequently applied, creates a narrative structure whose unfolding is a joy to watch.
General-note 1: This is, as a matter of fact, already implied by the title of the narrative as such.