Takahiro Miki, whom spectators might know from movies like My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday (2016) and Kids on the Slope (2018), is no stranger to bringing novels to the silver screen. In 2021, he took the director’s seat to bring renowned sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein’s The Door into Summer to life in cinema’s. Does he deliver, with his cinematic product, a door that audiences should open or a door that should remain closed?
Soichiro Takakura (Kento Yamazaki) feels burdened by fate, losing everything that is important to him. The threads of fate did not only take away his mother and father, but also caused the fatal incident that robbed him of Koichi Matsushita (-), the professor who took him in, and his wife Miyuki.
In 1995, Soichiro is working for Future Works Enterprise, a company developing a household robot driven by AI. In his free time, he is continuing the pet-project of his fatherly stand-in, the plasma battery, with Riko (Kaya Kiyohara) hanging around him. One day, at a special shareholder’s meeting, Soichiro is betrayed by his business partner Kazuhito Matsushita (Hidekazu Mashima) and his girlfriend Rin Shiraishi (Natsuna Watanabe). Despite remaining a shareholder, he is ousted from the company, losing all control over his ongoing projects.
With his life in shambles, Soichiro decides to apply, together with his cat Pete, for the Cold Sleep program by Credeus Life Insurance. Yet, he is turned away due to being intoxicated. The same night, he abandons his cold sleep plan and decides to fight and get his research material back.
The Door into Summer mightdish out some pleasant moments for the spectator but cannot, as a whole, fully satisfy the spectator. Miki’s sci-fi narrative offers an interesting exploration of the possible implementation of a cold-sleep program within the societal fabric and how monetary dealings might change in the future – from physical to radically virtual. Moreover, it delivers some insights in how humanoids and AI-automation could be integrated in the future. Humanoids are utilized for menial jobs (e.g. giving flyers, reception work, giving information at bus and taxi stands, …) and solve the problems with certain bottleneck professions (e.g. nurse, … ). AI, on the other hand, could become applied to de-humanize professions that can ‘easily’ be automated (e.g. taxi-driver, …).
Miki’s narrative also fleetingly explores the nature of defects in humanoids. The Door Into Summer beautifully evokes that a ‘defect’ is nothing other than a robotic ‘NO’. Humanoids malfunction, in other words, when they refuse to follow their fixed repertoire of acts and violate the rules that they are programmed to obey obediently. The defect of the humanoid (Naohito Fujiki) Soichiro encounters, for example, is due an explore function overload – a surge of unwanted curiosity.
Soichiro’s search for a door into summer, into happiness, eventually compels him to travel back in time with the time-travel device made by professor Toi (Tomorowo Taguchi). It is not, as is implied in the narrative, a re-written future Soichiro finds himself in, but a future already written and determined by his time-travel. Everything has, in short, already happened. The spectator is merely tasked with finding out how Soichiro, via his time-loop, counter-acted the carefully planned betrayal of his uncle and his girlfriend and actively participated in writing his own fate and the fate of Riko.
The failure of The Door Into Summer to fully satisfy the spectator lies in the fact that it tries to do too much all at once. The narrative falters because it is a trick of all trades, but a master of none. It aims to offer a blend of sci-fi, romance, comedy, and mystery. While these elements are decently blended together, there are a few false notes along the way and the result is, maybe contrary to one’s expectations not a satisfactory whole. In our view, the failure of The Door Into Summer is caused by its failure to make Soichiro’s fatalistic position and his sudden shift to actively trying to change the past compelling and easy to invest in. The overly dramatic musical sauce tries to mitigate this imaginary lack, but in many cases these musical decorations only emphasises the narrative’s failure.
The composition ofThe Door Into Summer is dynamic, blending spatial and tracking movement and static moments together in a fluid way (Cine-note 1). Moreover, Miki’s reliance on camera movement to further the narrative allows him to utilize static moments in a thoughtful and meaningful way. More static moments are either applied to emphasize the unvocalized meaning evoked by certain emotional expressions, certain acts, and so on or to highlight the emotionality or lack thereof that fuel certain signifiers and acts within the flow of interactions.
While Miki’s dynamism gives the narrative a pleasant flow, his use of the cut often creates a visual pace that does not fit well with the pace of the narrative or of the characters that inhabit the narrative space. Luckily, these false notes are minor and do not complicate the flow of the narrative nor the pleasure of such visual dynamism for the spectator.
Music is richly used, which is both a good and a bad thing. While the reliance on music succeeds in engaging the spectator with the emotions of the characters, the subtle over-utilisation of melo-dramatic music (as well as flash-back fragments) reveals a lack of confidence in the cast to express and communicate the emotions of their characters. The Door Into Summer might have a rich and dramatic emotional fabric, but the emotions are quite often imposed by the musical accompaniment and imagery rather than letting the quite-decent performances of the cast evoke them.
The Door Into Summer might offer a pleasant exploration of our future, with AI-automation and lots of humanoids, but Miki’s narrative fails to truly engage the spectator into Soichiro’s subjective position and his trajectory. While fragmentary flashbacks and dramatic music are applied to heighten the emotional investment of the spectator, the melo-dramatic nature of these moments elegantly underline that the cast are unable to fuel the emotions of the narrative with their performances.
Cine-note 1: On a side note, Miki also utilizes within his composition, shaky framing. These surges of shakiness are, in all cases, aimed at strengthening certain emotional expressions or subjective conflicts.