Monday, July 25, 2022

Fantasia ’22: Summer Ghost

It is a lot more intense growing up in Japan. Think of it this way: how many of your friends went to cram school? In Japan, it would have been 100% of those whose parents could afford it. Tomoya Sugisaki is definitely one of them, but he hates every minute of it. He and two other frustrated teens seek out a perspective from beyond the grave in Loundraw’s Summer Ghost, which screened during the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.

According to urban legend, the ghost of a beautiful young woman appears when the curious set off fireworks on a summer evening. Although he is a loner, Sugisaki connected online with two other teens who share his fascination with the so-called “Summer Ghost.” An abandoned airstrip looks like the perfect place to summon her, which indeed it turns out to be.

The girl was Ayane Sato. Contrary to popular belief, she did not commit suicide. Instead, she was killed in a hit-and-run, by a driver who subsequently dumped her body in an unknown location to cover-up the crime. Sato explains it is not just fireworks that are necessary to see her. Seekers also need to be mentally closer to death. Indeed, Sugisaki and the bullied Aoi Harukawa are having distressingly dark thoughts, while Ryo Kobayashi is dealing (badly) with a fatal diagnosis.

Sato is definitely a ghost in the tradition of
When Marnie was There, rather than a horror-style apparition. It is enormously sad and tragic, but also ultimately humanistic and life-affirming. The teens’ drama is totally grounded and true-to-life, while the ghost business is quite tragic, in a lovely kind of way.

Loundraw’s reputation mostly thus far comes from illustrating light novels (YA fiction with considerable pictorial elements), but the film’s animation is rich and beautiful, very much bringing to mind the work of Makoto Shinkai. Loundraw really cranks up the tearjerking down the stretch, but there is a sad logic to everything that transpires.

Summer Ghost
is a great little anime feature (literally, since it runs less than an hour). It is a great example of anime’s facility for emotionally mature storytelling (with genre elements). Very highly recommended, Summer Ghost had its Canadian premiere at this year’s Fantasia.