Sunday, July 30, 2023

Japan Cuts ’23: Single8

Even though they had Godzilla and Gatchaman, Star Wars still blew the minds of Japanese science fiction fans when it opened in 1978 (in Japan). That is especially true for Hiroshi. He aspires to remake Star Wars for his high school arts festival, but the project evolves into something more original and more personal in Kazuya Konaka’s Single8, which screens today as part of this year’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film.

Hiroshi’s first film was a
Jaws “homage” called Claws that technically pre-dated Grizzly, but he still finds it embarrassingly amateurish by his current standards. He has been obsessively trying to recreate the opening Imperial Destroyer scene in Star Wars—notice how nobody calls it “A New Hope” in 1978—with the help of his pal Yoshio. Since nobody has a better idea, they pitch their remake to their class, for the school’s arts festival. Their teacher, Mr. Maruyama, is reasonably receptive, but he encourages them to create their own story, with a message that will speak to their classmates.

With input from Sasaki, another fannish classmate, they brainstorm the plot of
Time Reverse, in which aliens alarmed by Earthlings’ destructive tendencies make time run backwards, so humanity can fix its mistakes. The only two people unaffected are a teen couple, whose relationship is on the rocks. For Hiroshi, the greatest advantage of their new story is that his longtime crush Natsumi might be interested in playing the female lead.

Although Hiroshi and his friends are initially motivated by their
Star Wars love, Single8 (Japan’s equivalent to Super8) has far fewer references than Patrick Read Johnson’s 5-25-77. It is also considerably livelier and much less whiny. Frankly, a better comparison film would be the original One Cut of the Dead, because both films are such affectionate tributes to the filmmaking process.

Yu Uemura is almost painfully shy and totally earnest as poor Hiroshi. Likewise, Akari Takaishi personifies the ideal of a charismatic but flaky teen crush as Natsumi. Noa Fukuzawa and Ryuta Kuwayama keep things light and amusing as Hiroshi’s friends, while Takuji Kawakubo adds a surprisingly likable adult presence as Maruyama.

is never cheesy or condescending, always respecting its characters and their fandom. It is far more realistic than simplistic 1990s teen movies, but it definitely pays-off viewers’ investment with considerable interest, especially the climactic full screening of Time Reverse. Very highly recommended, Single8 screens today (7/30) as part of Japan Cuts ’23.