Saturday, August 21, 2021

Japan Cuts ’21: It’s a Summer Film!

Can't decide if you are in the mood for a sappy teen romance, a samurai Chanbara film, or some light science fiction? Well, you do not have to choose. This film does it all—and it might just save the future of filmmaking in the process. Genres collide, but the can-do spirit of teen filmmakers prevails in Soushi Matsumoto’s It’s a Summer Film!, which screens on-demand and in-person, as part of the 2021 Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film, at the Japan Society.

Nobody loves samurai films more than “Barefoot.” (She and her friends have somewhat eccentric nicknames that don’t seem to bother them.) Much to her frustration, the film club throws all its resources behind the popular Karin’s weepy teen melodrama instead of her script,
Samurai Spring. Her friends, “Kickboard” (of the Astronomy Club) and “Blue Hawaii,” (a member of the kendo team) encourage her to go it on her own, but she is reluctant until she suddenly finds her perfect lead.

For some reason, the mysterious Rintaro insists she must make her film, but he is reluctant to star in it. Barefoot is confused when he talks about being her greatest fan, but there is definitely romantic attraction percolating between them. Things really get confusing when the crew learns Rintaro’s secret—so much so, it becomes unclear whether
Samurai Spring will be completed in time for the high school’s summer festival.

In some ways,
Summer Film bears some thematic similarities to the original Bill & Ted, but its teen characters are much smarter. It might best compare to One Cut of the Dead, because they both use genre elements to pay “feel-good” tribute to the filmmaking process. Summer Film has more to offer than cuteness, but it is indeed as a cute as a button.

Mariko Ito is absolutely terrific as Barefoot. She is goofy but grounded and acutely sensitive. Daichi Kaneko also nicely humanizes the awkward and reserved Rintaro, developing some endearing chemistry with Ito. Mahiru Coda notably steals scenes and upends expectations as Karin, who maybe isn’t such a mean girl once we get to know her. In fact, the entire ensemble just brims with energy and earnestness.

Matsumoto keeps the pace brisk yet maintains a nostalgically bittersweet vibe. Yet, when it is all said and done, real movie lovers will be smiling from ear to ear, especially if they dig samurai movies. In fact, we would be delighted to watch
Samurai Spring, the film-within-the-film, as a stand-alone movie. It is just unimaginable how anyone could dislike this film. Very highly recommended, It’s a Summer Film! screens in-person (8/21) today and as an on-demand selection of this year’s Japan Cuts (and also screens as an on-demand selection of this year’s Fantasia).