Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Soushi Matsumoto
Writer: Soushi Matsumoto
Cast: Marika Ito, Daichi Kaneko, Yuumi Kawai, Kilala Inori
By Harris Dang
Set in present day Japan, “It’s a Summer Film“(2020) tells the story of Barefoot (Marika Ito), an overeager cineaste who loves jidaigeki (period dramas) and chambara (samurai stories) pictures. She becomes tired by the oversaturation of the romantic comedy genre — as made by her peers in the film school club, led by the popular student Karin (Mahiru Coda) — so she goes out of her way to make her own DIY film for the upcoming school festival.
With the help of her friends including the athletic Blue Hawaii (Kilala Inori) and the knowledgeable Kickboard (Yuumi Kawai) and a script called Samurai Spring in the backend, all they need now is a lead actor. In a period of serendipity, Barefoot runs into a strange boy Rintaro at a festival movie screening and with forceful exertion, he reluctantly agrees. But over time, his intentions and demeanor become more and more strange, which may change the progress of the film and even filmmaking in general.
The synopsis may sound vague and even quite predictable from the offset. However, it is intentionally so just to keep the surprises in the narrative in check. But what can be said is that “It’s a Summer Film!” is one of the most heartwarming films of 2021.
One of the many positives of the film is that any film fan will catch the many lovingly reverential nods to Japanese cinema. From references to the works of Akira Kurosawa to the Zatoichi films and even lesser-known films like “In Search of Mother” (1962), there is enough for every cineaste to enjoy.
Thankfully, the film does not overindulge on the Easter eggs and remembers that it has its own story to tell. Nor does the film drown in its own self-importance of cinema over the service of its characters. The film also deserves credit for not pitting film genres against each other and showing that cinema is a universal artform.
What keeps the film from veering into sentimentality is the story turns that hint of cultural dystopia and how it links to the characters. Without spoilers, the very notion that the cinematic artform could be extinct in the future sounds incredibly dire, particularly in a film like this and writer/director Soushi Matsumoto explores that notion in ways that fuel the characterizations to surprising emotional heights.
The sharp genre turns also lend the film a sense of unpredictability; making the story honor more than just the genres mentioned as well as ironically making the story universal as possible. It also matches the spirited coming-of-age idealism of the characters in the school, with their very optimistic outlook of their own futures and the power of imagination that will bolster them through – even when their futures are apparently preordained.
The young cast are all playing archetypal roles and they nail their roles with gusto. Sure, they all act in ways that may sound like excitable screeching but it matches the exuberant nature of the story and they are directed well during the dramatic moments that we can take their predicaments seriously. Ito and Inori in particular have impressive comedic chops that make their social neuroses endearing rather than annoying.
Throw in a shambolically inspired ending that manages to combine all the tropes of the genres it adheres to with its delightfully inspiring message and you got yourself a winner. “It’s a Summer Film!” is a lovable ode to filmmaking, adolescence and life that will have you smiling. Highly recommended.
“It’s a Summer Film!” will be showing at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Click the picture below to explore the festival program.