It’s a Summer Film! (Japan, 2020) [JAPAN CUTS 2021]

Sword fights and time-travel with a pinch cliché teenage love make up Soushi Matsumoto’s latest feature, It’s a Summer Film! A traditional youth romance with a slight non-traditional bend, it won’t blow anyone away but is certainly a charming and entertaining piece.

Barefoot (Mariko Ito) is a timid, chanbara-obsessed high schooler who is never able to get her way in film club. Everyone except her two best friends, Kickboard (Yumi Kawai) Blue Hawaii (Kirara Inori), seems devoted to the club’s official feature, a cheesy and nonsensical romantic comedy. Despite these obstacles, Barefoot decides to shoot her film anyway without the resources of the film club. There’s only one problem, however: she doesn’t have a male lead. She finds her perfect lead in, Rintaro (Daichi Kaneko) who appears seemingly out of nowhere into her life. Rintaro is not all that eager to star in Barefoot’s debut film but is eventually persuaded by her passion for the project. With her gonzo crew and crazy DIY equipment, Barefoot manages to make her Samurai film, encountering a myriad of obstacles along the way. Stiff actors, crippling self-doubt, and visitors from the future are just some of her problems.

The title, It’s a Summer Film!, refers to its own identity as a “summer film” (of sorts), the summer film that the characters are shooting, and also, more implicitly, the brief summer romance between Barefoot and her time-travelling paramour, Rintaro. Like most teenage romances, the relationship between the two leads is doomed on arrival for reasons far more pressing than usual teenage drama. The future is grim, and no-matter what happens, Rintaro will have to return to it. Nevertheless, the film is able to reduce the quasi-high stakes of the time-travel subplot into a more down-to-earth high-school romance – and that’s both a bane and boon for the film. On the one hand it makes the romance charming and relatable, much in the line of the typical teenage dramas. Timidities evaporate, rivalries are born and then resolved, and in true Japanese fashion, the two leads will do anything but kiss on camera. Yet, the appeal is there, and the final confrontation between Barefoot and Rintaro is just as satisfying as any other love story out there. That’s not to say the film isn’t ultimately reduced to a formula, but if you enjoy the formula, then it doesn’t matter.

But what about the time-travel subplot? Well, therein lies the problem.

Indeed, the film’s greatest flaw is its time-travel angle – it is more or less superfluous. The plot of It’s a Summer Film! consists of two stories presented as one, and for the most part they don’t really connect together. It’s not even a MacGuffin as nothing about the central romance strictly necessitates it. It feels like an afterthought, supplementing a conventional teen drama, perhaps because the filmmakers don’t have enough confidence in it holding the story. Despite charismatic acting and ample chemistry between the leads, the plot still resorts to the usual cliches and unnecessary contrivances to push the romance forward. It might be trying to appeal to specific demographic, but myself, not being part of that demographic, couldn’t help but find it dull.

It’s a Summer Film! entices you into a good time despite the tired tropes and unpolished plot. Certain things don’t add up, but the film’s youthful energy and clear love of cinema make it easy to disregard its flaws. Fans of the genre will certainly have a blast, while the rest might still find a thing or two to enjoy.

It’s a Summer Film! was shown at JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film on August 20 and 21.