Summer Wedding (Japan, 2022) [OAFF 2022]

Azusa Hieda’s profound short film Summer Wedding uses the Covid-19 pandemic as a prompt for the self-reflection and change in its main character.

The titular summer wedding should be a happy affair but it is rife with countervailing emotions stemming from its setting. This wedding is a makeshift event held not in a church but in a suburban house due for demolition. Furthermore, its participants, a less-than-blushing bride (Rika Kurosawa) and her lover (Daiki Nunami), seem uneasy around each other. “If it weren’t for Covid, we wouldn’t be here,” says the bride wistfully as she prepares her own cake and directs the unofficiated, unattended, and, ultimately, melancholy ceremony.

Initial expectations that any source of unease between the couple lies with the virus affecting their big moment are set up at the opening with the exposition of a radio announcer talking about the virtues of pandemic isolation for lovers. On the surface, such isolation away from the world sounds wonderful. But as the ceremony proceeds, we see that it is a space for a life altering change in unexpected ways.

The virus itself feels a world away from the enclosed space of the old house, the bride’s family home. It is a setting that is rich in an atmosphere of stagnation and loss from the old-fashioned furniture to the funeral pictures. This is a house haunted with the bride’s troubled family history as it is explored through props that the camera focuses on and characters interact with. The bride’s explanations to the groom as to their importance is part of how the dialogue teases out the sad parallels between a broken family background and the reality of her present situation.

Upon recognizing that appearances deceive and this celebratory scene is a one-sided confirmation of love, it is possible to understand that the turmoil of the pandemic and their isolation is the catalyst for a major shift in the characters’ dynamic. The freedoms of pre-pandemic life must surely have delayed their recognition of an unsustainable relationship.

Guiding this profound reversal of understanding is a riveting performance by Kurosawa as the bride. Her expressive face signalling major shifts in emotion to key us into the darker subtext. The moments when her smile falters reveals a weight of emotion as she goes from being wistful to movingly sad. This results in a quietly devastating turn in the viewer’s perception of the bride because Kurosawa’s performance elicits investment from start to finish. 

Throughout this carefully crafted and unshowy drama, Azusa constantly wrong-foots viewers to build up a portrait of a woman stuck in isolation in more ways than one. The bleak atmosphere of the house, the subversion of the Covid-19 backdrop, and Kurosawa’s stirring performance ensure that this is an especially unique and moving short film. 

Summer Wedding was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 11 and 16.