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Bella Farrelly | February 25, 2022

A trio of cinema-loving schoolgirls that we know only by their quirky codenames—Barefoot, Kickboard and Blue Hawaii—cobble together a ragtag production crew to create a samurai film. Only, they find out mid-production that one of their crew members is a time traveller from a dystopian future where their beloved films are banned, no less. A premise like this demands heart, spunk, and energy by the truckload, and luckily, It’s A Summer Film! delivers without fault.

Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie and think, “well, there was nothing wrong with it, but it also could have just been a book” (or stayed a book, @Percy Jackson). It’s A Summer Film! evokes the total opposite feeling: this could only have been a film; it’s the only way that would have made sense. The film resembles a diligent ant colony in its layered finer details and meticulous choreography whilst managing to stay faithful to the wacky, upbeat tempo that it demands of itself. Reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it is at once so ludicrous and stylish that it’s straight-up cartoonish at times.

The tech crew—brimming with minor characters so equally full of heart—comprises of a pair of classmates recruited as sound technicians for their superhuman skill in identifying famous baseball players just by listening to their pitch, as well as a deceptively scary-looking delinquent who, not unlike a little hamster running on a wheel to generate energy, provides their film’s lighting by pedalling profusely in place to activate his pedal-powered motorbike headlights.

Our protagonist, Barefoot, recalls a time her classmate Karin—whom she’s in an intense but one-sided filmmaking rivalry with—was celebrated for a film she made, effectively overshadowing Barefoot. She stares into the middle distance and we’re promptly immersed in a flashback: an overcrowded classroom is on their feet and beside themselves in rapturous applause for Karin, save for a seething Barefoot, who stands in the corner still and straight as a ramrod, delivering an A-grade Kubrick stare through murderous, twitching eyes. Barefoot’s bad mood conjures a violent thunder-and-lightning storm inside the classroom—that nobody else appears to notice. Fantastical, hilarious, and honestly, relatable.

Stylistic tics and quirky gags aside, though, this is a film about films, and so it evolves into a surprisingly profound meta-commentary on film and thus the creative process itself. In doing so, It’s A Summer Film!’s deliberateness—each movement, facial expression, and frame seems so meticulously calculated to stick perfect comedic delivery—becomes so much more poignant.

Watching Barefoot struggle through the labour of love that is her samurai film–taking and re-taking shots till nightfall, working her team to near exhaustion just to get it right— is punctuated by little moments of rest and triumph amongst the high schoolers that wonderfully encapsulate that airy, halcyon glow of adolescence. The thesis of the movie gradually emerges; art and love are so inextricably entangled that all acts of creation must be touched, honed, birthed by love. Regardless of genre, all films are love films—or rather, love letters—to the audience, to contemporaries, to forebears, and to cinema at large. Such an extension of yourself, according to Barefoot, can even defy time by forging a connection between past and present. The ensuing chain reaction of inspiration, handed down each time from creator to viewer, is the longest-lasting love letter correspondence the world has ever seen.

It’s A Summer Film (JFF 2021) | 2020 | Director: Sōshi Matsumoto

From a futuristic existential animation about androids to a culturally rich documentary delving into the art of ramen-making, the Japanese Film Festival: Online returns from 14-27 February 2022 with a free streamed Festival featuring the best in Japanese cinema.

Full program and streaming details available at: www.japanesefilmfestival.net 

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Bella Farrelly

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