Updated: Aug 30, 2021
Concluded Japan Cuts 2021 with a self-catered double feature:
It’s a Summer Film!: This lighthearted ode to the spirit of creativity is a true cinephile’s delight. The protagonist is Barefoot, a socially awkward chanbara fanatic that feels artistically smothered by her high school film club’s obsession with generic teen romcoms, and thus resolves to break the mold by directing an old-school samurai epic of her own. The film’s great irony, of course, is that our heroine becomes entangled in a love story herself (it’s no coincidence that the title only appears after her meet cute with her male costar)—albeit one with a delightfully unconventional sci-fi twist. While Soushi Matsumoto’s visual style is hardly what I’d call "innovative" (with the exception of a few flamboyant flourishes, including a tracking shot that has more ambition than polish and a montage that makes clever use of an evolving mise en scene), it perfectly complements the narrative’s quirky premise and infectious energy. Whether the characters are debating the sex appeal of rugged manly-man Shintaro Katsu and clean-cut pretty-boy Raizo Ichikawa or confessing to their crushes via sword fights with broom handles, It’s a Summer Film! is effortlessly enjoyable.
Go Seppuku Yourselves: The latest short from regular Japan Cuts contributor Toshiaki Toyoda (Wolf’s Calling, The Day of Destruction) ended up being the perfect companion piece to It’s a Summer Film!; both stylistically and thematically, it is highly evocative of such jidaigeki classics as Harakiri and Onibaba. Like the director’s previous work, the minimalistic story is a political allegory with a barely disguised subtext rooted in current events: a ronin wanders into town only to find himself falsely accused of tainting the local water supply with a deadly plague; following a perfunctory “interrogation,” he is sentenced to commit seppuku. Although the nihilistic warrior is happy to abandon this sinful world, however, he does not accept his fate quietly; he angrily condemns his executioners for their corruption, urging them to die so that they might be reincarnated as less selfish and exploitative individuals. Methodically paced, hypnotically atmospheric, unapologetically antiestablishment, shockingly violent, and significantly more dense than its relatively brief 26-minute running time would suggest, Go Seppuku Yourselves epitomizes the quintessential film festival experience.