What filmmaker Soushi Matsumoto's debut feature, It's A Summer Film!, proves is that the boundless and infectious enthusiasm of youth has no language barrier. Telling the tale of three Japanese high-schoolers' summer breaks and how they're crafting a movie project with their free time, It's A Summer Film! is one of the best love letters to cinema in recent years. Done entirely without the need to make its characters seem like over-eager nerds that want to one-up each other on film knowledge, It's a Summer Film! is populated with fully developed young people that want to share their passion with the world which makes for a stronger and more interesting narrative. It's a movie where the love for cinema isn't about winning a trivia contest but about the communal experience of connecting with a film.
Marika Itô stars as "Barefoot," the samurai-obsessed young director whose passion project is the centerpiece for the entire story. Itô does a tremendous job with juggling the film's drama and comedy but most importantly grounding her performance in that ever-changing tide of teenage emotions that go from over-eager excitement to crushing resentment at the drop of a hat. She's already a name in Japan, having been a pop star before appearing on the big screen, but this is an actress to keep your eye on; she's hilarious and sells every ounce of this story.
Flanking her in the film are friends Yumi Kawai as Kickboard and Kirara Inori as Blue Hawaii, both equally funny in their own rights, as well, plus Daichi Kaneko as Rintaro, the young man that becomes the star of Barefoot's "Samurai Spring." Rintaro has a shocking secret, though, one I won't spoil here, but it's the kind of development that halfway through It's A Summer Film! makes you wonder if it's a hat-on-a-hat. Luckily, they stick the landing and this bizarre twist only adds to the messages at the heart of the film.
Starring opposite Itô in the film's almost "antagonist" role is Mahiru Koda as rom-com loving Karin. While Barefoot wants to wow the world with samurai tales, Karin's project, which amounts to young couples trading "I love yous" in different locations, is the class-favorite and frequently becomes the foil to "Samurai Spring" with their rival film locations and the universal praise that its appeal garners. Though the film makes sure to notably put their projects at odds, it becomes a hilarious back and forth between them and becomes the linchpin of the overall theme of collaboration.
One of the most unique things about It's a Summer Film!'s story and cast is that it's so committed to being a coming-of-age film that you can seemingly count on one hand the number of adult characters that even appear in the movie. This is a world that everyone can recognize from having been a teenager and what teens see now, where their viewpoint is the center of attention and voices from older generations aren't present. It's a testament to Matsumoto's storytelling and a near-Easter egg for audiences.
It's A Summer Film! is a showcase for the importance of positive thinking, encouragement, and art preservation. It's a film about why storytelling is integral to the human experience. There's also a major element of there being more to life than just your passion project but also the importance of never compromising as a storyteller. This is an immensely rich and layered story that will one day become mandatory viewing for all film lovers. It's A Summer Film! has something for everyone: humor, drama, romance, and a surprising sci-fi subplot; it's the kind of movie that reminds you why you love movies.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
It's a Summer Film! screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival and does not yet have a release date.