Summer Ghost (2021)

I was fortunate enough to cover this year’s Cardiff Animation Festival and was able to watch an array of films (over 100 in fact!). One of the highlights was loundraw’s debut, Summer Ghost which has a non-traditional running time of 40 minutes meaning that it can be considered either a long short film or a short feature film depending on your point of view. The film follows three struggling teenagers Tomoya (Chiaki Kobayashi), Aoi (Miyuri Shimabukuro), and Ryō (Nobunaga Shimazaki) and their investigation into a local urban legend called the Summer Ghost, a young girl who was rumoured to have killed herself who can be summoned when lighting a firework at an abandoned airfield. When they come face to face with Ayane (Rina Kawaei), the Summer Ghost, the group tries to figure out the truth about Ayane’s death, so she can find peace and move on.

The film marks loundraw’s directorial debut and is based on a script by author Hirotaka Adachi who incorporates many elements seen throughout his bibliography. The first thing that you notice about Summer Ghost is how strong the style of the film is. It’s clear from the beginning that loundraw has a distinct style, while the writing isn’t afraid to venture into mature topics such as mental health, specifically struggles with depression and suicide. Due to the film’s 40-minute running time, there are some characters who are given more characterisation over others as loundraw has more interest in Tomoya and Ayane. This isn’t to say that we aren’t given insight into Aoi and Ryō’s characters at all as we learn about their individual struggles, but there is more emphasis placed on the friendship between the protagonists and their times spent together. The plot of Summer Ghost is fairly straightforward and linear, but isn’t afraid to blur the lines between reality and the supernatural, allowing the audience to escape within the magic of the film’s world.

The film consists of four major characters so finding the right actors to voice them was crucial, especially since Summer Ghost delves into darker themes. In particular, the voice acting provided by Chiaki Kobayashi as protagonist, Tomoya and Rina Kawaei as the titular ghost, Ayane are extremely strong with the latter proving herself to be the perfect choice for Ayane. They manage to bring life to their characters and perfectly put across the complex emotions that these characters feel through the duration of the film. The scenes in which Tomoya and Ayane spend time together without the others feels extremely intimate and secret with Kobayashi and Kawaei conveying great chemistry for the characters, so the audience believes that they have an organic and natural friendship, despite the short amount of time that we see them spending together.

The soundtrack composed by Akira Kosemura, Itoko Toma, Guiano, and Hideya Kojima perfectly conveys the fantastical elements of the plot as it incorporates whimsy, especially in the scenes when we are first introduced to Ayane and when Tomoya first flies. The composers treat Summer Ghost as though it were a feature with his score as he allows the tracks to become loud and powerful, bringing forth the characters’ feelings during the unspoken moments. There is a contrast between the tracks that accompany scenes that take place in the “real world” and those that accompany supernatural scenes as the former seem to feel more standard and repetitive as though to exaggerate the repetitive nature of everyday routines, while the supernatural tracks are more unpredictable and whimsical in their sound. Despite having four different composers working on the film, the soundtrack works well when put together as it shows the complexities and differences between the characters and their individual perspectives.

Summer Ghost may have a non-traditional running time of 40 minutes that teeters between short film and feature film length. However, this doesn’t take away from Adachi’s beautiful script and the vivid visuals as loundraw makes use of every single second. Whether loundraw decides to revisit the world of Summer Ghost for a feature-length project in the future or decides to leave the project as is, it’s clear that he has a firm place in the future of anime and is a voice and visionary to watch out for as his studio, Flat Studio begins to develop even more projects.

You can read my write-up on Cardiff Animation Festival here.

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