Seeking Answers from Death- a Summer Ghost review

Title: Summer Ghost (2021)
Duration: 40 mins
Director: laundraw
Screenplay: Otsuichi
Music: Akira Kosemura, Guiano, Hideya Kojima, Itoko Toma

Partly, we grasp reality through comprehending and experiencing opposites. In laundraw’s directorial debut life and death -the ultimate opposites- are in its epicenter: three teens search a ghost in hopes of navigating their personal circumstances. Short and poignant, Summer Ghost is a film that will stay with you.

Our sweet ghost, Ayane

loundraw is mainly known for his character designs for I want to eat your pancreas, As the Moon so Beautiful, and more recently, Vivy: Fluorite Eyes’ Song. Before this film, he had only directed ads, and yet this first attempt at something more ambitious is remarkable. The fact that Otsuichi, a novelist and film director, was responsible for the screenplay might have something to do with it. They had a good collaboration from the beginning of the development of the project, and loundraw’s perfectionism, devotion and gentleness lead to a visually stunning, sensitive, well-executed story without the usual pitfalls (see preachiness) of the theme explored.

Everything ties amazingly together because of how well thought out it is. The story takes place during summer, which is a pretty common season to signify youth, but where expectations are subverted is the absence of romance or passion -associated with the soaring temperatures. Instead our characters go through some rough times and the colour palette reflects that with more mutted and dark colours. The season is also chosen for its spirituality; in Japan the Bon festival, when the ancestral spirits come to this plane to visit us, takes place near the end of summer.

Connection is the key- perhaps a conventional answer but one that glimmers with hope

The character designs themselves look fragile, much like our characters’ inner worlds. In that aspect they are a stark contrast to other designs loundraw has contributed elsewhere, which have bolder outline and solid colours. Aoi, Tomoya and Ryou look like flickering candlelights with their pale complexions and soft features. The lack of distinction between eye and hair colour tones and hues, and the overall minimalism in their characteristics, don’t only make them stand-ins for the audience but also make them appear soulless, almost ghost-like.

They feel small
Perfect compositions, full of symbolism and poetry
“Show, don’t tell” exemplified

The cinematography is well-thought out, being as important as the dialogues if not more. How the characters are set on our screens, where they stand in terms to each other, what angles are used, all contribute to conveying the emotional weight our protagonists carry as well as narrating without words the developments of the plot. Often there’s a sense of pervading loneliness, detachment and smallness. In a visual medium it’s not just a prerequisite and proof of mastery but also a way to speak directly to people’s hearts, acknowledging their intelligence and competence.

The music score doesn’t build around one theme, but highlights different moods and scenes, as per the director’s will. That said, there is some consistency: the prevalence of piano, with strings doing the support. Often the notes played are standing alone, highlighting what the cinematography is trying to showcase.The ost dresses the imagery beautifully and the main theme soars in a repetitive pattern, much like the story itself bookends.

As far as the voice acting goes, Chiaki Kobayashi playing Tomoya was a great fit (voice of Langa in SK8, Askeladd in Vinland Saga), going for a soft deep voice here, particularly because he has the longest screen time. Nobunaga Shimazaki is Ryou (voice of Mikado in Tricornered Window, Yuki Souma in Fruits Basket) and Miyuri Shimabukuro is Aoi (voice of Carole in Carole & Tuesday).

Somehow, this comes out naturally and from a place of care

Some seem to draw parallel’s to Makoto Shinkai’s work, but honestly this seems to be just another manifestation of messianism in art where fans seek to draw rash oversimplistic comparisons in awarding the next rising star or at the same time condescendingly and narrow-mindedly sidelining new talents. There’s no artist that doesn’t draw inspiration from somewhere and no single person who isn’t influenced by its own era. I believe artists deserve to have their works judged by their own merits and loundraw has given us a small gem deserving its own place in the world of animation.


P.S.: Spoiler warning- Tomoya’s obsession with claiming back Ayane’s body might appear random, but once you consider how his own struggle is finding himself again, reconnecting his living body with a soul in stasis, it makes total sense and adds to the layers of poignancy.

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