Marking French writer-director Jean-Gabriel Periot’s first step into fiction filmmaking (after a string of documentaries), Summer Lights opens, fittingly, with a simple, sustained talking-head interview. “That summer was especially hot…” begins Mrs. Takeda as she recalls the moments leading up to the Hiroshima bombing, which she and her sister Michiko both survived (though her sister died of radiation soon after). Save a few cuts to the interviewer, Akihiro (Hiroto Ogi)—a Paris-based Japanese expatriate visiting Hiroshima—her vivid testimony is captured in a sustained, fixed frame.
The rigor of that opening anchors the more wistful remainder of the film, which follows Akihiro’s chance encounter with a young woman (Akane Tatsukawa) as the two stroll through Hiroshima and a neighboring town. Suffused with a distinct sense of time, place, and memory, the Before Sunrise-esque romance that blooms after the pair meet deepens considerably as the film goes on, until a belated exchange of names pushes the scenario fully into the metaphysical. There’s a frequent clumsiness to the dialogue that tempers the subtly magical air Periot and his collaborators strive to create, making for a bracing immediacy that’s dragged down by trite platitudes. Summer Lights’ ending, though, is a perfectly judged, tender recapitulation of not just the preceding 80 minutes’ look at the beauty contained in a moment, but also a sobering embrace of its passing.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2017.