Given our TikTok-conditioned attention spans, it’s not hard to imagine a future where movies are eventually whittled down to a mere 5 seconds, with minute-long blockbusters considered a landmark achievement. In Soushi Matsumoto’s It’s a Summer Film!, the petite, tomboyish Barefoot (singer and former pop idol Marika Ito), a samurai film-obsessed teenager, confronts this horrifying possibility while filming her own homage to chanbara cinema, Samurai Spring, over the course of an action-packed summer. Disgruntled by her school film club’s decision to showcase the mean girl’s hackneyed rom-com, Barefoot (the Japanese translation, hadashi, also means “superior to”) enlists a suitably ragtag group of friends and classmates as her cast and crew, including kendo star Blue Hawaii (Kirara Inori) and astronomy geek Kickboard (Yumi Kawai).
Her star, Rintaro (Daichi Kaneko), is a pretty boy who wears the same clothes every day and has never heard of Netflix. Nonetheless, he and Barefoot bond over their mutual love of samurai films, especially the 1962 classic The Tale of Zatoichi. Matsumoto inserts numerous clues pertaining to Rintaro’s origin story — for instance, why does he address Barefoot as “Director” before he’s asked to star in her film? — before spilling the beans. Rintaro is from the future, where Barefoot is a respected filmmaker, and has traveled back in time to watch her lost debut feature, Samurai Spring. “I never thought I’d be in it,” he says sheepishly.
For Barefoot, who learned to love samurai films through her grandmother, “movies connect the present with the past.” Filmmaking, she professes, is a way to connect with the future, and the prospect of a future without feature-length films shakes her to her core. But it doesn’t undermine her commitment to Samurai Spring. It’s a Summer Film!’s 137-minute runtime is mostly concerned with highlighting the crew’s DIY chops and dedicated work ethic, contrasting their bare-bones manpower and unbridled artistic vision with their rival’s well-funded but generic production.
In addition to being a sci-fi film and a loving homage to samurai cinema, It’s a Summer Film! is at heart a fairly standard teen comedy. Most of the background characters are played for comic relief, the pacing is fast and the music zippy (if occasionally schmaltzy), and adults rarely appear on screen. Matsumoto, who co-wrote the script, makes sure all the major characters have their moment to shine and ties up the whole thing at the long-awaited screening. It’s a Summer Film!’s time-travel plotline may be a little muddled, but it doesn’t bog down its characters’ aw-shucks earnestness and cinema-loving charm.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2021 — Dispatch 1.