I know what you are probably thinking: what does a French movie do here on Asian Movie Pulse? Well, it is actually a Japanese movie from which the international title is French. Inspired by French cinema, director Koji Fukada’s newest film takes place during a hot summer vacation with the plot focusing on characters that have to decide about the next step in their lives. Literally translated, Au revoir l’été means “goodbye summer”, which can be explained as the film deals with having to say goodbye to your life as it is at a certain time because of new changes that are waiting.
The story follows quite a few characters, but the main character is a high school girl named Sakuko (Nikaido Fumi) who is preparing for her University entrance exam. She joins her aunt Mikie (Mayu Tsuruta) on a holiday to a small town on the coast far from Tokyo. They take cycling trips and strolls along the beach, while Mikie hopes to use the holiday to complete her research project. Meanwhile, Sakuko meets Takashi (Taiga), who works in the hotel belonging to Ukichi (Kanji Furutachi), a friend of Mikie’s sister. We are also introduced to Ukichi’s daughter, Tatsuko (Kiki Sugino).
The filmmakers’ goal was to make a film that feels like being on vacation. Taking the atmosphere and the sunny location in perspective, they surely succeed in this. It feels like a soft summer breeze as the story slowly develops and we get to know its characters better. Universal themes like struggling to decide your next step in life and coming of age are well touched upon, while more Japanese themes like love hotels and the recent problems with the nuclear power plants at Fukushima are also part of the story. It molds into an interesting mix of different concepts that are nicely weaved together in a satisfying movie experience that feels warm and light.
The film is poetic in its style as it analyzes the different choices people have made and are doubting to make. The characters who feel lost are portrayed in an almost positive fashion, while people who are already set in society are more negatively portrayed. It presents a certain point of view that feels fresh and is nicely wrapped up in the warm atmosphere of summer. Not knowing what to do at certain big turnpoints is something everyone deals with during their lifetime, and this story shows us that being lost is sometimes a necessary step in one’s life to get somewhere.
Interesting characters, well written dialogues and a beautiful backdrop make Au revoir l’été an experience that indeed feels like a fresh breath of air. At the festival I was able to interview producer/actress Kiki Sugino about the film and her other work, so be sure to keep your eyes open for that.