For 40 minutes, Summer Ghost is magnificent, a look through adolescent eyes concerning death. Stunningly beautiful and emotionally haunting, an essential viewing.
A trio of teenagers who’ve connected online through a shared curiosity about the paranormal meet up in person and visit a disused airstrip. They hope to spot the elusive “summer ghost” rumoured to linger there, and any scepticism is soon put to rest. Still to be revealed, though, are poignant truths about the three young people and what they have in common.
Tomoya, Aoi and Ryō are three teenagers going through their own tough times; from bullying to struggling with academic pressures, they need an escape. All three are easy to emphasise, which is something that takes its toll on the audience as the story unfurls before us. However, this reliability enables the story to bring more focus when the trio find a ghost named Ayane, wonderfully alluring us into a story that we never expected.
Summer Ghost isn’t a film to sit and explain every little crumb to you as it flies through its story and just hopes you can keep up. This works both positively and negatively; if we were able to spend more time with the characters before they go on their journey, then we would be able to feel that touch more for them. However, this is but a minor complaint. At 40 minutes, it felt like it didn’t know whether or not to stick or twist in making itself a feature, and in truth, being a feature would have helped strike an even better balance, as moments that are moved past quickly could settle with audiences more.
While the story captivates from beginning to end, the film’s true star is the animation itself. The perfect use of lighting throughout stuns you, no more so than when Ayane takes Tomoya off on their own late-night journey. Strikingly, in moments where the animation could go all out, writer-director Ioundraw scales it back, there isn’t a huge amount of details present, but that focus on the lighting gives Summer Ghost the cinematic feel it has needs. By having a less-is-more approach to the aesthetic, he has ensured that the focus is never pulled away from the story and what a story he has conjured here.
Ioundraw and co-writer Hirotaka Adachi have purposely tried to throw in as many gut-punching moments as they could here in Summer Ghost. Each one pushes the story that little bit further. Yet even in the film’s darkest moments, there is a touching beauty to the story that, in other directors’ hands, may have taken the film down a different path. For it to stay true to itself is fantastic, there is such emotional depth here that if it had taken the easy path, it would have been somewhat dishonest with itself as a film.
Summer Ghost feels like an animation that has stepped out of time from decades earlier. Full of emotion and with a terrific score, you connect quickly to this film, and it will surely be one that impacts you.
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