Kôji Fukada‘s Au revoir l’été is a sensuous coming-of-age film describing the tension between adolescence and adulthood. There’s also tension between the film’s two titles, the French Au revoir l’été (‘Goodbye Summer’) is romantic, but the Japanese Hotori no Sakuko (‘Sakuko on the Margin’) hints at the subtle subversions ahead.
Fukada cites Mikio Naruse as the major influence, but from the opening scene above where Sakuko (Fumi Nikaidô) arries at her aunt Mikie’s (Mayu Tsuruta), Éric Rohmer‘s visual composition and narrative is most clear. Advertised or not, the film announces itself as a detailed homage to the late French filmmaker.
Moving on from influences to connections, the bicycle scene with Sakuko and Takashi (Taiga Nakano) reminds of Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring, including because of the shared underlying social commentary. Another tension, between how the film looks and what the film says.
Sakuko and Takashi’s bicycle journey takes them to the lake, where we see budding friendship. Sakuko is visiting her aunt Mikie nominally to prepare for retaking her final school exams, but adulthood is more than passing final school exams.
Sakuko has arrived in a sun drenched town with similar networked situations to a sun drenched Australian soap opera. For his part in this network, Takashi works at his uncle Ukichi’s (Kanji Furutachi) ‘love hotel’.
Many of the film’s situations unravel naturally, but this short sharp descent from social respectability on the surface to exploitation of underage girls just below the surface is purposely jarring. Like Rohmer, Fukada hides much in plain sight, but this is an exception.
The soap opera continues. Sakuko, just about, dines with aunt Mikie and her academic lover. Across the table, Mikie was former lover to love hotel owner Ukichi, whose current, young, lover is attracted to Mikie’s academic. Unlike identifiable soap operas there are no grand set pieces or simple emotional truths from these textured characters, who like all people, we get to know and hopefully like from their flaws.
Sakuko is on the periphery of events, often not partaking in conversation and seemingly in a world of her own, but like a typical Rohmer heroine she’s an intent and respectful listener. Life’s best observers know conversations contain more interesting life lessons than network relationship diagrams, including in this case where people are saying one thing but meaning another.
But sometimes, the clarity of one’s own thoughts is required.
Sakuko is the film’s focal point but Takashi is also on a journey, one accelerated by his displacement due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The film sits easily mixing figurative and literal, a late scene walking the railway line allows the two characters to wallow in their eye of the storm journey between adolescent and adulthood. Sakuko hums the tune of ‘Stand By Me’ as she recalls Rob Reiner‘s American film of the same name that spent its entirety in this moment, also walking the railway line. Nostalgia allows the older of us to share this moment, the younger of us have something to look forward to.
A summertime, not quite, romance comes to an end. Sakuko has been attracted to Takashi but, befitting a soap opera, he is attracted to somebody else. Sakuko is given a photograph to remember this most formative of summers before her, literal, train pulls away leaving us with a lingering final shot. In a similar fashion to Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘L’Eclisse”s final shot we soon miss the characters but are too wise to be impatient for their, like our own formative summers’, impossible return.
Au revoir l’été, or ‘Goodbye Summer’.
Reference: Au revoir l’été – Wikipedia