Japanese films, or at least the Japanese films I seem to watch, never end. They are like snapshots of life which leave you wondering what happened next and what you might have missed along the way. Au Revoir l’été (ほとりの朔子 / Hotori no Sakuko) (2013), directed by Koji Fukada, is no exception.
I went to see Au Revoir l’été with some friends at the Cube cinema in Bristol last week. We all agreed we enjoyed the film, despite or more likely because of its lack of a Hollywood ending. This film is in part a love story, but the relationships portrayed in the film are handled so naturally and so delicately, which is something I feel Hollywood just hasn’t got the hang of yet. The exception to this is Lost in Translation, which I was reminded of when I watched this film. I suspect Sofia Coppola had seen a lot of Japanese films before writing and directing Lost in Translation.
Au Revoir l’été (the French title is apparently a nod to French director Éric Rohmer), is the story of 18-year-old Sakuko’s last summer before college. The French translates as ‘Goodbye Summer’, and the Japanese title, ‘Hotori no Sakuko’ (ほとりの朔子), translates as something like ‘Sakuko on the Margin’ or ‘Sakuko on the Banks’. This is clearly a story of a girl on the brink of a massive change in her life, saying goodbye to the past and wondering what the future holds.
Sakuko (Fumi Nikaido) spends the summer staying somewhere quiet and suburban with her aunt Mikie, perhaps somewhere in Chiba (although we are not told), by the sea. She becomes friends with Takashi, a Fukushima refugee with a part-time job at his uncle’s ‘love hotel‘ and finds herself an observer of the adult relationships playing out around her as she explores her own teenage feelings. (Incidentally, when my Japanese friend and I finally found the Cube cinema down a back street in a slightly dodgy part of Bristol we both agreed that its neon sign made it look a little like a love hotel, and this was before we had seen the film!)
I wish I could bottle the feeling of this film. It’s a good feeling, and an interesting feeling. It sort of makes you smile, but it makes you think too. I hope Japanese film directors continue to produce lovely films like this and never feel the need to please the masses with sex and violence – I’d much rather spend an evening in the hands of Koji Fukada than any of the Hollywood ‘greats’.