Director – Tomohisa Taguchi – 2022 – Japan – Cert. – 83m
Damaged boy meets damaged girl one summer to discover a tunnel in which time passes much faster and innermost desires are fulfilled – from the 2023 Annecy International Animation Festival in the Official Competition section and out in UK cinemas on Friday, July 14th
A rural railway platform in the rain. Puddles on the platform. The tannoy states that the train is delayed by half an hour because it has collided with a deer. The standing boy explains to the sitting girl who isn’t from around these parts that that often happens in this region and offers her his umbrella. At first, she refuses thinking him a bit of a creep, but then comes round. They swap names and numbers on their phones so that she can return his umbrella. They read each other’s names out loud: she reads Tano Kaoru; he reads Hanashiro Anzu.
Next day, Kaoru (voice: Ouji Suzuka) takes the train to high school where the class is introduced to a new girl: it’s Anzu (voice: Marie Iitoyo). Like her initial coldness towards Kaoru, she ignores various girls attempts to be sociable and has a run in with the girl class bully Kawasaki (voice: Arisa Komiya), punching the latter in the face and causing a nosebleed when Kawasaki “accidentally” drops the old manga in which Anzu is engrossed onto the floor.
It turns out that both the boy and the girl have events in their past they must overcome. Kaoru’s alcoholic father (voice: Rikiya Koyama) blames him for the death of his little sister Karen (voice: Seiran Kobayashi), as a result of which his mother left. Anzu followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, a penniless manga artist who was considered the family’s black sheep by her parents, who felt similarly about her choice of career.
Leaping from train tracks on which he’s walking – to avoid an oncoming train – Kaoru discovers a tunnel in which wishes can be fulfilled, a discovery he shares with Anzu. He hopes to be reunited with Karen. Likewise, Anzu hopes to retrieve the manuscript of her fledgeling manga that her father shredded. But there’s a catch: a small amount of time inside the cave equals a much longer amount of time in the world outside, as Kaoru discovers when he spends part of an afternoon there and is missing from home for a week.
The two characters are engaging, and the simple idea of the cave with the different timescale is cleverly executed so that you completely buy the concept. In terms of the character animation and performance, the staging of the whole thing is beautifully and effectively blocked out. There’s a commendable simplicity about the location designs – the railway platform, for instance, provides everything it needs to make those scenes work but no more.
Director Taguchi delivers some wonderful sequences in which the two protagonists appear in front of lyrical backdrops – a field of yellow sunflowers behind the railway platform, a pair of sharks in an aquarium, fireworks at a local summer festival. The tunnel interior itself is a memorable, visual marvel, an overhead canopy of orange coloured tree blossom with a carpet of similarly coloured, fallen blossom lying on the inch or so of water that covers the floor.
The script was adapted from a light novel by Mei Hachimoku which prior to this film was adapted into a manga serial. Although Japanese, it feels like one of those English children’s classic stories the Japanese are fond of turning into movies (Howl’s Moving Castle, Hayao Miyazaki, 2004; Arietty, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010; When Marnie Was There, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2014) and is consequently likely to strike a chord with a UK audience, with whom the rain and puddles will also resonate. A gentle tale, and a bit of a treat.
The Tunnel To Summer, The Exit Of Goodbyes plays in the 2023 Annecy International Animation Festival which is taking place from Sunday, 11th to Saturday, 17th June in the Official Competition section and is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, July 14th.