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Au Revoir L'Ete (3 stars)

Éric Rohmer-inspired Japanese drama that's heavy on charm, light on answers

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Au Revoir L'Ete

With a title like that disregarding comparison to the work of French New Waver Éric Rohmer seems almost criminal. Rohmer sent the young and beautiful to bask in the rays in Conte d'été (A Summer's Tale), to talk of love whilst falling in love; yet summer slips through the fingers of those who inhabit the world of Japanese writer-director Kôji Fukada, whose altered Au revoir sends a chill breeze to flutter through the hair of its holidaying heroine Sakuko (Fumi Nikaidô).

18-year-old Sakuko spends her time idly wandering along the beach, romancing local boys and stumbling onto the secrets of the adult world – much like Rohmer’s Pauline à la Plage. However the gaiety of small talk always seems to dissipate into silence, filled only with the chirping of crickets and the gentle lapping of waves, and marked by moments of sudden sadness: the loaded pause which accompanies the mention of a tidal wave, the mute prostitutes waiting in the lobby of a love hotel.

Two years have passed since the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy and Sakuko’s young love interest Takashi (Taiga), a refugee of the nuclear disaster, is more than aware of how he lives in a nation aching to move on, himself desperate to deny and escape his past. For all its forced nostalgia for the traditional seaside vacation, for the pastel dresses and shaved ice, Au revoir l’été hides many untold stories, just as the devastation at Fukushima may now only be worn by Japan as a fading scar.

Yet even our supposedly Rohmer-esque heroine is complicit in this grand deception. When asked whether she's decided what she wants to do with her life she teases her enquiring aunt Mikie (Mayu Tsuruta), repeating back Mikie's own words when quizzed about a suspected romance: 'It’s a secret. Top secret.' It's typical of a film that despite its easy charms offers little in terms of answers as Fukada wanders through his narrative almost as listlessly as his heroine. Though it may deliver scant resolution, Au revoir l’été is at least a stroll by the waters worth taking.

Selected release from Fri 24 Apr.

Au revoir l’été (Hotori no Sakuko)

  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • 125 min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Koji Fukada
  • Written by: Koji Fukada
  • Cast: Fumi Nikaidô, Mayu Tsuruta, Taiga

Eighteen-year-old Sakuko (Nikaido) spends a summer wandering along the beach, romancing local boys including Takashi (Taiga), a refugee of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but beneath the gaiety of small talk there are many untold stories. Listless, Rohmer-inflected tale with plenty of charm but few answers.

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