A.I. Love You (2016) by Shogo Miyaki

Haruko Hoshino (Aoi Morikawa) is works as a kitchen porter while dreaming of opening her own patisserie someday. Disillusioned by a series of job interview rejections she finds comfort in an unusual source: a mysterious mail advertising a free A.I. phone application that you can speak with. She downloads it and names it “Love” (‘Ai’ in Japanese). Love (Takumi Saito) offers her support and words of wisdom, suggesting that she try to make some recipes and have her boss (Akira Ishida) taste them. Love also suggests that she should pursue a romantic interest in the shape of co-worker and talented chef Naoto (Shuhei Uesugi). As Love offers her advice and Haruko grows in confidence, their relationship begins to develop into something more than one of convenience.

Based on the manga by Ken Akamatsu, “A.I. Love You”a simplistic romantic tale with a technological twist. The A.I. element is a modern take on the traditional narrative of a human friend with burgeoning feelings for Haruko. Aoi Morikawa is charismatic and likeable in the lead role, often performing a one-woman show to the camera as she speaks with the voice of Love (Takumi Saito). Her problems are far from insurmountable: she is already a competent pastry chef and the improvement she needs to gain her bosses approval and follow her dreams are almost imperceptible to the viewer. Similarly, her romantic troubles are overcome fairly easily. The film is short and moves along quickly, leaving little time for character development, with the supporting cast mostly filling stereotypical roles. Shuhei Uesugi as the handsome love interest; Anne Nakamura as Haruko’s friendly co-worker Kyoko, and Akira Ishida as her irrationaly irritable boss.

Despite a lack of originality or depth the film will appeal to fans of romantic dramas. Much like a pastry it is light, fluffy fun, saccharine sweet and visually appealing. Later in the film there is a hint at darker themes, with the deletion of Love suggesting a similarity with human death, and despite a lack of build up it does manage to be emotionally engaging. However, the film largely sticks to the well-trodden path of romantic comedy dramas, with an uplifting message about trying hard to achieve your dreams. An enjoyable performance from Aoi Morikawa makes it worth a watch.

The Door into Summer (2021) by Miki Takahiro

Based on a novel by Robert A. Heinlein with a screenplay by Tomoe Kanno, “The Door into Summer” is a science-ficiton infused romantic drama. Soichiro (Kento Yamazaki) has a tragic run of bad luck, losing both his mother and father, and then his step-father. Soichiro’s only friends in the world are a stray cat he names Pete; and his step-sister Riko (Kaya Kiyohara). Following her father’s death, Riko goes to live with her uncle Kazuhito (Hidekazu Mashima) who runs the robotics company that Soichiro works for. After being double-crossed by Kazuto and his partner Rin (Natsuna), Soichiro decides to go into a cryogenic sleep for 30 years, finding things changed in unexpected ways when he reawakens in the future of 2025.

The film’s main failing is an overly complicated plot that takes so much time to explain that it leaves little room for character development or emotional attachment. The relationship between Soichiro and Riko, and even Soichiro and Pete are largely forgotten about for a long period after he wakes up in the future. The use of cryo-chambers and time-travel make things interesting, but cause the film to feel disjointed, without a clear focus on a central plot element. When Soichiro wakes up in the future he finds that things have changed and sets about finding out what happened to his former company, but it seems out of character for him, who would surely be more concerned about what happened to Riko, and leaves the audience missing that more meaningful story. By only moving things forward a few years from where we are currently the film also forgoes the opportunity to offer an exciting futurist world, with things appearing little changed aside from the mass adoption of androids and holographic signpost. Ideas of time-travel, androids, and technological advancement would all have been interesting aspects to explore, but the film seems to ignore in its most intriguing elements. The actors all doing a good job with the light romance and melodramatic evil corporation storylines, Yamazaki and Kiyohara have good chemistry as the step-siblings which makes it even more disappointing when they are separated.

Early in the film Soichiro explains that in winter, Pete wants all the doors opening, believing that he can find a door back to warmer, summer weather. Similarly Soichiro wants to use technology to travel into what he hopes will be a brighter future, without realising that life cannot be so easily ignored. The film’s central message seems to be that you have to pass through the dark times to reach the light, but again it strangely doesn’t dwell or expand on this theme. “The Door into Summer” has a lot of interesting ideas but never fully realises them, instead using science-fiction as window dressing to tell a rather lacklustre romantic story. There is far too little character development and a plot that is so focussed on getting from A to B that it forgets to tell a meaningful story along the way.

Gamera (1965) by Noriaki Yuasa

When a nuclear incident in the Arctic awakens an ancient monster, humanity must come together to prevent it destroying them. Doctor Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi), his assistant Kyoko (Harumi Kiritachi), and a reporter Aoyagi (Junichiro Yamashita) are in the Arctic on a research mission, while the Cold War rages around them. A nuclear-armed plane is brought down, the shock awakening the ancient monster Gamera from its long slumber beneath the ice. The mysterious being, that looks like an enormous turtle, heads to Hokkaido, where it continues to rampage, drawing energy from attempts to kill it, and causing mass devastation. A young boy, Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida), becomes obsessed with the creature, while scientists and politicians race to find a solution to the problem.

Following the success of “Godzilla” (Ishiro Honda, 1954), studios were looking to capitalise on the demand for more monster movies. Directed by Noriaki Yuasa, with a screenplay by Niisan Takahashi, “Gamera” draws much inspiration from that film, both in style, plot and substance, but adds a few new elements. It also takes more inspiration from science-fiction, with a heavy focus on reason and attempts to understand the monster, as opposed to the horror influence on Godzilla. The background of the contemporary Cold War provides a thematic depth, with humanity’s militarism and inability to resolve its own differences brought into stark relief when they are faced with an interstellar enemy that cannot be reasoned with. “Gamera” has a very internationalist feel, beginning in the Arctic, and featuring foreign military and diplomats, like many films of the era recognizing a shift in Japan’s own understanding of its place in the world and a need to engage positively with the global community. The plot is straightforward and action packed, with enjoyable miniature special effects, explosions, and Gamera playing a prominent role. Special effects director Yonesaburo Tsukiji (who previously worked on Warning from Space) does a good job of making Gamera a believable threat. There is only a short preamble before the first appearance of the monster and perhaps a sense of one-upmanship with the earlier “Godzilla” in the amount of destruction caused and the spotlighting of the creature as the main attraction. The seeming invincibility of Gamera helps build a sense of fear as humanity’s go-to solutions fail repeatedly.

“Gamera” is a film that speaks to many concerns of the era. Most notably the dangers of nuclear destruction, the force that both awakens Gamera and also makes him increasingly powerful. There is a realisation that humanity has discovered, or developed, forces that are no longer within its control. Gamera is a physical manifestation of the scale of the threat faced by the world, something that has the capacity to obliterate all life, and cannot be destroyed (without making things many times worse). There is also a hopeful element to the film, again something common to science-fiction of the period, which sees global co-operation and using science for the good of mankind as the way forward. The film begins with the Cold War, but ends with people coming together to face a common threat. The satire of beaurocrats and politicians, who cannot agree how to deal with the situation, is also timeless and made apolitical with the giant rampaging turtle. A classic science-fiction monster movie that stands alongside “Godzilla” in being both entertaining and thought-provoking.