Summer Blooms (2017) by Ryutaro Nakagawa

Hatsumi (Aki Asakura) is working at a noodle restaurant which is soon to close. While on paid leave looking for a new job, she is spotted by one of her former students, Kaede (Yuriko Kawasaki) whom she helps out of an abusive relationship. Hatsumi is later courted by one of the restaurant’s regular customers, Totaru (Takahiro Miura), who has been a distant admirer for some time. Hatsumi finds herself unable to fully accept Totaru, still struggling with memories of her ex-boyfriend , Kentaro, who died suddenly three years before. On a visit to her former boyfriend’s parents home, she comes to terms with her loss.

With a script by director Ryutaro Nakagawa and Ryuhei Yoshino, “Summer Blooms” is an understated story about love and loss. The relaxed pace allows the viewer to simply be with the characters without forced melodrama. Stunning cinematography by Rei Hirano featuring long shots from a train windows of pastoral landscapes, or quiet moments with the actors sitting in thought, make up much of the film. One excellent scene features a long take with Hatsumi walking while listening to music after her date with Totaru. The film allows us to follow alongside her, picking up on the lightness of her step, and the odd mix of feelings bubbling up inside. This style of direction, with long lingering shots, or scenes that run on, is bold, relying on audience patience and investment in the characters, and only possible with the incredible performances of the cast. Aki Asakura gives a subtle yet moving portrayal of a woman dealing stoically with loss and loneliness. Yuriko Kawasaki’s Kaede offers the perfect foil as a lively, carefree young woman, whose own relationship troubles spur Hatsumi to reassess her situation. Takahiro Miura is also good as an atypical love interest, charmingly unsure of himself around this beautiful woman. Atypical as the film is less about their relationship than the unresolved relationship Hatsumi has with her late boyfriend, Kentaro. The music, by Hisaki Kato, is used sparingly and never forcefully, gently enhancing certain moments. It is more notable by its absence in particular moments, leaving the audience without that musical crutch, left alone with the characters to feel their uncertainty along with them. Throughout the film Hatsumi’s love of radio is shown, an almost permanent companion in her solitude, and the score is used in a similar way, a comfort that makes the silences the more poignant.

“Summer Blooms” is a simple story, a woman dealing with the loss of a partner some years prior, that allows its themes and ideas to evolve naturally. One of the most striking of these themes is the relationship of the main character with time, and by extension memory and mortality. Hatsumi goes to see “Casablanca”, where she is first reunited with Kaede, and later she hears Kaede singing “As Time Goes By” at a jazz club. Clocks also feature heavily in particular scenes, giving an insight into Hatsumi’s mindset. She has been essentially trapped in time since Kentaro’s death, unable to move on from that moment, while the world goes on around her. Her career and love-life both appear to have stalled three years prior. This is truly at the heart of the story: Hatsumi’s desire to unburden herself of past feelings of regret and move beyond Kentaro’s death. A poignant romance with a fantastic central performance from Asakura, “Summer Blooms” offers an intriguing look at what becomes of people after relationships, their shared memories now torn asunder.