Inspired by one illustration, the remarkable directorial debut from the popular illustrator loundraw blends together his lush visual sensibility with a supernatural coming-of-age drama about the poignant struggles of growing up and the importance of living life to the fullest. It was released in Japanese theatres on November 12, 2021, and is due to be released to English-speaking audiences in the Summer of 2022.
The staff includes illustrator loundraw as director, writer Otsuichi (pen name for Hirotaka Adachi) for the screenplay, composers Akira Kosemura, Toma Itoko, Guiano, and Hideya Kojima along with internationally renowned pianist Akira Kosamura for the soundtrack. loundraw is also responsible for the original character designs and the original concept for the film. FLAT Studio, the new animation studio he established, is a production company. The short film is part of Project Common, a multimedia initiative ‘to express the true loundraw.’
Yoshi Inomi launched the manga adaptation in the Tonari no Young Jump service in October, and its compiled book volume was released in November. The anime’s screenplay writer also wrote a novelization that expands the story, which was published on October 29. In addition, a spinoff novel titled Yūna Ichinose Is Floating (Ichinose Yūna ga Uiteiru), which picks up the motif of fireworks and ghosts, was published on November 26.
A local urban legend claims that lighting fireworks at an abandoned airfield will summon the ‘Summer Ghost’, the spirit of a young girl that can answer any question. Tomoya (Chiaki Kobayashi) cannot envision a future for himself due to a strict upbringing. Aoi (Miyuri Shimabukuro) cannot find her place in the world. Ryō (Nobunaga Shimazaki) has his once shining future tragically pulled away. Each has its own reason for needing to meet the summer ghost for each has a question that needs to be answered. These three troubled teenagers do not know each other, but together they venture to the airfield.
When the sparklers are lit, a ghost named Ayane (Rina Kawaei) appears and speaks of many things, the most important being that she is only visible to those ‘who are about to touch their death.’ The three teenagers return home deeply affected by the encounter but none more than Tomoya who soon begins visiting the airfield alone, as he becomes obsessed with the mystery surrounding Ayane and her past. The journey to uncover a tragic truth will lead the three teens on a bittersweet journey of self-discovery and acceptance.
loundraw – The Boundless Illustrator
Recognised for his detailed spatial designs, use of transparent textures, ethereal colours, and attention to the depth of field, loundraw began his career as an illustrator when he was a teenager, finding early success on online platforms. He has created key visuals for the notable novel Love Gondola (Koi no Gondola) by Keigo Higashino as well as I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai) by Yoru Sumino which was later adapted to a theatrical film.
He is also responsible for the character designs for the anime Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song and an animated promotional video based on Yusuke Yamada’s novel I Fall in Love With You Through a Robot (Boku wa Robot Goshi no Kimi ni Koi wo Suru). The novel is also getting a full animated film adaptation. Outside of his work in illustration, he was the concept designer for the recent anime adaptation of Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish and is also active in other creative areas like music, where he is part of the artist group Chronicle. At the end of 2016, he published his first art book Hello, light.
In January 2019, he established the animation studio FLAT Studio. During a recent Q&A session at the BFI in London, loundraw spoke about how as an illustrator he has always embellished other peoples stories be it a book jacket or CD cover, and how more and more he wanted to tell his own story. The transition from illustrator to animator/director wasn’t necessarily straightforward. As an illustrator, he worked on a lot of character boards but that wasn’t what led him to animation. It was actually a final school project that led him into animation and the positive feedback he got from it – Before You Wake Up was released on YouTube in collaboration with the wildly popular Japanese rock band Bump of Chicken, and swiftly hit over 2 million views.
In the medium of animation, loundraw has strived to go beyond what has been done before and has tried to work without the confines of the existing framework of Japanese animation. He has said it’s been difficult to move from a creator to an artist but that if passion and dedication are at the heart of the work then you are sure to find people who want to work with you. This ethos of his has borne fruit. The studio was created to make anime but it’s a group of people who share a passion to create something beautiful together, as a community. As a studio, they make a lot of commercials, outsource illustrations, and act as a place to nurture multi-talented individuals.
The film can easily be described as a bittersweet coming-of-age film with lucid animation and emotive music, but such a simple explanation would be a disservice. According to Anime Limited, Summer Ghost is a ‘profound exploration of a sensitive subject that is both emotionally resonant and handled with remarkable delicacy in its modest run-time, which shines a brighter light on the potential futures of loundraw and FLAT Studio than any firework could.’ This praise is rightly warranted for a number of reasons.
Although this is a digitally made film there is a sense of hand-drawn animation. There is a strong tradition of 2D animation in Japan but things are becoming more standardised in their visual nature because of digital animation. loundraw has said in various interviews that he intentionally made the animation look more hand-drawn by taking out details and creating blanks and cuts in order to counteract this and move away from industry standards.
He also has a desire to push boundaries and question standard imagery. For example, cumulonimbus clouds are generally associated with youth and vitality (Your Name and Kiki’s Delivery Service are prime examples), but in this film, there are scenes of Aoi being bullied and having water tipped on her head with those same clouds in the background. This is something you wouldn’t normally see in previous anime films. The same can be said about the setting of the film.
Although this is a film about adolescents it’s not set in a school. This was intentional to make the emotions of the three characters stand out, but the school scenes that do exist are enough to allow the viewer to extrapolate character traits (we know Ryo is popular, we know that Tomoya is smart, we know Aoi is being bullied, etc).
In terms of the general aesthetics of the film, loundraw explains that the colour in the animation is important because each of the characters has a different colour to differentiate them and provide them with distinct entities on the screen. This intentional decision carried the plotline and helped the viewer distinguish the characters easily, especially in memory scenes, as the writing was a bit weak at times. loundraw also tends to use quite a bit of black which is unconventional in Japanese anime to create transparency in the finished animation which defines the style of the film. This ethereal quality provides a stark contrast to the heavy topic of the death that the film focused around, arguably softening the pathos of the film.
In interviews, loundraw has said that he felt a strong sense of obligation to make sure that the themes touched on in the film were done justice. The pandemic meant there was less opportunity to meet face-to-face to discuss so they needed to be careful and more consciously check for sensitivity because of the traumas so recently felt in society. Death is not a simple topic as many people feel it differently so there was a clear decision to make the meaning of the film, the takeaway message, quite weak. Some may argue this to be a fault but the vagueness and the space it provides the viewer to transpose their own experience onto the story is magic and makes this 40-minute film all the more poignant and powerful. Despite the heavy topics, what can be taken away from this sparkling debut is a sense of courage, to face the future and to face oneself.
Where to Watch Summer Ghost
In North America, GKIDS will release the film theatrically in the Summer of 2022 in its original Japanese language version, and an all-new English language dub. It will be paired in theatres with a documentary about the production of the film, and additional special content.