The name Summer Ghost may sound contradictory to UK viewers. We tend to associate ghosts with cold, dark months, like A Christmas Carol and the BBC’s tradition of publishing horror stories at Christmas. In fact, Summer Ghost is not a horror film per se, although it does deal with fears, intense emotions and a shocking tragedy in the past. Additionally, the director of Summer Ghost Loundraw points out that summer and ghosts go particularly well together in
One is For the Japanese summer is the season for fireworks, whether it’s kids waving sparklers at dusk or blockbusters.
Loundraw’s film begins with three teenagers hearing a rumor that if they set off fireworks at a certain location during the summer, a ghost will appear. Loundraw points out that sparklers, like the cherry blossom, have become a widespread symbol of mortality in Japan. “Fireworks are used to commemorate the dead,” he told me, “but mostly it’s just for fun.”
Summer is also the time for the Buddhist Obon Festival, when the people remember the dead kinship. Obon is portrayed in films such as Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking and Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You in
, although he is not specifically mentioned in Summer Ghost.
“I didn’t really plan on summoning Obon in the movie,” says Loundraw. “But deep down you have this connection in the Japanese spirit between summer and the dead. There’s a natural connection that I thought might make the story more compelling. It’s not explicit, but I didn’t think it would hurt.”
The first seed of the film was the idea that you could summon a spirit by lighting sparklers.
Then the screenwriter Hirotaka Adachi had different ways of developing the idea and the one that stuck was that the spirit of three young men should be summoned. These are the boys Tomoya and Ryo and the girl Aoi, each of whom has problems and personal secrets. The film focuses particularly on Tomoya, who develops a strange relationship with the spirit, one that intrigues him but one that may have darker implications.
Tomoya is alive, but he feels the lure of death, he says
loundraw. In a sequence at the end of the film, the action alternates between Tomoya with his living friends and Tomoya with the ghost, as if the boy were occupying different realities at the same time, in the style of Satoshi Kon.
“He’s drawn to death, and that’s what he wanted to show, that he’s going back and forth between the two [realities],” says Loundraw.
The film also contrasts heaven and earth, namely under the earth. We see Tomoya flying above the clouds with the genie: the scene has a romantic touch as the genie is sitting on an attractive young woman named Ayane. But then Tomoya suddenly finds himself in an underground realm depicted as deep in the water. “The idea of making
fly came from screenwriter Hirotaka Adachi.
More broadly, loundraw wanted the characters in the film to blend into their environment in a way that isn’t common in commercial anime. “In animation, you’ll often find that the characters stand out against the background, they don’t fully integrate. But I wanted to change the colors (of the characters) with the backgrounds to make (the characters) feel like they actually exist in the scene. Apparently that’s something you don’t normally do when
is doing animation.”
Loundraw’s dissatisfaction with normal anime practices prompted him to start a new studio, Flat Studio, where he would produce Summer Ghost and other anime could make their own way in their studio.
Before taking this bold step, Loundraw had worked as an illustrator; His projects included the character designs for the novel I want to eat your pancreas, another story about adolescence and mortality. The Loundraw designs also made their way into the anime film version by StudioVOLN in 2018.
“When I discovered that I wanted to tell a story in a timeline, I felt like the natural way to do it that was through animation. But when I tried it, the traditional way of making this
didn’t work for me. So I had to find people to work with me, and that’s why I started a studio.
” loundraw adds that Flat Studio gave him “a team to share my ideas with and show them how I want to get things done. And the staff has really grown with Summer Ghost, and I think I’d feel a lot more comfortable giving them more stuff now.”
An unusual feature of Summer Ghost is its length of 40 minutes. “I thought about doing a longer film but then I thought there was no real precedent for a ‘Loundraw film’ so my priority was to get people to see it so I decided that a short film would be the path I would follow. And then I thought that this story would work as a short film; Summer Ghost was always short.
Even with the freedom of a new studio, one might assume that the film’s length would make it difficult to get into theaters. In fact, Summer Ghost was released in Japanese theaters in November 2021. It opened at the Leeds Film Festival outside of Japan on the same day (November 12) and has had many more screenings since. loundraw’s comments indicate that he was not involved in organizing these screenings, but they made an impression on him nonetheless.
“I don’t know the details of the distribution.
I understand that it’s harder to find an audience for a short film than for a long one, but even so, Summer Ghost was showing in some big theaters, so I felt the weight of the anticipation.” Eventually, the eyes were on the world now focused on Loundraw and the spirit that a new director and studio had conjured up with a sunset beacon.