GKIDS held a screening at Anime Expo for Flat Studio‘s Summer Ghostdirected by rounddraw. Before I dive right in, rounddraw had a message for the fans at the beginning, saying that he’s honored and that the story is about teenagers struggling to understand why they’re alive. He apologized for not being there in person, but hoped the audience would enjoy the film.
Right off the bat, the visuals are unlike anything I’ve ever seen and this is a movie you should certainly watch on the big screen if you can. Flat Studio uses colors so well, scenes are hot then cool then gray. Other times, it’s bursting with color. It also fluctuates between being very detailed and then light sketching. It’s a masterpiece between the pacing, the music, the art. And now… the story.
This is a dramatic romance of sorts. Two teenage boys and a teenage girl befriend each other. They’re all adorable. Tomoya is very studious, always at cram school and has a mom who is on his ass about being a good student. Ryo is a stellar basketball player who is a little grouchy and rough, and is, sadly, dying in months. Aoi is a sweet, kind girl who likes cats who is bullied relentlessly at school. They’re an unusual, lovable bunch.
The movie starts with the three lighting sparklers and talking about the past and ghosts. Then we flash back to roughly a year ago and we see that the three went on a ghost-hunting adventure, trying to track down a 20-year-old girl who committed suicide who has long hair, wears all black, and has been sighted around fireworks.
They light a bunch of sparklers in a quiet place. She doesn’t come. They get to the last one – and you guessed it – she appears! She’s calm and serene and asks them “What do you want with a dead person like me?”
That’s when we get to know our three other protagonists better and all of their struggles. The ghost, Ayane, reveals to Aoi that only people who are reckoning with the idea of death can see her. The audience understands that all three of them are wrestling with suicidal thoughts.
She departs and says “boo” at the end, to which Aoi responds with “boo.” That made me smile so big, a nice contrast from all the darkness we just took in. Tomoya continues to visit Ayane because he wants to see what life as a ghost would be like, and she’s down for it. She admits their meetings are like dates – and they do have the most adorable adventures together.
She has the ability to knock his spirit out of his body and takes him flying through the sky, underwater – it’s literally the most magical, breathtaking scenes! As they get closer, we discover that Ayane did not actually commit suicide. She got into a stupid fight with her mom over something trivial, ran out of the house in the middle of a typhoon and got hit by a car running a red light. Her mom is still waiting for her to come. Her body her is out there… somewhere.
She reveals that she was unconscious but remembers her body being packed up tightly, likely a suitcase and then she died. I mean, honestly, if that doesn’t make your feels fall right to the bottom of your stomach, I don’t know what will.
Then she talks about how she wanted to go on trips, fall in love, how she had a bright future and how she wants to find her body.
She apologizes and says, “I am sorry I made this about me. Forget I said anything. Don’t waste your precious time on me.”
Um. No, we are n’t forgetting and now I personally want to jump into the screen and join Tomoya on the hunt for Ayane ‘s body her. And he, rightfully, sets up a plan with Ryo and Aoi, explaining that he will regret it for the rest of his life if he does n’t find Ayane ‘s body her.
Ryo refuses and he runs off telling Tomoya “easy for you to say when you have a future.” Aoi chases him. They reveal their struggles to each other and it’s a harsh reminder that sometimes we need to communicate and not hold our burdens in. I mean, that’s what friends are for, right?
Cut back to Tomoya feverishly lighting sparklers trying to get to Ayane, and alas, he’s out. But then Ryo and Aoi arrive with bags full. The four come together and they all go spirit mode and Aoi actually finds the suitcase. It’s floating in water. It’s a very quiet scene that chills you, but also brings your relief. Ayane is a little shocked, but also relieved. She just wants her mom to get closure.
Ayane and Tomoya know their time together is limited. There’s this gorgeous juxtaposition, showing Ayane underwater and Tomoya’s spirit floating in the sky as they say goodbyes. They have some really touching moments that really remind you that life is so precious and that we should never take our time here for granted. She tells him she’s worried about him because he seemed to enjoy being a ghost and “Good luck… You have a life to live.” That’s not where the film ends, as even more emotional revelations are sure to pull at your heartstrings.
This is a glorious little short film that will bring you tears of sorrow and joy. It is short, but it is powerful. You really connect with these four beautiful characters. This film is visually stunning as well. Remarkable angles, lighting, the sound, the music, the fireworks motif, the crackling on the screen, watching them flying, the random sunspots. It was certainly enjoyable and a great reminder that life is hard, but certainly worth living.