Haru and Aki in Nekoyado (Nokoyado no Haru to Aki, 2012) and Summer of Angels (Sora kara kita tenkousei, 2013)
Director Yuichi Kondo always wanted to make giant monster movies. Fate did not favour him and he ended up making idol films about teenage girls – with small special effects.
Kondo's been a regular name on short film festivals for about a decade now, mostly producing films via his special effects company GirafFilm, but had his first exposure to wider theatrical distribution in 2013 when his films Haru and Aki in Nekoyado (15 min) and Summer of Angels (49 min) played as a double feature nationwide.
Haru and Aki in Nekoyado is a rather charming if unremarkable small fantasy about two girls and two small teddy bears. The girls used to be best friends until falling in love with the same boy. Now the girls are brought back together to save two teddy bears (who are in love with each other) from being separated.
The film’s real stars are the two CGI generated teddy bears. Japanese cinema, especially low budget films, is not known for high quality CGI – rather the opposite – but Kondo is an exception. He has wisely limited the amount of special effects shots to a minimum and invested all his skill into them. The result is a pair of photorealistic teddies who are cute enough to bring Takashi Miike’s The Great Yokai War and its Sunekosuri creatures to mind.
The film stars a pair of young idols; Megumi Mizoguchi and Rika Hoshina, both manufactured by idol factory Itoh Company. Mizoguchi is the more competent of the two. She’s not only sweet and cute, but can also play her character in a believable way. Rika Hoshina, on the other hand, is more suitable for being a model. This is actually exactly what Kondo did with her in a video camera demo shot around the same time as the film.
The latter is what is most interesting about Kondo. Being a technically oriented filmmaker, he has insights into cinematography. His films look much better than most Japanese low budget films. He uses light quite well. In Haru and Aki in Nekoyado he does, however, weaken the visual impact a bit with an odd smooth cam effect that makes the image softer.
Cinematography is what stands out most in Kondo’s second film Summer of Angels. The fantasy film follows a schoolgirl angel who comes down to earth in search of a missing person. The film is very nicely shot; especially the colours are a standout. Few Japanese low budget films look half as good as this does. Unfortunately the visuals are the only good thing that can be said about the film.
Summer of Angels stars Megumi Mizoguchi and Rika Hoshina again, but this time in reverse order. This turns out a fatal decision as the girl with acting talent is pushed to a supporting role while Hoshina struggles to carry the lead role. The supporting cast too, which is made mostly of Itoh Company reserve, seem to be competing who can deliver the most wooden performance in the film.
Director Kondo is equally to be blamed for. His clumsy script is full of dialogue that never sounds natural. The director’s attempt at poetic and playful storytelling falls flat, being a mere shadow of his obvious role models such as the films of Shunji Iwai / Noboru Shinoda (Hana and Alice especially).
Kondo is a semi-interesting name for his talent behind the camera, as well as with special effects, but he might serve cinema better by focusing on his strengths. It’s a shame other directors have not spotted his talent as a cinematographer. Nevertheless, his brand new follow up to Haru and Aki in Nekoyado (the name, btw, refers refers to a small shopping street in director Kondo's hometown in Tochigi prefecture), Tenen no chisai koi (2013, 17 min) sounds intriguing. Admittedly, he’s also very good and filming pretty girls and idols in harmless fantasy tales that make some of the sweeter products in the idol market.
The Japanese DVD release features both films on the same disc. No subtitles. The rental disc (hopefully not retail) is incredibly irritating: it begins with 10 minutes of commercials that cannot be skipped or fast forwarded!
Haru and Aki in Nekoyado
Summer of Angels
Trailer for Tenen no chisai koi:
Trailer for Haru and Aki in Nekoyado:
Trailer for Summer of Angels:
Rika Hoshina walking in the park (shot by Kondo) (really good!):