There’s something about watching a film about making a film that arouses the feels. It’s much ado with seeing group creativity in action, which is what makes it so fun seeing films that take on this particular story angle. Narrative and documentary films alike. I immediately point to recent Japan Cuts screenings like Night Cruising and It’s A Summer Film! as notable examples to introduce yet another fun addition to the subgenre as of late, with Ultraman vet Kazuya Konaka’s coming-of-age comedic drama, Single8, set in the late 70s as the fandom of a particular and newly-birthed sci-fi movie franchise began gaining ground around the world.
It’s 1978 and George Lucas just reshaped the film landscape with Star Wars, eyeing its fanbase in Japan. Hiroshi (Yu Uemura) loves Star Wars, so much so that he’s fixated on the film’s opening crawl with the Star Destroyer. He daydreams about it in class only to get reprimanded by the teacher and laughed at by some of his classmates. It’s not long before he deliberates with friend Yoshio (Noa Fukuzawa), concluding that they would make a movie – a decision that later extends as a spur of the moment opportunity for a summer project, despite not having a script or a basic storied and thematic outline of the movie right away, on top of the howls of disproving classroom naysayers.
With classmate Sasaki (Ryuta Kuwayama) joining in, Hiroshi now has a three-member unit, but it’s going to take way more than what he has at his disposal if he is going to make a solid sci-fi movie that will leave the desired impression he hopes to. In large part, that means landing one key ingredient: A heroine, in the form of Hiroshi’s crush, Natsumi (Akari Takaishi). It takes a little convincing and patience but Natsumi eventually accepts, thus forming the core team Hiroshi needs to complete his movie. The plot? A young couple who find themselves mysteriously in the throes of artificially intelligent spaceship that has begun reversing time on Earth.
Konaka spends a great deal of time on the overall developmental, learning and creative process Hiroshi undertakes in getting the movie made. This further extends to consulting with Terao (Yusuke Sato), who owns a camera store and is himself a filmmaker with a few connections, while the production of the film lends an oblique dramatization all its own with Natsumi’s involvement. The result from Konaka is an essay on youth, revealing complexities and nuances through a mature and subdued lens without losing sight of its emotive foreground. It’s a big difference when paired against other films that circle teen angst and young love, which really bodes well for the more lo-fi Single8 which allows room for viewers to breathe to a more pleasant, palatable drama.
The overall messaging throughout Single8 is pretty consistent as it spills between the production of Hiroshi’s class project and Konaka’s film in whole. There’s even a few nods to it by the end where at one point Hiroshi acknowledges that his project was initially envisioned as one thing and has quite possibly become something else. Another in a later scene between Hiroshi and Sasaki finds Hiroshi placing himself right then where he would be if his own life were a movie, which I thought was fantastic.
The one to watch, especially, is Takaishi in her latest dramatic outing after showcasing herself more recently in action-driven films such as A Janitor, Baby Assassins and Baby Assassins 2. While her character is less to do with any interest in filmmaking at first, what matters is what Single8 doesn’t show you, visually, in conjunction with some of the more suggestive dialogue moments. Her character is going through changes of her own – the details to which we are left to unpack ourselves in a few of the film’s later twists – an albeit great exemplar of the mystery that comes with learning how to better understand your teenage crush, and more magnanimously, yourself.
The end credits would have you thinking this was a biopic if you didn’t immediately know who the director was. I didn’t. I went in blind and stumbled into a storied discovery that proved to be more adventurous and self-sustaining than I imagined. Teenage love, the desire to follow your dreams, and the constant trial-and-error of being a young and socially awkward creative are key aspects that just about anyone can relate to, wherein the often recurring theme we all share in our lives pertains to how we develop and grow over time. Single8 is a hearty, driven and feel-good reminder of that.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.