A Japanese movie with a French title? Writer-director Koji Fukada is evidently channelling Eric Rohmer in this sun-dappled saga about a teenage girl’s extended stay at her aunt’s place by the seaside. But the underlying reality of the place proves rather more complex than its touristy façade, as slightly shy Sakuko (rising star Fumi Nikaido) discovers her art lecturer aunt’s ex-boyfriend runs a shady local ‘love hotel’, helped out by his young nephew, a disgruntled refugee from the devastation of Fukushima.
‘Au Revoir L’Été’ is essentially a rite-of-passage tale, with the added frisson of chaste romance as the injustices and iniquities of the grown-up world are revealed. As such, the film is a more piercing look at Japanese society than most of the country’s cinema which travels abroad. It rakes up the addled democracy and endemic corruption festering within this seeming consumer paradise, and highlights the contentious issue of nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 tsunami.
As drama, it’s convincingly performed, though perhaps too diffuse to provide genuine punch. Yet the film’s social insights make it a valuable portrait of something like the real Japan.