Speaking of time travel movies (see here) and movies that are “important” to me (see here), let me tell you about Summer Time Machine Blues. So far, I haven’t met anyone who had heard of it before I mentioned it, so if you are familiar with this Japanese time travel slapstick comedy, than you are the first. If you watch it after I tell you about it and then you don’t like it, than you are also the first. Everyone else so far has, though perhaps not as much as me.
I discovered it on the plane (which hasn’t always been a successful process, as you may know – see here and here), drawn in by a fun log line and totally won over by the first 15 minutes. I was so drawn in, in fact, that I ended up watching the movie twice on the flight, something I’ve never done before or since unless there were no other options. The movie is directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro, who apparently also directed the popular Bayside Shakedown series, which I’d never heard of. Recently, I caught what was apparently the final movie of that series (called, of all things, Bayside Shakedown: The Final) on another flight, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle twice. Alas, I was disappointed, though I did recognize some similar directorial touches. But I digress…
Summer Time Machine Blues is apparently based on a play of the same name, and is about five nerdy Japanese university students who are part of the sci-fi club (although none of them are actually science fiction fans) who struggle with the heat during a particularly weird Summer day. After a string of unusual moments in which nobody (including the audience) is really certain what is actually going on, they have a strange and brilliantly-directed accident which results in the remote of their air-conditioner breaking. As a result, the next day they are really struggling (since the unit won’t work without the remote). Then, they find a time machine (really, this happens almost as simply as I write it here). Once they figure out what it is, they decide to use it go back in time one day to save their remote control from breaking. Later, while some of their group are doing this, the other ones learn of a theory which states that if you change the past, you’ll cease to exist in the present. Alarmed, they race to stop their friends from saving the remote and thus changing the past. And from this, proceeds the story.
This movie is absolutely the best time travel movie I have ever seen. I am not kidding. Better than Deja Vu. Better than Time Rider: The Adventures of Lyle Swann. Better than the Time Machine TV movie remake starring John Beck and Priscilla Barnes. Actually, a lot of time travel movies are pretty bad. But then, I haven’t thought this through completely, because Back to the Future was pretty good, and so was Twelve Monkeys and probably some other stuff I can’t remember right now. But this movie does contain the best treatment of time travel of any that I can think of. It’s full of a lot of time travel convolutions, but successfully manages to tie them all up perfectly soundly at the end. Even when I first watched it, and I was getting to the end, I thought that there were a number of holes in the time travel mechanics, but then lo and behold, they filled them before it was over! One moment of revelation after another. I was very impressed.
Of course, you could do all that and not make a good movie – but in this case, they did. It’s sweet, funny, romantic, charming, and the movie that more than any other I’d say is not only worth watching more than once, but necessary to fully appreciate it. It’s got an engaging visual style, good use of sound and an incredible sense of rhythm and pacing. The leads seem pretty minimally characterized at first, but we gradually get to know them individually as the story progresses, until they each feel very familiar. And there are a number of amusingly quirky minor characters (the theatre owner, the assistant professor, the gardener) who dot the landscape and bring a lot of color.
Summer Time Machine Blues also has two of my favorite film scenes ever. First, there is the accident with the remote control, which is mesmerisingly choreographed and shot (apparently without computers). Secondly, there is the climax, where Komoto (our main character, played by Eita) finds himself the victim of ignorant friends’ innocent teasing, and must desperately look for a way out before he changes history and inadvertently causes the destruction of the universe! Perfect example of how gripping drama can be made out of almost any situations, and his solution is inspired.
If there are weaknesses in this movie, it’s that it goes on a bit long after the story feels like it’s already over, and that there are a few things (largely unrelated to time travel) that take place that are only believable because of the slapstick quality of the film. But truthfully, I didn’t mind at that all. I enjoyed the world of the movie so much that I accepted the more absurd elements, and was happy to see it linger on for as long as it wanted to.
(not because it’s not as good as some of the “5 Faces” movies I’ve reviewed, but because I can understand if “Japanese language slapstick time travel comedies” are not your cup of tea).