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With everything that is going on, it makes me want to watch movies about summertime and summer vacation. You know, flying or driving to another place, maybe the countryside, the beach, going to a campsite, and so on. It brought back a lot of childhood memories about my time by the lake, going to the beach, and finding weird little critters to show to my family and friends. It brings me back to a much simpler time, and as pretentious as that sounds, I still miss those days. It’s why after that trainwreck of a film I reviewed last time, Fe@rless, I wanted to review a film that could give me that vibe. That’s why I chose Summer Days with Coo.
Directed and written by Keiichi Hara, animated by Shin-Ei Animation, and originally released back in 2007, Summer Days with Coo went around the film festival circuit where it swooped up Best Animated Film wins at the Mainichi Film Awards, the 11th Japan Media Arts Festival, the 2008 Tokyo Anime Award, and was nominated at the Japanese Academy Awards and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards for Best Animated Film. For some reason, the film never made its way over to the states until recently with the help of our favorite distributor, GKIDS. So, what do I think about Hara’s first non-franchise-based animated feature? Well, let’s take a look.
Our main story revolves around a kappa named Coo, voiced by Kazato Tomizawa. 200 years before the modern-day, he was with his father, who was killed during an incident with a samurai, and a sudden earthquake after said incident. Coo is then fossilized in the earth, that is, until a young boy named Koichi Uehara, voiced by Takahiro Yokokawa finds him and revitalizes him. Now Coo is stuck in the modern world alone, and slice-of-life shenanigans ensue.
So, what do I personally think about this movie? It’s Hara’s first film not based on any franchise like Crayon Shin-chan or Doraemon. It’s based on a book by Masao Kogure called Kappa Osawagi and Kappa Bikkuri Tabi. Well, I’m mixed. On one hand, I love the scenes where Coo interacts with Koichi’s family. They are genuinely nice scenes where the film is a more laid-back affair like Hara’s future film, Miss Hokusai. The plot takes its sweet time getting to different points of conflict to push the story and Coo’s development forward. I like that the film is casual in its tone and atmosphere. I even adore the fact that they throw away the trope of the family fully freaking out about a living folklore creature. The dad simply comes back from work and is like “huh, neat”. Coo himself is a fun and likable character, and the final scene with him is touching.
Animation-wise, this is where the mixed opinions become more noticeable. I know the studio is known for working on Crayon Shin-chan, and due to the designs sometimes being very chunky, it’s quite obvious. There are some nice movements and sequences from time to time, but the art direction looks inconsistent. Lesser characters in the background look clunky, while more important humans look okay, but nothing super impressive. The coloring on the humans is also not great. The digital colors look too plain and simple. It was so bland to me that I thought it was from the earlier days of digital coloring in anime, but this came out in 2007, the year before that had films like Paprika, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Tekkonkinkreet, three of the most visually stunning Japanese animated films of the 2000s. It has some great music, and some solid performances, but the animation falls flat in some areas. Sometimes there is a great physical gag or facial reaction, but it’s not often.
The animation isn’t the only problem. This is a long movie. A touch too long. It’s two hours and fourteen minutes long. For a film to be that long, and to have a plot that doesn’t have focus, and meanders from plot point to plot point, that’s a long runtime. It doesn’t help that the stakes seem out of order. Like, the major conflict happens, and then, another major conflict happens that doesn’t seem as impactful as the previous one. The tone is also all over the place. Most of the time, it’s harmless and family-friendly, but then some fairly violent parts caught me off guard. Hara’s later films would have much better tone consistencies. It’s frustrating, because when the film is great, it’s really good. I do love a lot of the character interactions. I just wish some of the other characters, like the love interest for Koichi were more interesting. She doesn’t do a lot until the very end. It’s not like there isn’t any substance to the film, because it does deal with themes of change, death, family, connection, and preserving nature. It’s the fact that this film’s pacing is not great. If it had better pacing for its long runtime, then this might well be one of the 2000s best hidden gems.
Despite my issues with the film, I do mostly enjoy Summer Days with Coo. I don’t consider it one of GKIDS’ best film releases in terms of what else they have brought over, but it’s still a unique experience all things considered. I would wait to maybe see if this film goes down in price before buying it, but if you want to own all of Keiichi Hara’s films, then pick it up and watch it for yourself. Now then, let’s continue with the somewhat summer vacation-related tangent at the beginning of this review, and end this summer with another GKIDS release, Children of the Sea.
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Rating: Rent it!