Pathfinder // 2006 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // February 18th, 2008
Can we have some sympathy for the stalker of Japanese schoolgirls?
Masuo (Yutaka Mishima) is a socially retarded salaryman with a dark obsession in Raw Summer. What passes for a regular life -- meals with his father and sister in their cramped home, dealing with clients over the phone from his office cubicle -- thinly hides his lust for Anko, a teenage schoolgirl who doesn't even know he exists. Masuo plans his daily commute so that he is always on the same subway car with her. He knows the route she walks from school to her home. He even keeps a replica of Anko's school uniform in his bedroom closet. When Masuo's sister comments that his behavior is getting weirder, she doesn't know the half of it. Incapable of introducing himself to Anko in an appropriate manner (never mind the inappropriateness of his imagined relationship with her), Masuo awkwardly gives her a stuffed animal one day. But when his gift is rejected and ridiculed, the devastated Masuo starts to act even more unsteadily. When his stalking resumes, he is more determined than ever to have Anko -- regardless of her consent.
First-time director Keisuke Yoshida shows no subtlety in his depiction of Masuo. The camera angles and lighting enhance Mishima's performance to make Masuo appear more like an oozing slug rather than a man. While the character is clearly repulsive, he is also darkly comic thanks to Mishima's willingness to play him as nothing but pathetic. However, it is unclear whether the tone of the movie is supposed to inspire disgust or pity for the protagonist. Because the movie tries to have it both ways, my interest in the character began to wane, and after about 25 minutes I had had enough of the story. But then something shockingly funny happened and the story took a comic turn that revived my interest. Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last.
Raw Summer is a respectable first effort by Keisuke Yoshida but it feels more like an extended short film than a fully fleshed-out feature. His story is built around the scenario of a pathetic older man lusting for a teenage girl on the subway. Masuo's work and domestic life -- like Anko's story -- are under-realized background elements that function as filler rather than character development. The director also makes two mistakes that will alienate viewers. The first occurs midway in the movie when he lingers too long on a shot of a key stunt until the mechanics of the staging are apparent. The second mistake is his ending -- the last shot -- which negates half of the events of the movie. Both cases are so disruptive that they serve as reminders that we are watching an exercise in filmmaking rather than experiencing a story.
"Sora Aoi fans, you are Masuo," Mishima reminds us in the making-of featurette. That said, fans of her other work will likely be disappointed by her first role in a conventional narrative movie. The biographical notes contained on the disc inform us that Sora Aoi is a star in the Japanese adult video world. Her performance here is perfectly acceptable though her character isn't required to be more than pretty and docile. She has a couple of scenes where she is convincing, if not particularly memorable, as a teenager. The lack of depth to her character is consistent with the film's overall perspective. The story is told through Masuo's eyes and Anko is simply his prey. In a scene where he molests her on a crowded subway, she is completely helpless to his monstrous groping. While this may be the scene that interests her fans the most, it doesn't play out to their satisfaction.
Raw Summer looks reasonable for a movie shot on video. The cinematography is consistently good with compositions that make the most of the sets and locations. Exterior shots seem slightly overexposed in scenes lit by sunlight and darker interior shots appear somewhat flat. It doesn't have the image quality of film but the picture is fine for a low-budget, sub-feature-length movie. The stereo soundtrack is passable with a sound mix that isn't too complex. Directional effects are clearly discernible if a little exaggerated.
The disc contains a making-of featurette with interviews with the director and cast members. The behind-the-scenes footage shows the positive feeling on set and also the mostly youthful faces among the crew. Short cast biographies and a collection of trailers for this and other titles round out the extras.
This is a respectable first film by a new director featuring a strong performance by veteran stage actor Yutaka Mishima. However, the tone of the movie is uneven and the story is slim. But the worst offense is a plot twist that needlessly jerks us around. For those reasons, we find Raw Summer guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Making-of Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Wikipedia Entry for Sora Aoi