Debuting his first Feature, French filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Périot attempts to take a look at the history of Hiroshima and the ongoing effects that still haunt the city 70 years after the bombing which began the end of the World War II.
Summer Lights is focuses on Akihiro (Hiroto Ogi), a Japanese ex-pat filmmaker living in Paris, making a documentary in Hiroshima for the 70th Anniversary of the A-bombing. After filming an elderly woman’s detailed testimony of the events that she witnessed as a 10 year old girl, Akihiro goes out to lunch to clear his head. He winds up at the memorial park and there he meets a young woman, Michiko (Akane Tatsukawa), with a traditional persona who takes him on a tour through the city and over to the seaside. Through Michiko, Akihiro finds himself understanding the history and recovery of Hiroshima in a way he’s never heard of or seen before. As the two spend the day and night together walking around and meeting people, Akihiro – acting as the unwitting audience, finds himself connecting with the stories in a way he never thought he could.
Summer Lights, at its core, is a love letter to a recovering city, years after a large scale atrocity. It’s a history lesson and initially it’s a welcomed one. After the fascinating documentary-set opening, which demands your attention and leaves a lump in your throat, the film settles into a walk-and-talk format which does little to capture your interest. The film relies on almost primarily just Akihiro and Michiko, with a couple of character popping in here and there and unfortunately the more the story unravels (even with such a short running-time) the quicker it takes a dramatic dive. Clocking in at only 90 minutes, the film drags along and just about stumbles over the finish line by the time the film fades to black and you’re left wondering, what happened to the film that offered to pack such a punch in the first act?
It’s hard to feel chemistry between the two lead characters which the film completely builds itself on. Their dynamic never truly feels natural. The dialogue is stiff, forced and plays more like two people just talking at each other more than anything else. There are far too many moments of long solemn silence and eventually it just becomes tiresome for the audience. While the idea for the film was clear with strong sentiment, mostly due to the opening 20 minutes which was, to Périot’s credit, an extremely strong opening, when the film ends you can’t but feel anything other than relief.
For what it is, with such a strong opening and short run-time, Summer Lights is worth a watch, but it’s one unlikely to leave a lasting impression.