Safe to say, when the cover of your movie is an upskirt pic of a schoolgirl and the co-star of your film is a JAV porno actress renowned for her youthful appearance, one expects a pretty naughty film out of Raw Summer (2004). What a surprise to find that it is actually an engaging piece of indie-exploitation cinema that spends more time playing to the fragile emotions of its characters rather than indulging in any kink.
This is director Keisuke Yoshida's first film (speaking of which, is 60 mins enough to make it a feature or is it a short?), his previous credits being a grip on several Shinya Tsukamoto films. Raw Summer is an impressive debut, mature in terms of rhythms, competent visual direction, and a tonal sense that is has many layers/styles yet never becomes an unfocused muddle.
The film follows Masuo Ota (Yutaka Mishima) a pudgy, cherub faced, emotionally stunted businessman who has a serious stalker-crush on a schoolgirl, Anko (Sora Aoi). Ota has hinged most of his existence on following Anko around, taking secret snapshots which he plasters all over his room, and even forced grope sessions on the commuter train.
In one of the films most revealing bits, Ota, who still lives with his brother and sister and doesn't hide his obsession, is confronted by his sister about his behavior and how he cannot see that his feelings are manifesting in an unnatural way. His sis explains that the difference between a stalker and a shy crush is that a stalker is unable to admit their affections.
This leads to Ota finally speaking to Anko and nervously giving her a present and a love note. Naturally, the present is a teddy bear inside of which he has placed a hidden microphone. When he eavesdrops on her and a friend reading his profession of love, he is met with heart-crushing ridicule.
Since it is such a short film and I prefer viewers discovering things for themselves, I won't go into any more plot specifics. Suffice to say, the relationship between Ota and and Anko takes some interesting turns, from terror-filled, to heart-warming, to the film's final surreal and fitting denouncement.
Under Yoshida's direction, Yutaka Mishima does a great job with a difficult character. The story allows for Ota to come across as sad sack pathetic, comical, creepy, and even downright scary. The true key is that, though his behavior is at times odd, perverted, and even monstrous, he is empathetic. There is a strong undercurrent of pathos, enough to keep viewers on their toes and unable to write off the character as a complete villain or reject.
The DVD: Pathfinder.
Picture: Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. It is a little indie film, a no doubt direct to video, or at least barely screened, DV film. In terms of transfer artifacts, the disc appears free of any glaring errors. The only real minus is the nature of the low budget prodcution and general DV quirks which result in some lacking definition details, pushed lighting, and softness.
Sound: Japanese 2.0 Stereo with optional English subtitles. Not much to speak of, clear and well balaced but not exactly a dynamic mix. Sub translation appeared to be grammatically sound and well-timed.
Extras: Trailer. --- Still Gallery. --- Bios. --- Very nice and insightful "Making Of" Featurette (24:54) with the standard talking head interviews with the director and cast as well as behind the scenes footage.
Conclusion: Not your average stalker film, Raw Summer successfully blends black comedy, outsider-loser compassion, and exploitation horror into an engaging effort. The presentation is pretty basic, but it is, after all, a small film.