Rating: 4 out of 5.

How exactly did a fourty-minute long Japanese animated film about ghosts have me crying by the end? I can safely say that Summer Ghost was not what I expected, but in the best way possible. It details the friendship between three strangers potentially brought together by fate in incredibly vidid detail. Each character is layered and richly sketched; even the film’s titular ghost has a shockingly detailed and deeply sad backstory. With such a short runtime and the shocking ability of screenwriter Otsuichi to weave it all together beautifully, Summer Ghost is an easy recommend for even casual anime fans.

Legend has it, there is a “summer ghost,” said to take the form of a beautiful woman around twenty, with long hair and dark clothes, who can only be potentially glimpsed in the company of freshly-lit fireworks. A trio of young teens get together in the hopes of actually seeing the summer ghost—this could be a vital summer for each of them, in completely different ways. Ryo has just had a brain scan, and is given only nine months left to live. Aio is being bullied at school to the point that she almost kills herself. Tomoya has an unhealthy obsession with death, unsure of what path to follow in his own life in his attempts to play it all by the book.

With these three distinct backgrounds, Ryo, Aio, and Tomoya each have different questions they wish to ask of the summer ghost should she appear. Of course, there would be no movie if she did not. She offers to answer a request from each of them, despite the potential resolutions not exactly being up to snuff. Unsurprisingly, Ayane’s thorough responses are what help form the movie’s beautiful heart. Not only this, but Ayane also sparks the storyline about the teens helping her to recover her own physical body that has never been found. Accompanied by enthralling, atmospheric animation style, it did not take me long to fall in love with Summer Ghost.

This surprising animated feature is chock full of important thematic messages about death and what it means to live, particularly impressive when one considers its all-too-brief runtime. But honestly, that is the one and only thing I can knock about the feature. I did not expect to walk away from the film sobbing just before I was about to go into work—sometimes the most meaningful movies are the ones that quietly sneak up on you. Certainly, Summer Ghost falls into this category. I longed to revisit this lush world with these characters, contemplating the possibilities of visiting a summer ghost of my own. 

Summer Ghost screened at 2022’s Animation Is Film Festival.

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