Commencing well-respected Nippon director Kazuo Kuroki’s sixth decade behind the camera, “A Boy’s Summer in 1945” (literally “A Beautiful Summer in Kirishima”) is a lyric, novelistic drama set in the countryside in the last days before Japan’s surrender ending WWII. Striking a welcome retro note in its languid pacing and delicate handling of seriocomic ensemble threads, handsome production is a natural for fests. It might also prove a cornerstone for retrospectives or ancillary releases of works by a helmer (“Preparation of the Festival,” “Ronin-gai”) who’s long been appreciated at home but has won just limited attention abroad.
Fifteen-year-old Yasuo has been exempted from military service due to a lung infection, but is still traumatized by having survived a factory bombing that killed nearly all his young co-workers. Meanwhile, the fate of his parents in Manchuria is unknown. These “excuses” for inactivity do little to appease his stern grandfather, a rural patriarch and erstwhile Imperial Army officer himself.
As reports of Allied victories edge closer and closer to this remote, idyllic mountain area, starving troops stationed nearby steal from the community storehouse. One servant has an affair with a soldier, while another (the master’s mistress) is married off to a conscript sidelined by permanent injury. A glamorous cousin arrives, her officer suitor not far behind. Yasuo himself fends off attentions from a female peer, but befriends a child who’s lost her entire family in the war.
These and other narrative elements are woven into a quietly involving tapestry, albeit one that dawdles on occasion and builds less cumulative impact than it ought. This is due in part to juvenile lead’s blankness, which does little to convey character’s tormenting patriotic guilt. All other perfs are accomplished.
Melancholy end-of-an-era mood is heightened by a dolorous, piano-based score. When lenser Masaki Tamura’s (“Eureka,” “Evil Dead Trap,” “The Crazy Family”) handsome camera compositions venture outside to capture the local landscape, results are ravishing. Tech aspects are first-rate.