Single8, which played at this year’s Japan Cuts, understands the thrill of loving something so much it becomes all-consuming. Directed by Kazuya Konaka (director of the tokusatsu TV series Ultraman Gaia, and Ultraman Nexus), the story is a personal ode to the exuberance of youth and the collaborative problem-solving that is channeled into creating art. From doodles in notebooks to painstakingly trying to emulate a singular shot from a favorite film, to building title sequences, Single8 captures the magic of minutiae in the form of creation.
In the case of high schooler Hiroshi (Yû Uemura), the spark of curiosity would be shared by many young filmmakers. Having seen Star Wars for the first time in the summer of 1978, he became obsessed, most notably with the opening shot of the Star Destroyer entering the frame. This one shot becomes the impetus for shooting an entire film with his classmates for the summer festival group project. As the story of the film and Hiroshi’s film progresses, we watch as his influence unfolds into something more individualistic, taking the science fiction themes and utilization of special effects to create a similar shot of a looming spaceship and channeling it into his own story, naming it “Time Reverse.”
While there are other threads that take place throughout the film, namely his infatuation with Natsumi (Akari Takaishi) who accepts the leading role, the greatest moments are the ones where we watch the filmmaking process. Hiroshi and his friends are student filmmakers who are learning on the go. When one idea doesn’t work as well as they think it should, they commit and try to figure out a new solution. This can be as simple as Natsumi coming in with scotch tape to discover tricks for how to make it seem like the crowd they’re filming in is walking in reverse.
There’s such clear reverence for cinema in the writing. Konaka, who also wrote the screenplay, infuses the feature with an enormous amount of love for the medium he’s shining a light on. From making sure to mention that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were both inspired by the works of Akira Kurosawa, Lucas, in particular, seeing his The Hidden Fortress as a blueprint for Star Wars, to highlighting the specificity of certain craftsmanship (such as cine-calligraphy, the art of sketching directly on the film), the film understands all that goes into the world of filmmaking.
Takaishi certainly adds to the quality of the film. Her performance as Natsumi is so winsome, so endlessly charismatic, that one can’t help but hope for a long career ahead. There are hiccups too, most notably a score that couldn’t be more out of place. While obviously trying to capture an energy that maintains the era in which the movie is taking place, it’s ultimately distracting. The decision on how to handle a certain character by the film’s end and the writing surrounding it also can’t help but come across as oddly bitter, especially for a film so consumed with basking in the nostalgia of youth.
That said, the moments that work help transcend those less-than examples. The film captures how photography and filmmaking offer new ways to see the world. And not just through the final product but in the making of it too, an exercise that prompts self-discovery. It all comes back to how discovering a passion, something you love and want to commit your entire existence towards, can be just as rewarding as any other significant moments or relationships in your life. Mine was Almost Famous, a movie I watched for the first time when I was 16 years old that pushed me in the direction of writing about art. Hiroshi (and we can assume Konaka, based on personal storytelling) had Star Wars. The films were different, but the unifying theme was the same: great art begets new artists, writers, and creators.
Single8 is a triumphant, charming little film that honors the work of creating something together. Refusing to allow irony to infect the depiction of DIY filmmaking in the 70s, the film is a warm, playful homage to the tireless, enthusiastic work we put in when we’re young, when our interests are for fun, rather than profit. With a charming cast and relatable script, the film offers a universal story.
Single8 screened at this year’s Japan Cuts.
Single8 is a triumphant, charming little film that honors the work of creating something together. Refusing to allow irony to infect the depiction of DIY filmmaking in the 70s, the film is a warm, playful homage to the tireless, enthusiastic work we put in when we’re young, when our interests are for fun, rather than profit.