If, like yours truly, you made movies on film during your school years back in the day, you will truly appreciate writer/director Kazuya Konaka’s throwback summer film Single8 (Japan, 2023). But you don’t have to have had that experience to enjoy this big-hearted, joyful work about a group of 1970s Japanese high school students attempting to make a science fiction film after falling in love with Star Wars.
Hiroshi (Yuu Uemura) is so impressed with Star Wars that he wants to recreate an iconic scene from that film himself. With only that purpose in mind initially, he soon proposes making a science fiction film for a class summer project. It’s an unpopular idea, as most other students only want to make a much easier haunted house within a school room. Hiroshi and his friend Yoshio (Noa Fukuzawa) are given one week to develop their ideas and present them to the class for a final vote. The pair, aided by a student who works at a photography shop (Yusuke Sato), take the challenge to heart, learning from their test mistakes and trying to figure out motivation and plot. Hiroshi’s crush Natsumi (Akari Takaishi) agrees to star as the heroine, and the young filmmakers challenge themselves to make the best movie they can.
Konaka, whose dozens of directorial credits include work on the Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga and Ultraman Ginga television series, has captured a nostalgic time in his life — some of his own early efforts are shown during the end credits — that is highly relatable to viewers, as besides the love of filmmaking, Single8 also presents the bonding that can happen between teenagers with different interests who find a common one, and the near-misses of romance at that age.
Single8 is meant to be a feel-good experience, and it succeeds admirably in that department. Story conflicts are mild in Konaka’s film, though character arcs — a main focus of Hiroshi and company as they try to make a strong script — are well developed. The excitement and never-say-die attitude of youth is heartwarming here, and one of many smile-inducing sequences is when the complete finished film is shown to both Hiroshi’s classmates and viewers of Single8.
I remember being a junior high student and learning about scratching directly on standard 8mm film stock to make special effects resembling rays shooting from a character’s hand in one of my movie-making efforts, and that technique is presented here, along with other fun methods of bringing stories to cinematic life before the advent of modern video technology. Because of moments like this, movie makers and movie lovers are sure to find Single8 a blissful, amusing experience.
SINGLE8 screened as part of Japan Society’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film, which ran from July 26–August 6 in New York City.
- Joseph Perry - Single8