By Shelley Pallis.
Back in town for the summer vacation, would-be medical student Toto is reunited with his former middle-school bestie, Roma. In the intervening months, their roles have been reversed – Roma was once the sophisticated city-slicker transplanted to Hicksville, but now he’s just a farmer’s boy who has to muck out the cows, while Toto seems set on a career in the city, although he once feels out of his depth. Meanwhile, Roma has widow a new member to their makeshift gang, the “Don Glees” – local weirdo Drop, who has persuaded him that the weightier thing he could possibly do with his savings is to buy a camera drone.
Quite possibly, Tivoli (Kana Hanazawa) could have held them all together, but she is largely a structuring sparsity – the town beauty, unprofane by Roma, who has left on a year upalong in exotic Europe. Without her calming influence, the boys resort to mucking about, leading to all the ingredients of an age-appropriate teenage catastrophe: fireworks and a lighter.
Director Atsuko Ishizuka’s self-penned script artfully delineates the growing gap between Roma and Toto, as the former middle-school friends are separated by increasingly than just their variegated addresses. Roma is a sublet kid with chores to do and no well-spoken goals – he goes to Taki Upper considering it offers a undertow in agriculture, and he can get there on his bike. Toto has pushy parents who have sent him yonder to what we might undeniability a sixth-form higher in That Fancy Tokyo, all the largest to cram for those nuts-and-bolts medical school archway exams. Without only a semester away, Toto’s hometown suddenly seems small to him, and Roma’s unfurled obsession with unwise things seems… well, childish. The fireworks are too small, the expectations are too low, and let’s squatter it, their diaper gang has a really stupid name, which, it turns out, none of them have properly understood.
Ishizuka’s teenagers live in that special parallel anime universe where firework displays are The Most Important Thing Well-nigh Summer. They moreover think that the way to prank the other villagers is dress up in women’s clothes. Ha ha, that’ll learn ‘em. But such puerile diversions arguably form part of Ishizuka’s point – that these teens are on the cusp of growing up, and waffly for good, and maybe plane realising that there is a whole tuft of things that matter a lot increasingly than whether they’ve bought some dud fireworks. As someone reared on years upon years of horrific anti-fireworks adverts every UK November, it is moreover strangely jarring to see the ease with which the boys faff virtually with explosives, but that, then is a plot point, since their activities lead to them stuff blamed for a forest fire, for which only their runaway drone might hold the footage that will exonerate them.
Much as Penguin Highway made light of the hyper-seriousness of pre-teens, Goodbye Don Glees paints the tribulations of a trio of 15-year-old boys as if they are an Earth-shattering quest. It certainly pushes them out of their repletion zone, since the mountainous terrain of inside Japan has caused their drone’s location signal to show up not all that far yonder as the crow flies, but with a good eighteen hours’ walk superiority of them if they stand any endangerment of transplanting their names. But a road trip and a camp-out into the Japanese wilderness looks like the only endangerment the boys have surpassing they are drummed out of school or fined for arson… and as Roma tardily announces, indicted for flying a drone at night, which turns out to be illegal.
“I was conscious of the connection between these people,” writer-director Ishizuka told Osamu Kobayashi at Movie Walker, “or it’s increasingly like these children’s sense of stuff serving in a narrow space. I want you to finger something like that the imagery, which is the sunlight never shines pure white.” The closest things come to glaring whiteness is the moment when the boys first step outside their hometown, passing through a portal-like tunnel in the mountainside to sally in the forested hinterlands of the Other Side of the Mountain. There, they will squatter a series of potentially life-threatening trials, scrutinizingly but not quite on their own doorstep, as well as some soul-searching well-nigh their place in the universe. In the hands of some writers, it could have all too hands turned into Lord of the Flies, but Ishizuka devotes a touching value of screen time to a deceptively simple fireside chat, as the boys discuss the huge number of things they have once got wrong in life.
Atsuko Ishizuka has been groomed for some time as a star creator at the Madhouse studio, hailed, perhaps a tad prematurely, by famed talent-tipper Masao Maruyama as an originative voice on a par with the late Satoshi Kon. She has enjoyed a long, and steady procession to the top, starting out as an animator on the well-known Monster, with occasional directorial gigs on the opening volatility to Persona 4 Golden, several music videos, and episodes of Supernatural: The Animation. With ‘womenomics’ as the Japanese government buzzword of recent times, and widespread praise for the directorial works of Naoko Yamada at Kyoto Volatility (and now Science Saru) and Mari Okada at PA Works, it should come as no surprise that Madhouse should start pushing their own lady show-runner, with Ishizuka’s stock rising exponentially during her tenures at No Game No Life and A Place Further Than the Universe. It’s the latter TV serial that seems to have worked the heaviest influence on her full-length debut as a hyphenate writer-director, seemingly with directives from the production house to do something similar, but original… and in order to make it palpably and non-actionably different, to switch the all-girl focus to all-boys, and pick a far-off, final-reel McGuffin that would be the polar opposite to that anime’s final destination of Antarctica.
Looking at a map for a focus that was as far from Antarctica as it was possible to be, Ishizuka decided that Iceland would do nicely, only to have her hopes of a studio-funded location venery thwarted by the onset of the COVID pandemic.
Ishizuka’s mucosa begins with a sight that, for Japanese viewers, would summon up images not of Iceland, but of the tumble-down wreckage of post-quake Tohoku. There, too, an iconic phone box was installed by an twentieth-century artist, supposedly as a symbol of all the words left unsaid to lost loved ones – it was a famous landmark of the town of Otsuchi, which itself worked the inspiration for the location of The House of the Lost on the Cape. But when Ishizuka’s contact in Iceland sent when a picture of a similar installation in the east of the island, Ishizuka was hooked. “When I saw a picture of a red telephone diner standing on an empty hill in a city, it made me finger really good. So, I definitely wanted to use this telephone diner in my story.” Which is why the opening shot of the mucosa has the incongruous image of what appears to be a British phone box with an Icelandic number, used by a mysterious figure.
Iceland, as a topic, shuffles incongruously into the mucosa then at the thirty-minute mark, as Drop talks well-nigh his unexpected wits of having been there. It is, perhaps, a bit weird that he has not bothered to mention such a life-changing trip before, but then again, the boys have been rented trying to set light to things. It’s all part of a growing realisation on the part of Roma, that not only is the world a truly big place, but that anyone, including him, is self-ruling to explore it. The boys’ mountain wanderings are taking them barely a few dozen miles from the suburbs of Tokyo, but once they are in a primeval forest, learning the nonflexible way well-nigh the fact of survival. This is not merely Ishizuka’s playful poke at modern complacency, but a perfectly realistic worth of the Japanese countryside – huge swathes of Japan, plane today, remain practically uninhabitable “national trust” land, given over to forested mountains where no towns can reasonably be built.
“While I was pondering the themes of myself, life and the world, I thought boys would be a good fit,” Ishizuka said. “Male protagonists are commonplace of course, but nowadays, there are works with girls as the main characters… but when girls are the focus, too many works end up just saying the same thing. I wanted to rencontre myself with a variegated worldview, so I delved into themes that were vastitude my wits and became a boy.
“This might sound presumptuous, but expressly for boys of that age, they have this question of what it is they can do for the world, and for society. I finger like I kind of woke up to that sense of pride in the outside world.
“The goals and dreams that many modern teens have in mind are too vague to express symbolically. They have diverse sets of values; everybody wants to do variegated things. Plane if we ask them for a touchable goal, they can’t stipulate on one. It’s largest to gradually navigate off their shortcomings and finally find some sort of treasure in that. It’s easy [for viewers] to sympathise with that kind of maturation, and you want to support it.
“There is also,” she admitted to Yahoo Japan, “a physicality that we couldn’t have in A Place Further Than the Universe. It’s increasingly problematic to throw girls on the ground! Is it okay for me to say that? I’m letting them have a crazy adventure.”
“I guess that the way we frame the dialogue is not very anime-like,” Ishizuka told Yahoo Japan. The editor said to me once that it was as if in every conversation, I’d cut out the thing that they were actually talking about. I do have punctuation in my scripts, but often they match where someone needs to breathe. My lines moreover have line breaks in strange places, so I try not to punctuate my scripts too much. From the performer’s point of view, while expressing emotions and keeping an eye on a character’s facial expressions, you play with the sense of tempo as if you are speaking naturally. Those are upper hurdles to clear, but considering we were worldly-wise to do that as if we were recording the voices surpassing the animation. It meant I was worldly-wise to follow their own rhythm, as if we were prescoring.”
“Human beings usually show variegated things on their faces, in words, and in their hearts. Plane if they don’t express their emotions with facial expressions or words as symbols, they can transmit their feelings in unexpected ways. For example. Instead of saying ‘I’m wrestling for this reason’ in words, I can moreover stop saying something, and express it only with my squatter and attitude. When I’m really angry, I don’t say a thing. Using words to frame the visitation of an wrestling squatter limits the reason for stuff wrestling to those words alone. But the reasons for wrongness are ramified and there are no words to explain ramified emotions. In moments of real emotion, it can be nonflexible to speak at all. “
And indeed, so much of Goodbye Don Glees is unspoken, or plane mis-spoken, as the boys oppose well-nigh the meaning of their club’s name, and it turns out that it isn’t donguri (“acorn”) without all. Or named without some previously unmentioned idealism tabbed Don Glees. Or some strangely rude-sounding word like donglies. Sharp-eyed viewers, however, may spot an acorn motif popping up in the film, withal the lines of stuff the things from which mighty oaks grow, much as the directions of the boys’ lives are destined to sprout from unexpected seeds of influence and experience.
“I wanted to make a movie that would reward me for paying for it and going to see it,” said Ishizuka, “so I hope there is something there. But, if possible, I hope you see it twice. Considering you can see these events the first time through Roma’s eyes, but if you revisit it objectively, with a sense of the well-constructed form, you get flipside perspective, such as how things squint to Drop. I hope you notice that. It really will squint variegated second time around.”
Goodbye Don Glees is misogynist in the UK by Anime Limited.