A man (Tadashi Yokouchi) and a woman (Mariko Okada), both Japanese nationals, happen to be crossing paths in the course of their wanderings through the European continent. The man, Makoto Kawamura, is looking for a mysterious cathedral, which he is sure must be located somewhere in Europe. Haunted by memories of Nagasaki, where her family was annihilated, the woman, Naoko Toba, moved away from the home country. She married a foreigner for whom she feels respect; at the same time, she is clearly detached from her husband and his environment.
Is this a fortuitous or a fated encounter? Finding a strange fascination in their affinities, Makoto and Naoko fall in love.
Naoko and Makoto are, in their own words, chasing their destiny. However, their recherche is bound to remain nothing more than an open question. More than by the possibility of a resolution, they chase symbols just for the pursuit’s sake. Their mutual attraction is, like Makoto’s elusive cathedral and Naoko’s Nagasaki, a part of the pursuit. The foreigners, whose personality remains for most part unknown, mostly serve the purpose of reinforcing the sense of estrangement of Naoko and Makoto towards others and themselves. Appropriately, verbal interactions are sparse and rarefied and only offer partial insight to the motivations and turmoil of the main characters.
The Europe depicted in the film is not a mere background to a handful of human confrontations. Although pretty much over-idealized and over-exotic—at least in the eye of a viewer from the Far East—and thus in a way unreal, the locations, following one another in succession, are a primary factor in the film’s development. The camera places the man and the woman in a context that sees them as one element among the many others, together with natural structures and architectural motifs. Sometimes their presence is only marginal and the eye is drawn to them just for a fleeting moment.
As it is easy to guess from the title of the film, light is perhaps the main actor of Yoshida’s work. With its distinct atmospheric quality, Farewell to the Summer Light reminds the viewer of Impressionist painting rather than traditional narrative film. Not only light establishes visually appealing suggestions and sets the mood, but it also affects the characters’ actions and way of relating one another.
Rather than plunging into the narration to follow a well-defined plot, Yoshida uses the pretext of a story to experiment with language, rhythm and light, creating a film that is a strikingly beautiful collection of impressions, a series of sketches—albeit a little outdated, perhaps—revolving around the theme mechanics in relationships between man and woman that are struggling on and off against existential indifference and unrest.
Title: Farewell to the Summer Light
Original Title: さらば夏の光 (Saraba Natsu no Hikari)
Directed by: Yoshishige Yoshida
With: Mariko Okada, Tadashi Yokouchi, Paul Beauvais, Hélène Soubielle