This Week: The Door into Summer (Natsu e no Tobira)
Summer days for winter evenings, but a season once passed can never be returned to.
I have had the pleasure of talking about Keiko Takemiya’s work before, The Poem of Wind and Trees (Kaze to Ki no Uta).
Winner of the 1979 Shogakukan Manga Award for shōjo and shōnen series its original form (sharing with Takemiya’s Toward the Terra (Terra e…)), the series was renowned for blending adolescent romantic and seuxal relationships between male characters in thoughtful and nuanced ways. This, after Takemiya’s own 1970 production In the Sunroom is itself the earliest form of shōnen-ai manga..
Getting The Poem of Wind and Trees approved by her editors was a process which took Takemiya almost a decade. But, that does not mean she was not working on other manga in the meantime.
The Door into Summer, a 1975 work which fills but a single collected volume, forms part of the connective area between Takemiya’s works. Perhaps appropriately, its animated adaptation also arrived first, via this 1981 collaboration between Toei Animation and Madhouse. It it also the second theatrical film ever released by Madhouse, nudged out only by The Fantastic Adventures of Unico by less than a week.
All things considered, on a raw production level the film adaptation for The Door into Summer would be noteworthy. The staff is a blending numerous young and talented individuals (such as background artist Katsushi Aoki, then only in his late twenties, who has gone on to everything from Barefoot Gen and Ninja Scroll to Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Summer Wars) right before the 1980’s anime cash influx boom, and veteran oversight by way of elements like Masaki Tsuji’s (Astro Boy, Princess Knight) script. Even down to the dual directing setup of Mori Masaki (who would go on to direct the Barefoot Gen movie and Toki no Tabibito -Time Stranger-) with Toshio Hirata (who sadly passed away only a few months ago on August 25th, 2014, at the age of 76, and was still working as recently as Space☆Dandy).
This is all well and good of course for trivia and animation history fans, but at the end of the day the movie itself is what many come to see and hope to enjoy. Especially given the immediate comparisons to The Poem of Wind and Trees.
Thankfully, the one I found here can still stand proudly next to its younger sibling work.
The kneejerk desire of a viewer to compare The Door into Summer with the work that followed it is by no means unwarranted.
Even if one were to place Keiko Takemiya’s name aside (and to be sure, one should not), each work takes place in France during the late 19th century. They both feature an academy setting for rich and well to do, and the primary characters in that springtime of youth where they are transforming into young adults. The blonde haired leading man, Marion, even looks very, very much like the later Gilbert Cocteau at a glance. Each prominently features male homosexuality as serious key elements of the narrative, to different but nevertheless crucial degrees and executions.
Whereas the later story is a seventeen volume tale of personal torments (of which the anime adaption tries to carve out as much as possible in a focused window of its full scope) and a very central relationship at its core though, The Door into Summer is again fundamentally a short story one shot.
This may sound like a potential pitfall in a certain light, but it is anything but. Our cast is still barely a half dozen large, but time and attention is balanced more eveningly between them. Our focus is more on the group of friends and acquaintances as a group, though certainly Marion’s role in it in particular, and as they go all through this summer of change together. Given that the film begins at a future point with two friends in a twenty paces pistol duel who come to shoot Marion in his attempt to stop them, we are from the start primed for a classically structured breakdown of social relationships in a tight knit group.
To review an unforgettable summer for all involved, and what drove things to a point where it turned into a nightmare with lasting scars they will need to carry with them all their lives.
Marion’s place in the narrative and how it functions around him is an interesting one, though not for the reasons one would perhaps expect going in.
A viewer would, if they were digging up and watching the film in this much later year, already be aware to one extent or another of Takemiya’s history of output and the lacing of homosexuality into many of them. Yet, while Marion does share quite a resemblance to Gilbert Cocteau, in this case the leading pretty boy is not the one driving that specific part of the tale. Marion is instead of being a social pariah considered to be among the most dominant and popular leaders around academy and town. The kind of young man where whole groups of women sigh at his presence, while equally having the community respect to step into a brawl between older male students and not only tell them to break their scuffle up, but in doing so to also tally up the cost of damages to the facility and demand it be paid. And to deliver it all so nonchalantly where everyone else laughs at the situation, feeling embarrassment towards the older students to have worked themselves up in the misfortune of Marion’s presence.
Marion has it all, in a manner of speaking. A good group of close friends to while away the after hours with. Widespread local community respect from peers and others alike. So many admirers that even Ledania, the mayor’s daughter and the one girl seemingly all the young boys fancy and have made propositions towards has turned them away one after another, is holding out for him to notice her. He speaks words championing rational thought, and this to the point of being President of the Rational Party he and his friends make up.
There is a conversation about rules not too terribly long into the film, around an outdoor garden table. The conversation is left unfinished, interrupted as it is by the aforementioned older student fight. But a general thrust of it, if rules are sufficient control mechanisms for students, becomes poignant as events unfold further throughout the piece. Of Marion getting swept up by situations and circumstance, of unchecked emotion and destructive habits both to himself and those connected closest to him.
How he attempts to rationalize his own irrationality, as he is swept further and ever more along in matters of sex, love, and the like.
Much like many a good tragedy, Marion increasingly swerves into the territory of being a figure of giant proportions in his own mind while the effective social kingdom he had amassed begins to crack, fracture, and shatter.
His actions allow for confrontational group divides that had previously been kept in check by his presence to bubble up. Feelings that had previously be set aside or buried in ice, now hitting boiling points. Frustrations and anger, both in their own ways now towards Marion and his behavior as well as themselves and each other.
The Door into Summer is a small cast, with defined and clear links to each other in a tight and focused package adapting the short source material. One could see it make for a fine theatrical experience, and that would be a good mindset to go into the anime with. The production is at its most indulgent during an extended sex scene told through panning around still images of immense size, though even this is a showy exhibition summarizing multiple acts over a period of time. To give them a grand, bombastic nature.of a distilled experience, adorned with watercolors, flowers, and more.
But again, it is ultimately also a story of immense sadness and heartbreak. We begin near the end, knowing full well these relationships will not last. With so few characters for the story to touch, so can few say they made it out without immense personal damage. Youthful days of warmth turned cold and barren.
There is always a danger in doing articles like this, where I want to give a specific send up to a work where I also already gave the source material creator their own additional send up in a previous article. I more than did that regarding Keiko Takemiya’s educational career achievements in my write-up for The Poem of Wind and Trees after all, and that post was only a few months ago. September then, January now.
In the time since, on November 3rd 2014 the Japanese government awarded Takemiya with the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon for her contributions to artistic and academic endeavors. It is among the highest possible national level recognitions.
She has taken every possible opportunity in her career to push for the complexities of her characters, and the subject matter she has wished to deal in with her creative works. To imagine people complexly, and show them as being such in kind. While the film for The Door into Summer is far more contemporary to her earliest manga days than her modern recognitions, it feels no less thoughtless or slipshod in bringing the work to screen. Certainly, one would never say this was a production aiming to make a quick cash-in return on investment.
My own acknowledgements mean little compared to those who have already honored Keiko Takemiya’s output and influence. But I do feel this film adaptation respected her legacy then and remains ever strong now.
Even if the protagonists may never wish to relive this time of their lives ever again.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.