Dragons & Tigers’ award winner Jang Kunjae’s indie hit, A Midsummer’s Fantasia, is a delicately filmed story set in the quaint town of Gojo, Japan. Amidst the dreamy mountains of Gojo, the intimate recounts of love and loss of its residents unfolds through two chapters.
The first chapter (shot in monochrome) follows a Korean filmmaker, Kim, and his translator/assistant, Mijeong, as they explore the small town of Gojo for a story and subject worthy of being made into a film. As they become familiarized with the old town, they find themselves grasping at spurs of inspiration for their movie from the memories the locals share with them. The “fantasia” inspired by these reminiscences becomes the second chapter of the film (shot in colour). In the second half, the characters become the muses for a budding love story between a Korean tourist and her Japanese tour guide. The line between the real and the “fantasia” faints as the trials of romance unfolds between the two. The story concludes rather unexpectedly and leaves you with many unanswered questions.
Though, the plot of the film is not what gives the film its charm but rather the raw and genuine portrayal of the people of Gojo and their town. Kunjae artfully captures the authenticity of ordinary Gojo residents in such a way that it almost feels like watching a documentary rather than a movie. As the filmmaker interviews with several locals including an elderly couple who run a local café, a respected elder of the town, and their tour guide, we get a sense of vulnerability and connection with the townspeople. With the awkward silences and seemingly unprompted exchanges throughout the dialogue, the audience is left feeling like a bystander eavesdropping on a very intimate conversation. Many of the scenes are from a third-person point of view and have minimal subtitles, allowing the audience to fully be an observer of the scene.
Many of the interactions with the locals highlighted the history and lifestyle of Gojo, lending authenticity to the integrity of the film. Themes of loss and nostalgia are heavily explored as the elderly characters recall the once lively town of Gojo when the lumber industry was still thriving and there were still children in the town, before people began to leave for the city life. The striking cinematography of the geography and landscape of Gojo is matched with still shots of abandoned neighbourhoods, empty classrooms and vacant back alleys. The contrast between the reality of Goju and the “fantasia” of Goju subtlety makes comment of the effects of urbanization on rural towns and its people. While the dialogue is simple and the plot modest, the creative choices in the film from the casting to the editing (monochrome/colour) offer an organic, intelligible way of storytelling.
A Midsummer’s Fantasia makes you feel nostalgic about a place you’ve never been to with its subtle, honest dialogue and raw, vulnerable characters.