Tuesday, May 23, 2023

THE SOUND OF SUMMER (2022) (Unearthed Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Unearthed Films
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 75 Minutes 44 Seconds 
Audio: Japanese LPCM 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Guy 
Cast: Kaori Hoshino, Shinya Hankawa,  Kiyomi Kametani, Shiori Kawai, Kuromi Kirishima, Keita Kusaka, Yuina Nagai

Director Guy follows up his short film Difficulty Breathing with his feature-film debut, the enigmatic psychological body-horror flick The Sound of Summer (2022). At the height of the searing Japanese summer the soaring temperature is oppressive and the buzzing summer-song of the emerging cicadas are absolutely deafening. Our unnamed protagonist (Kaori Hoshino) is a young woman who works at a coffee shop with her co-worker (Kiyomi Kametani), one day they notice a peculiar man they dub the "Cicada Man" who draws attention to himself as he carries around a number of plastic big-boxes full of cicada bugs, which gives the young women the creeps, our protaganist is particularly unnerved by him and his bugs. 

The encounter with the strange man has a deep effect on the young the woman, at home she suffers from a lack of sleep, kept awake by the the unrelenting heat and the incessant wall-of-sound the cicadas are broadcasting from outside. During one of her fitful nights she believes she has been visited by the Cicada Man, that he has stuffed bugs inside her body. Is this encounter real or not? The film walks a line between what transpires as either a deeply troubled mind of a young woman brought about by sleep deprivation and perhaps some form of mental illness, and the idea that she was visited by and contaminated by the creepy bug guy, I could see it going either way, and I definitely lean towards it's happening as at one point we get flashbacks to the bug guy's own traumatic childhood. 

Honestly the film started off pretty slow for me, and not in that slow-burn sort of way that I love, it feels like it's a low-budget film padding the run time to get it to feature length. Things pick up considerably though once the young woman starts exhibiting strange rashes and open sores on her body. She calls out from work and makes an appointment with the weirdest most ineffectual doctor you could ever fear seeing. He's non-plussed by her sores and scratches, attributing it to parasitic paranoia, later prescribing a "light anti-psychotic" to cope with her anxiety about it. 

Meanwhile her condition, whatever it truly is, gets worse, she itches at the sores, convinced that there are bugs implanted within her, which leads to her gruesomely 
probing her sores and orifices with a pair of tweezers, bloodily removing evidence of her contamination which she keeps in a match box. This Cronebergian body-horror stuff is pretty well done for a micro-budget indie, achieved with some interesting camera angle, prosthetics, lots of blood - it's pretty upsetting stuff if fingernail trauma and self-mutilation get under your skin. I love how clean and brilliantly white her apartment is, it's all quite orderly and brightly lit, which makes for a stark contrast to her state of mind and the body-horror and bloody self-mutilation that starts to dirty up the pristine abode. 

As the flick moves along the paranoia of the protaganist sets in it get sprogressively more surreal and hallucinatory, with the young woman eventually finding her self inside the dilapidated home of the Cicada Man, baring witness to a bizarre metamorphosis that turns him into a literal Cicada Man, exposing his gruesome feeding grounds, and initiating a bizarre transference that involves bloody vines and spilt intestines. 

This is a weird one, I can't say that I loved it, but it is a film that is a wonderful example of what you can achieve with little money and a lot of drive. It's no small feat the 
level of uncomfortable paranoia and self mutilation this manages to conjure on what looks to have been very little in the way of funds. It's quite attractively shot, the sound design is terrific, and the special effects are gruesomely solid throughout. The acting is so-so in my opinion, but they cast actors with a certain look and I think they get a lot of milage out of that. Hoshino looks the part of a seemingly fun 20-something whose world is turned upside down, and Shinya Hankawa as the Cicada Man has a unique look that is creepy and alarming, his pre-transformation sequence features the actor looking pained and contorted, coated in and dripping some sort of pre-pupal viscous secretion, it's a disturbing performance and the finished effect of the Cicada Man is pretty unnerving as well.

Something that endeared the movie to me was how it brought back some childhood memories of my own. I grew up in upstate New York and the deafening sound of cicadas is something clearly remember, lots of late nights just listening to the unrelenting sound emitting from the trees. When the cicadas would shed there skin my late Uncle Larry (gone too soon) would forage around the elm trees in the yard looking for the husks of cicadas, he would then use a needle and thread to create a cicada hat band he would wear. I thought it was pretty creepy at the time, I still do, but it's a cool memory that I hadn't thought about in years. 

Audio/Video: The Sound of Summer (2022) arrives on Blu-ray from Unearthed Film in 1080p HD widescreen (1.78:1). The digital-shot film looks terrific, we get vibrant colors, crisp fetails and deep digital blacks with excellent shadow detail. Depth, clarity and textures look quite pleasing. Audio comes by way of Japanese LPCM 2.0 Stereo with optional English subtitles, the track is well-balanced with some thoughtful sound design elements that enhance the cee-factor, dialogue and the mind-searing f cacophony of cicada noise, plus the synth-industrial score by Microchip Terror really does get under the skin.  

The Unearthed disc features over two hours of extras, starting the the 45-min Behind The Scenes of The Sound of Summer, the 42-min Tokyo Talkshow with the cast of The Sound of Summer, Loud and legendary director Shozin Fukui; the 34-min Japanese Premiere plus Trailers for The Sound of Summer and Difficulty Breathing. My favorite was the behind-the-scenes stuff, giving an intimate look at the making of low-budget horror with a small dedicated crew. The single-disc releases arrives in a standard keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork, the disc itself featuring unique artwork separate from the wrap. 

Special Features: 
- Behind The Scenes of The Sound of Summer (45:19) 
- Tokyo Talkshow with the cast of The Sound of Summer, Loud and legendary director Shozin Fukui (42:27) 
- Japanese Premiere (33:42) 
- Trailers: The Sound of Summer (1:47), Difficulty Breathing (0:42)  

Screenshots from the Unearthed Films Blu-ray: