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Monday, May 25, 2009

Where are they now? The cast of SUMMER VACATION 1999

Last Friday when I was sitting in a class taught by the Director of Photography, Kenji Takama (the second DEATH NOTE film, WELCOME BACK, MR MCDONALD), he showed us a couple of his earlier films. One of them was a 1988 film called SUMMER VACATION 1999 (1999年の夏休み), directed by Shusuke Kaneko (the two DEATH NOTE films, AZUMI 2) The film is an adaptation of a shounen-ai (boy love) manga called Tōma no Shinzō トーマの心臓 (Heart of Thomas, or Thomas' Heart) by Moto Hagio.

Here's the synopsis from IMDB.

Summer vacation has emptied a Japanese boys' school of all but three boys: the junior Norio & the seniors Kazuhiko & Naoto. They have no families to return to for the summer, so they spend their days in the empty school. A darkness hangs over the three however: the suicide, three months earlier, of classmate Yu. Norio blames Kazuhiko for Yu's death, because it was well-known that Yu loved Kazuhiko; so Kazuhiko is cruel to Norio, and yet has bad dreams. This uneasy arrangement is exacerbated by the arrival of Kaoru, a student early for the fall - who looks exactly like Yu.

Due to the fact that the entire class was conducted in Japanese, most of the time I didn't know what Takama-san was saying, and could only put most of my attention in the film. During the first 5 minutes of the film, I felt that something about it was a little... off. With my own incisive nature towards screen performances, I thought the four protagonists were quite... unnatural with their acting. And I wondered why. Or was I just slightly put off by their androgynous appearances?

Takama-san was saying something about the actors being around 14-16 when they were shooting this film, I couldn't believe it. Why hasn't their voice cracked at all? My voice has already cracked at the age of 12 (one of the saddest things for me when I made phone calls to old primary school friends was that they tend to tell me my voice hadn't changed at all since Standard 6) And why are the boys acting so effeminate?

I'm not a homophobe, just that I thought it was a strange stylistic choice from the director. And then, I thought the actor playing the character Naoto was strangely... cute.

Miyuki Nakano as Naoto in Summer Vacation 1999

Miyuki Nakano again

The film was a solemn affair that took itself a wee bit too seriously as it moved languidly from one scene to the next, yet my mind was a storm of emotions.

I was disturbed by the idea that I found a teenage boy... attractive, even though said teenage boy really looked like a girl. But the actors, there is nothing manly about them, they giggle like girls, they speak like girls despite trying to maintain a deep falsetto, they gasped like girls, their shirts were baggy, but their legs...

The film was starting to make me question my own sexuality until a thought struck me, and I whispered to Niklas, who was sitting next to me.

"Dude... do you think they are all... played by girls?"

"Most probably." Niklas, whose Japanese skills aren't that much higher than mine, answered.

"They can't be blokes, they can't be." I muttered to myself angstfully.

Especially when one of the actors looked vaguely familiar. A distinctive mole on the cheek...

Eri Fukatsu, formerly known as Eri Mizuhara, in Summer Vacation 1999

Could that be Eri Fukatsu (BAYSIDE SHAKEDOWN films, the J-dorama CHANGE, THE MAGIC HOUR)?

Takama-san merely showed us half an hour of the film before moving on to the classic WELCOME BACK, MR MCDONALD.

Of course, that night when I Googled for the film, my suspicions were confirmed and all four main characters were in fact played by ladies. And then I remember that last year, Guestblogger Justin had mentioned about this film to me before. The synopsis for the film from its Allmovie.com entry is:

This poetic independent Japanese drama uses girls to play the young teenaged boys in the story, reminiscent of a traditional dramatic custom known as Takurazuka. The story concerns three friends who have remained at their boarding school over the summer break in order to further their studies independently. One boy is missing from the group, having recently committed suicide. A complicating factor in their interactions is that each one has a romantic crush on one of the others. Indeed, their passions for one another are so intense that the missing boy's suicide can be attributed to his unrequired love for one of them. When a new boy arrives on the scene bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dead boy, the three are not sure whether they are dealing with an elaborate joke, a spirit, or some other strange karmic destiny.


So I tried to snoop around and find out what had happened to the rest of the actors. Aside from Eri Fukatsu, everyone didn't seem so active anymore.

Eri Miyajima, who played Yu and Kaoru, became a seiyuu (voice actress) for anime, including Naruto.

Eri Miyajima in Summer Vacation 1999

Photo of Eri Miyajima from 10 years ago

Tomoko Otakara, who played Kazuhiko, can still be seen in some J-doramas.

Tomoko Otakara in Summer Vacation 1999 as Kazuhiko

a more recent photo of Tomoko Otakara

The one who caught my eye in the first place, the actress who played Naoto is Miyuki Nakano. There were some photobooks of her.

Miyuki Nakano
Miyuki Nakano

She was in a few dramas and films until the mid 90s. Then she married a volleyball player and disappeared.

... this blog post was originally meant to be a short remark on the film, I just couldn't believe that after some online sleuthing of my own, it became something like a WHERE ARE THEY NOW? episode.

Now, if you're curious about the film, here's the trailer and a fan-made slide show.

UPDATED: Momus' song, SUMMER VACATION 1999, is based on this film. You can read about it on his blog. You can downlooad, or listen to the 1990 Fab Gear version here. Or the 1992 version from his Voyager album.

From his blog:

Voyager, the 1992 Momus album, really starts in Japan in 1990, where a band called Flipper's Guitar -- an Orange Juice-ish pop group containing a young Keigo Oyamada, the future Cornelius -- are at the height of their success. Keigo asks Louis Philippe to co-ordinate a Polystar compilation called Fab Gear, on which Flipper's Guitar tracks are mixed with songs from some of the él Records artists who've been their inspiration. My contribution is called Summer Holiday 1999 (hear the original 1990 Fab Gear version of the song here) and is inspired by a 1988 Japanese film of the same title, set in the then-futuristic year of 1999, in a vaguely sci-fi school in which the boys -- played by short-haired girls -- harbour precocious crushes on each other, tap at strange computers, and dress in lederhosen.