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An Interview With 'Summer Ghost' Director loundraw

Summer Ghost is a new anime film by a new director and indeed a new studio. It’s the story of three Japanese teenagers who meet one summer evening, having heard a ghost will appear if they light fireworks at a particular spot. The rumour is true… The subsequent film focuses especially on one of the teens, a boy called Tomoya, who forms a strange relationship with the ghost girl. But their link might be dangerous as Tomoya is increasingly drawn towards thoughts of death.

The 40-minute film is the director debut of the Japanese artist loundraw, previously a cover designer and illustrator. His previous projects included creating the character designs and cover illustration for the novel I Want to Eat Your Pancreas; the character designs were also used in the anime film of the book, released in 2018. Then in January 2019, loundraw founded Flat Studio; he was 24 at the time.

Made by Flat Studio, Summer Ghost debuted in Japan in November 2021, and premiered internationally the same month in Leeds. Since then it’s been screened at other venues, including London’s BFI Southbank during its recent anime season. Thanks to Fetch Publicity and Anime Limited, I could interview loundraw about the film when he visited London.

AFA: I want to ask about how Summer Ghost looks, its colour scheme, its use of light. Obviously, it affects the mood and tone of the story; for me it made the film feel dreamlike. What was your thinking behind your choices with colour and light?

loundraw: As you say, colour and light were very important to this project. Because the film is a collaborative project, there are a lot of things I can’t control, but layout and colour, including light, were things I could control, which is why I put such emphasis on them. With colour in particular, a lot of the time you’ll find in animation that the characters stick out against the background, they don’t fully integrate. But I wanted to change the colours (of the characters) with the backgrounds, so (the characters) felt like they actually exist in the scene. That’s apparently something not normally done when making animation.

Credit: Yosuke Torii

Were you trying to set a particular mood or tone?

Yes, I think the most important thing in a film is the emotions of the characters, and there are various ways that you can try to express that, not just through the words but through the layout and the use of colour. I wanted this to be a film where all of these things combined to convey the feelings of the characters.

You mentioned there were some aspects of the film that you could not control. Some people think directors want to control everything. Were you okay with leaving aspects of the film to your collaborators, or did you feel frustrated?

A lot of the time, I was frustrated and I wanted to be able to do things myself. But that’s why I set up Flat Studio to overcome that, to have a team that I could share my ideas with, and show them how I want things to be done. And the staff really grew through Summer Ghost, and now I think I would be much more comfortable leaving more things to them, so I think it’s been a big step forward.

Setting up a new studio seems like an extremely difficult thing to do.

It was surprisingly simple. I was working as an illustrator, and then when I found that I wanted to tell a story, over a timeline, then it felt that the natural way to do that was through animation. But when I tried it, the conventional way of doing that didn’t work for me. So I needed to find people who would work with me, and I set up a studio to be able to do that. It’s still very small, but it felt like a natural progression.

When you say the conventional way of animating a story did not work for you, can you say more?

For example, matching the colours of the characters to the backgrounds that I talked about previously… Or the background art itself. For me, blank space is very important, a lack of detail. I’ve been told previously by background artists that it’s actually harder not to draw something, it’s harder to have nothing than to have something very detailed because that’s a harder instruction to give.

In the film, there are images of the boy Tomoya with the ghost girl Ayane flying above the clouds, but also images of them suddenly being deep “underwater,” and you mix these images very freely.

The idea of flying came from the scriptwriter, Hirotaka Adachi. And Ayane’s body is in the ground. In terms of anime code, the sky often represents action and fun, whereas in this case I wanted the ground to represent reality and death, and I wanted that contrast between the two.


Later on in the film, we’re sometimes watching Tomoya with the ghost, and then cutting to the boy with his friends, and you get the feeling that the boy is in multiple realities by this point.

This is about how the ghost Ayane is showing the characters, especially Tomoya, the appeal of being dead. Tomoya of course is alive, but he does feel the appeal of death. He’s attracted by death, and that was what I was trying to show, that he’s going back and forth between the two.

[In a Q&A session at London’s BFI Southbank, loundraw described Tomoya as toying with the idea of death, not seriously wanting to die, but wondering what if he wasn’t alive anymore.]

Did Summer Ghost start from the idea of the three teenage characters who each have problems, or with the idea of meeting a ghost?

The seed was the idea that lighting these fireworks would enable you to meet a ghost, and then around that, Adachi came up with a few different motifs. The one that resonated most was having the idea of the three young people. So we took that and delved deeper into the story.

The ghost is linked to summer fireworks. In Japan, there’s also the Obon festival during the summer, when people remember dead relatives. [For instance, Obon is referenced in Makoto Shinkai’s film Weathering With You.] However, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reference to Obon in your film – did you deliberately decide not to have one?

I wasn’t particularly intending to invoke Obon in the film, rather the link between fireworks and ghosts. But in the background, you do have that connection in the Japanese mind between summer and the dead; there’s a natural connection there which I thought might make the story more convincing. It’s not explicit, but I didn’t think it would hurt.

Are there stories and sayings in Japan that link fireworks and ghosts?

Not really. Fireworks are used for remembering the dead, but most of the time they’re just fun. Having said that, the particular type of (sparkler) firework that the teenagers use in the film… There’s a vague awareness of that as a symbol of ephemerality.


Summer Ghost is a stand-alone film of about 40 minutes, which is unusual in anime. Does that cause problems for the film’s distribution?

I don’t know the details of the distribution. I do understand that it’s harder to get an audience for a short film versus a long one, but despite that, Summer Ghost was screened in some big cinemas, so I felt the weight of expectation.

Did you think 40 minutes was the right length for the story, or did you want to make it longer?

I did think about making a longer film, but then I thought that there was no real precedent for “a film by loundraw,” so my priority was just to get people to come and see it, and so I decided that a short film would be the way to go. And then I thought that this story would work as a short film; Summer Ghost itself was always going to be a short film.

Could the story have worked if one or more of the “mortal” characters had been older than teenagers, or did they need to be teenagers for the feelings to work?

I could have told the story with an older character, because death comes to us all. But the thing is whether the character would have believed in ghosts. The fact that the three characters in the film are not quite grown up, I think, helps create the atmosphere of the film. An older character would perhaps have been more realistic (in attitude).

How long was the production of the film?

Just under a year. [I ask if that includes pre-production, and loundraw consults with other staff who are at the interview.] I think the screenplay took about six months, and then production was about a year.

Summer Ghost will be released in the UK by Anime Limited and in the US by GKIDS Films.


IMAGES Copyright: © Summer Ghost