The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes adheres to many of the tropes of the expanding subgenre of supernatural romance anime films. The protagonist is suddenly introduced to a new individual, who brings with them a fanciful event that represents a significant trauma in the protagonist’s past. In order to solve the fantastical occurrence, the leads must cooperate with one another. In the process, they become closer and strive to mend old scars. Though it’s inevitable that this film will draw comparisons to Shinkai films, Tunnel to Summer is a brilliantly crafted, achingly sad film with a strong sense of style and narrative.
As we witnessed in both Akuma Drive and Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War, one of Taguchi’s directing techniques is a sophisticated use of color, with striking monochrome palettes that make any opposing hues shine out.
Tunnel to Summer is no exception, frequently employing color for both decorative and symbolic effects. A world painted in rose hues makes us feel both at peace and uneasy, as though the things we wish for and hope for are unachievable. Even the tightest areas feel roomy and active in this pitch-black tunnel, where the bright orange maple trees’ falling leaves create structures resembling gates.
The tunnel serves as a transitional area when the individuals are forced to face their most agonizing bonds and the violence of their past. Kaoru and Anzu are unable to move past the deaths of their loved ones and dreams, and instead are mired in their pasts and abandoned futures. As everyone else speeds far into the future and they are forced to pause time, they are confronted with symbolic images of their suffering in the tunnel and must decide what to cling onto and what to let go of. It is a depressing picture of stunted growth, showing how a person’s sense of melancholy loss can devour them and become what motivates and nourishes them.
The other element that connects Anzu and Kaoru—that is, their similar experience of emotional abuse from parents, which they each handle differently—does not ease this sense of loss. Anzu, who was made to give up her childhood goals, spends the majority of the film maintaining a straight expression and refusing to display any kind of emotion or vulnerability. Observing her gradually reveal herself to Kaoru and her body language and character animation in particular makes for a great portion of the film’s enjoyment. She is so unique and complex that it makes you fall in love with her when we first witness her show true joy when Kaoru tells her he appreciates her work. I don’t want to give too much away to avoid giving away the moment, but it reveals so much. Apparently, after being told for so long that her priorities are unimportant, she tries to hide her happiness when she receives praise from someone else because doing so would give them too much control over her. This is true even though she is gradually coming to trust them.
However, Kaoru is so overcome with grief and remorse that he has cut himself off from everyone in his immediate vicinity. His interactions with his abusive father, who has fueled his guilt, are honest and sympathetic, mostly devoid of sensationalism. The sequences where his father tries to mend fences with him following severe physical and emotional abuse are heartbreaking; there’s a sense that this is a recurring pattern, and he quickly retracts any goodwill when Kaoru doesn’t reciprocate. This is another way that the tunnel can be interpreted as a symbol: it might symbolize how someone isolates themselves from the community in an effort to protect themselves while enduring abuse.
It’s also important to note that Kaoru in the movie is a lot better than his somewhat edgelordish counterpart in the novel. Eliminating the constant internal monologue, which is one of the drawbacks of many light novels, is one of the advantages of a well-executed adaptation. Since Taguchi’s skillful direction does a far better job of expressing Kaoru’s thoughts than any obtrusive narration could, perhaps it makes sense that he also penned the screenplay translation. This is particularly evident in a scenario where Kaoru experiences a panic attack after being pushed to the brink by his violent father. The attack is depicted in a courteous manner that lets the spectator participate without feeling voyeuristic thanks to the use of first-person camera, voice acting, and sound design (which forgoes music during the scene).
Despite living in comparable situations, they react to violence very differently. When faced with danger, Anzu will always take the initiative, but Kaoru has learnt to flee rather than face the violence he has witnessed; both strategies essentially keep others at a distance. Making a tale about how Kaoru needs to learn to stop running away and Anzu needs to give up violent self-defense would be quite easy. However, the path of treatment that these characters take is more complex than that; rather than focusing primarily on treating the symptoms of their difficulties, it addresses the underlying causes of these issues.
The biggest way the movie deviates from the books in this regard is that it’s a little disappointing. The two protagonists in the book spend a lot of their storyline learning to accept individuals other than themselves into their lives. The bully Kawasaki and Kaoru’s only friend Shohei have had their roles significantly limited in the story, which lessens the significance of their healing arc. After all, it is through these two characters that we learn the most about how Kaoru and Anzu interact with the world outside of romantic relationships in the book. It is unfortunate that this eliminates a significant step in the healing process for survivors—locating a network of support.
This is really a small criticism of an otherwise excellent movie, though. It would be a mistake if I did not also acknowledge Satoki Iida’s sound design, which consistently evokes a feeling of intimacy and atmosphere, and Harumi Fuuki’s well chosen and eclectic music. The film’s sound design is amazing, whether it’s the unmetered gamelan used in the tunnel sequences to evoke an otherworldly, multidimensional ceremony or the quiet and nuanced sound design of the home scenes where Kaoru must confront the ghosts of his past. I have nothing but admiration for it. To date, Fuuki’s best effort has been this.
A masterful portrayal of two kids attempting to navigate abuse and bereavement, The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes features striking images, catchy music, and a cleverly structured narrative. Between this and Akudama Drive, Taguchi-san has become one of my favorite directors, and I am eager to see what he will create next. You owe it to yourself to watch it.