The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes lived up to its subject matter and properly transported me fully into its world. Based on the popular light novel and manga of the same name by Mei Hachimoku, this film is at once a love story between two teenagers struggling to connect to the world and an uncanny story twinged with fantasy like a centuries-old folktale. The result is something truly extraordinary; a mix of the known and the unknown that demands attention. The rudimentary elements of the story are familiar and easy to digest. The fantastical elements bolster those real life elements, using something understandable as a foundation and employing fiction to really enhance it in creative ways.
The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes is far too good of a film to spoil so this will be a spoiler-free review. Personally, I think going over the building blocks of the movie is more than enough to communicate how wonderful it is. This is one of those rare cases where the synopsis, in my opinion, undersells the movie. There’s plenty to be said about why you should watch. Let’s talk about it.
Rumor Turned Real
The mystical concept at the center of The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes is the Urashima Tunnel. Main character Kaoru Tono first hears about the tunnel via a rumor. Supposedly if you find the tunnel and walk through it, you’ll find your deepest desire on the other side. The catch, though, is that this desire or wish is granted in exchange for years of your life. Tono happens to find himself in front of the tunnel after a bit of a lucky fall down a hill and realizes that the impossible may suddenly be within reach; his little sister Karen died five years prior and he wants more than anything for her to return to life. He meets Anzu Hanashiro, a timely transfer student, and the two work together to experiment with and learn about the secrets of the tunnel.
Personally, I love these sorts of beginnings to strange tales. Like a child in a Ghibli movie or someone at the beginning of a story made up thousands of years ago, running into the magical “thing” here is purely a coincidence. The thing itself is tied to a real life setting and has a sort of ekphrastic effect on the story overall. While itself a mystical area, Urashima Tunnel is also something that exists in an otherwise normal town. It orients Tono and Hanashiro, and the audience, to this incredibly uncanny setting by acting as an entrance at which expectations of the rules of reality get tossed aside. Not even time flows the way it does elsewhere. All the while, those who are making their way into the tunnel are hyper-focused on a wish that they want brought into the real, normal world. Desires that normally only exists as internal thoughts suddenly become part of every scene within the tunnel.
Without spoiling any finer details about the tunnel, I can tell you that attention to detail is superb in The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes and that plays a key role in making scenes within it so strong. One of the first details that caught my eye were raindrops. The movie absolutely nails raindrops sticking to leaves after rain and cascading down the plastic of an umbrella during it. This adds a lot of moving parts to the scenes shortly before Tono finds the tunnel and almost felt like the movie was declaring itself capable of creating amazing visuals. In the specific context of the tunnel there’s also some deeply beautiful effects and music, really adding to the feeling of it all. The other immediately noticeable details were the individual textures and edges of different elements on screen. Lighting is notably well done in this movie and creates special emphasis on the exterior of each leaf of a tree or the characters’ bodies.
Wonderful Composition — of Scenes and Characters
On top of how it looks is how it sounds; the score is amazing. The movie begins in June of 2005, meaning people listening to music are doing so via earbuds rather than Airpods or anything Bluetooth. The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes takes advantage of this and uses the act of putting earbuds in to radically change the music to a scene. If I had to compare the effect used I’d compare it to activating noise cancelling on a nice pair of headphones. Imagine that immediate suppression of sound from the outside world in combination with music immediately that instantly replaces it. Even more, music choices work very well with each scene, especially the romantic ones. Those scenes have a warm, uplifting gentle nature to them that reminds you of a nice breeze rustling the trees. Magical scenes receive ethereal, space-like synth tones to really add on to the other worldly elements.
In addition to the sounds, the characters themselves are all incredibly reactive in ways that I don’t always see given special attention in anime. The first area of strength here is the eyes of each character, specifically their eye movement. Characters will have quick darts of the eyes when trying to casually look at something or curiously peer at what someone else is doing. For a romance anime this is a nice touch since to much of the buildup to those romances is slow tension and watching characters navigate budding but uncertain feelings. Eyes will also widen very briefly when someone is somewhat surprised or caught off guard, even for a split second in conversation.
The other are has to do with the characters themselves. Tono is a character that initially comes off as mysterious and distant, something that begins to make sense as you learn about the losses in his family and trauma stemming from it. Hanashiro is similarly distant, but is a lot less stoic and has a very different goal from Tono. The two are united in wanting something from Urashima Tunnel, and a key component of their bond is finding someone who understands what it means to deeply desire something that seems impossible. We learn about both of them at the same rate as they learn about the tunnel and one another, really making the tunnel seem like its own character alongside them.
You Need to Watch The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes
This movie is both a romance that tugs at the heartstrings and a really nice exploration of trauma, self worth, and what it means to lead a meaningful life. After seeing it I’m still finding my thoughts wander and pick different elements of the film that were incredibly detailed despite not being the core of focus. It’s very clear when watching that this movie was adapted from a novel. From what I can tell this does mean that some details had to be removed from time, but I think the movie did a good job with making a strong showing out of what it chose to keep in.
The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes is written and directed by Tomohisa Taguchi and is distributed by HIDIVE and IFC Films. The film received the 2023 Paul Grimault Award and was a top feature film at the French Annecy International Animation Festival. Those in the United States can look forward to this arriving Friday, November 3rd at participating theater chains including AMC Theatres, Reading Cinemas, Harkins Theatres and others. You can check out the trailer here (dub) and here (sub) and buy tickets here.
©2022 Mei Hachimoku, Shogakukan/The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes Film Partners
Anime Corner received a screener copy of the movie, courtesy of HIDIVE.