Goodbye Don Glees!


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Goodbye Don Glees!
"Storywise, there’s not a great deal here which hasn’t been done before, but it will be new to the young audience it’s really aimed at, and it’s beautifully told." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

An old fashioned boys’ adventure tale with a heavy dose of mono no aware – a sense of the ephemerality of life and its consequent value – this Japanese contribution to the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival will both charm and sadden audiences, in a sweet way. It’s a story narrated by Roma (voiced by Natsuke Hanae) as he looks back on the summer when he was 15-years-old, just before he finished high school, and at the events which changed his understanding of life.

Flashing back to that time, we see Roma as a boy working on a farm, ostracised by other local kids because he (supposedly) smells of manure. This experience of exclusion intensifies his bond with best friend Toto (Yûki Kaji), with whom he shares a secret hideout in the forest as part of a gang called the Don Glees (a name which will be explained in due course). When the story proper commences, Toto has just returned from a trip to Tokyo – Harajuku to be precise, as one can tell from his haircut. His parents are putting him through a series of exams and he spends more and more time studying in an effort to get top grades, because he wants to be a doctor. The two are joined by Drop (Ayumu Murase), who is quite a bit shorter and whose voice has not yet broken, but who is the same age. Drop has a secret which older viewers may gradually clue in to as they watch, but it’s understandably missed by the constantly preoccupied Roma.

What begins as a series of conversations, pranks and light-hearted interactions becomes more serious after the boys are accused – falsely, they believe – of starting a forest fire. Although the fire is successfully contained, looking at social media makes it clear that they will be in trouble if they go back to the town. Thus begins a quest to try to find a drone – their big investment for the summer – which crashed somewhere in the forest during the night in question. It should contain footage which can exonerate them – but when an encounter with a bear sends them running off the trail, they realise that they are lost, unable to get a signal, and the real adventure begins.

It’s all beautifully animated, as you would expect. The forest supplies a surfeit of interesting environments, and then there is the Perseid meteor shower, which the boys have used as cover for their quest. Drop has a particular fascination with beauty and with searching for treasure, which will in due course lead to an even bigger adventure (and movement into adult life), whilst Roma wants to become a photographer or filmmaker, even if he only really has eyes for classmate Tivoli, who has recently moved away to Ireland. For viewers, one of the highlights is a thunderstorm, with layered clouds, heavy rain and brilliant flashes of lightning which, despite being animated, succeeds in capturing the thrill of the real thing. It’s moments like this which mean that the film really merits a big screen.

Storywise, there’s not a great deal here which hasn’t been done before, but it will be new to the young audience it’s really aimed at, and it’s beautifully told. One hopes it doesn’t end up getting dubbed as so much animé does, because the actors do an excellent job of capturing the confusing and uncertain emotions which manifest at that age. Each character has a distinct journey and the dynamic between them is constantly shifting as a result. These internal changes take precedence over the challenges the forest throws at them, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some exciting – and sometimes scary – events in that journey too. Ultimately focused on the power of friendship, Goodbye, Don Glees could well become a favourite for young teenage viewers and has enough going on to provide a pleasant distraction for people of any age.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2022
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When three boys get lost together in the forest, the adventure they share will change them forever.

Director: Atsuko Ishizuka

Writer: Atsuko Ishizuka

Starring: Natsuki Hanae, Kana Hanazawa, Yûki Kaji, Ayumu Murase

Year: 2021

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Japan

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