Screened at Anime Expo and Fantasia 2022
Coming to theatres this Fall!
Home Video Release: Dec 27, 2022
* comes with Interview with Director Atsuko Ishizuka
the title of Madhouse’s latest animated film isn’t too telling, then what we learn from Goodbye, Don Glees! (グッバイ、ドン・グリーズ!) is that we should never let life pass you by. This heartwarming and sentimental film about two boys—Rōma (Natsuki Hanae) and Toto (Yûki Kaji)—enjoying the dog days of summer isn’t too bittersweet, but I had to ponder over the use of this title.
This coming of age drama has a lot of moments which hint at what it all means, but the adventure doesn’t really begin until after the duo meet Drop (Ayumu Murase), a new kid in town. He has something that others cannot see. For one thing, he’s so full of life, and what he wears is loud by conventional Japanese standards. His family moved from Iceland to Japan, and in what he externalizes hides something else. For one thing, he often talks about the ancient tree of life from Nordic lore. There’s something about Yggdrasil that he’s enthralled with, and it is referred to in anime or manga every once in a while.
I surmise he is a lot more aware of what’s going on than others, audiences included. I also suspect he grew up reading the Eddas and is in love with Norse mythology. Thus, his fascination with the tree refers to not only where he puts himself in the natural order of things, but also in how he sees everything in the universe as interconnected. This introspection is key to why I’m attracted to this anime, and I’d have to find the screenplay to be able to read between the lines.
Together, they form a club known as Don Glees, and what we see are wonderful moments of the lad as they spend a lot of time in the nearby woods watching the world go by. One of them even has a passion for astrophotography, and he often wonders what else lies beyond the cosmos. In what he said to the others implies he wants to go out and explore the world once when he graduates. But this won’t happen anytime soon, as this movie is is set as they enter their first year at high school.
After losing a drone during a fireworks’ festival, Rōma, Toto and Drop have to deal with the aftermath. Everybody in town is blaming them for the accidental forest fire. In order to prove they are not at fault; they plan to venture into the crime scene to retrieve it. That’s going to be tough to do when the authorities are still investigating. But Drop has a plan, and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss what the red phone booth represents. I will have to watch this film a few more times to figure out the meaning behind the mysticism or find the manga when a translated version becomes available. This object in the middle of the woods is symbolic and no, it’s not a time machine.
Goodbye, Don Glees! is written and directed by Atsuko Ishizuka, an artist/animator who came to the attention of NHK and Madhouse after producing works for her enjoyment. I get the feeling she made this film more for herself too, than to fashion a commercial product. After Gravitation was featured in the 2005 Tehran International Short Film Festival, the studios courted her to come work for them, and she rose through the ranks. There may be passing moments which calls back to past works while at the studio, like Forest of Piano, but I doubt it. Instead, what I feel is that she is going for her in this work is an exposition on how precious life is, and to enjoy it every moment you get.
This soft character drama is simply beautiful in that we get a bit of The Goonies style action. There is a magical moment in the style of Speilberg, and it’s well placed into the narrative when viewers least expect it.
In what I feel is that I’m watching Howard Zieff‘s My Girl (1991)–but only from a Japanese sentimenal perspective. It made me think about how life is fleeting. Soon, the boys learn to value their friendship even more, and that’s what I love about this movie without spoiling too much.
4 Stars out of 5