The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes has an intriguing sci-fi premise, but its short runtime means it struggles to do anything interesting with it.
In this age of movies constantly feeling overly bloated and stretched out to ridiculous runtimes, it’s rare that we criticise a film for genuinely being too short, but that is exactly what the problem with The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes is. Its pacing is too tight for its own good, and by the time it was over, my big takeaway was that I desperately wished it was 20 minutes longer. For a film that wanted to be a sci-fi romance, both the sci-fi and the romance felt underbaked, which made me yearn for more time spent actually explaining and developing them. As it is, by the time it finished, I just felt empty. There’s the idea for a great film here, but, unfortunately, it’s just not quite there yet.
Based on the Japanese light novel of the same name by Mei Hachimoku, The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes follows Tono Kaoru (Ouji Suzuka), a teenage boy who stumbles on the Urashima Tunnel, a mythical tunnel that will apparently grant your heart’s desire in exchange for years of your life. Alongside new transfer student Anzu Hanaki (Marie Iitoyo), he decides to attempt to figure out exactly how the tunnel works, and if it truly can bring back the sister he lost five years ago. The film presents us with an interesting sci-fi premise, but its biggest flaw is just how uninterested it seems to be in the mystery of the tunnel. Whilst it’s definitely an interesting choice to leave the tunnel as an enigma, by the end I just felt frustrated, still unsure what our heroes were hoping to get out of their adventure and how they hoped to accomplish that.
The Urashima Tunnel itself looks gorgeous, filled with 3D rendered maple trees that provide this mysterious, enchanting atmosphere. It’s by far the most visually interesting part of the film, so it’s a shame that they end up spending so little time in it. In contrast, the rest of the film looks relatively bland, featuring some of the most generic character designs I’ve seen in an anime film. Coincidentally, their designs do end up matching their personalities, as both of the leads struggle to establish any kind of interesting characteristics, constantly feeling like the least interesting parts of the story. Whenever they get a chance, they spit out their entire tragic backstory to each other, resulting in several dull, lengthy scenes that don’t end up making me feel anymore connected to these characters.
As for the romance that inevitably ends up blossoming between the two of them, it’s unfortunately far too rushed to feel genuine. It’s very much a victim of the film’s short, 83 minute runtime, with it feeling like a switch is suddenly flipped partway through, turning the characters from “friend mode” to “lovers mode”. It’s a shame, because the story’s climax is actually quite moving, and if given the right buildup it could honestly be a tearjerker, but as it is, it just filled me with disappointment. The ending itself is a definite mixed bag, with some potentially great scenes being undercut by some slightly creepier scenes that I’d argue actually end up ruining the central romance.
With all that being said, it is actually quite hard not to recommend The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes, simply due to how short and tightly paced it is. It’s a breath of fresh air in this era of every major blockbuster seemingly being over 150 minutes, but it also really could have benefited with even just 10 more minutes devoted to developing some of the central elements. There’s plenty to like, but I do wish the film was more interested in solving its own mysteries instead of just being a rushed imitation of Makoto Shinkai’s far better romantic fantasy anime film, Your Name (2016).
The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes will be released in UK cinemas from July 14, 2023.