A novel by one of the titans of 20th century sci-fi gets the Nicholas Sparks treatment in Takahiro Miki’s tepid, treacly “The Door into Summer.” Adapted from the 1957 book by Robert A. Heinlein, it’s a tale of time travel, androids and cryogenics, but an opening quote from Stephen Hawking turns out to be more cerebral than anything that follows.
Kento Yamazaki plays Soichiro, an orphaned scientific genius who masters robotics under the tutelage of his adoptive father. After losing his new parents in a plane crash, he’s left only with his adoptive sister, Riko (Kaya Kiyohara), and a plump tabby cat named Pete.
The story’s title refers to how this happy-go-lucky feline spends all winter hoping that the front door will eventually open to reveal a summer’s day. Viewers may find themselves longing for a similar portal to whisk them away to a better movie.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||118 mins.|
The film starts in a parallel version of 1995, where an eccentric scientist (Tomorowo Taguchi) has cracked the secret of teleportation, and life insurance companies are offering the chance to be cryogenically frozen. But what begins as an intriguing exercise in retro-futurism — mixing familiar and imaginary archival news clips — quickly gets bogged down in drab corporate intrigue and cloying scenes between Soichiro and Riko.
After losing control of his company through the schemings of his duplicitous fiancee, Rin (the single-named Natsuna), Soichiro ends up spending 30 years in suspended animation. He awakes in 2025 to find a Japan where cashless payments and driverless taxis are the norm, and society is assisted by humanoid descendants of the robot he’d designed back in the 1990s.
These droids turn out to be better company than the humans; a brief exchange with a pair of robotic receptionists left me wishing the film had stuck with them instead.
Things get mildly interesting when Soichiro discovers a way to head back in time and make a few adjustments, but the whole thing feels awfully tidy. The corny melodramatics of the opening stretch are missed during the frictionless scenes that follow, and Miki’s direction only underlines the tweeness of the narrative.
Adaptations of recent bestsellers are such a staple of Japanese cinema, any film that looks elsewhere for inspiration deserves grudging respect. That nobody had tried to adapt Heinlein’s novel before may be because other movies had already pinched its best ideas and run with them, not least the “Back to the Future” series. The author himself did far more interesting things with time travel in his short story “All You Zombies,” brilliantly adapted in Michael and Peter Spierig’s “Predestination” (2014).
Despite producer Shinji Ogawa’s evident affection for the novel — and this is very much a producer-driven effort — the film doesn’t do much to sell it, emphasizing the sentimentality of the story while glossing over the specifics. There are a few major alterations: Soichiro gets a suave humanoid accomplice (an excellent Naohito Fujiki), while Riko is now a high-school student rather than a prepubescent girl, making the romantic overtones in their relationship marginally less creepy.
There’s still something unseemly about the love story aspect of “The Door into Summer,” but that’s the least of its problems. Hard sci-fi with a gooey core, a fantasy adventure without the excitement: It’s the stuff of yawns.
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