There are few films more impactful in the history of cinema as Star Wars. It managed to become a box office hit with audiences and influence decades of science fiction, winning numerous technical awards and spawning many sequels. What has become a franchise now includes multiple lauded television series and an endless supply of tie-in merchandising. But back in 1977, or, more precisely, 1978, when the film was released in Japan, it was still catching on, making those who truly loved it part of a niche group that wasn’t yet all that cool.
Single8 centers on Hiroshi (Yu Uemura), a high school student who has become obsessed with the opening shot of the film and replicating it with far more rudimentary technology. His passion soon becomes a bigger affair, chosen as the group project he must complete with his friends and the help of his reluctant star, Natsumi (Akari Takaishi), who he wants to romantically connect with desperately. Using what limited equipment they can afford, Hiroshi and company begin work on Time Reverse, an epic story of time travel that ultimately looks very little like the blockbuster that so inspired its director to make it in the first place.
There is a wondrous simplicity to the way in which Hiroshi’s vision comes to light. He begins by moving a prop into the frame to simulate the Star Destroyer that slowly comes into view in the film, and gradually learns about the ways in which he can manipulate light and scope by choosing other options on cameras and thinking outside of the box. What he creates is remarkably different to something from a film like Super 8, which is set around the same time but involves a striking visual experience brought to extraordinary life. The point of Hiroshi’s journey is that his being wrapped up in the imaginative process of it enhances it all that much more.
The payoff of Single8 comes in large part from getting to screen the completed film-within-a-film by its end, and that is indeed an enjoyable experience. Yet the journey to get there is also worthwhile, which includes Hiroshi getting closer with Natsumi during the filming process after she is initially not interested in being part of the project and only agrees after considerable pressure. It’s also endearing to see other members of Hiroshi’s class begin expressing enthusiasm for the project after earlier mocking it once they realize there may be a worthwhile role for them in it.
It will surely be affirming for those who have put tremendous effort into student films to see this film showcase that process, demonstrating the challenges and the need for pivoting based on unexpected resource availability and other unpredictable factors. It also presents a world that feels small, with Hiroshi alone in his fandom and supported only by his own thoughts, judged by his classmates as a film nerd whose dreams surely outweigh his talents. It’s refreshing to see him begin to prove himself, as the allure of being part of making something manages to infect all those around him, resistant as they may be to the idea all along the way.
Single8 also offers an intriguing perspective on the international impact of domestic films, and how an inspiration like Star Wars could lead to something like Time Reverse, which is an intimate and narrowly-focused science fiction story very much removed from the epic intergalactic saga from a galaxy far, far away. There are laughs to be found, but this film is best seen as an upbeat look at curious minds and the things they can accomplish, made all the more magnificent when looked at with the right attitude.
Single8 makes its New York Premiere at Japan Cuts 2023.