Summer Days with Coo Review
I stumbled on this movie accidentally, but I am so glad I did. I was researching folklore like I usually do and kept seeing this movie mentioned. It showed off an adorable anime kappa and I wanted to watch it for that reason alone. I'm a real sucker for mythological creatures and the Japanese kappa happens to be one of my favorites.
The kappa is a popular monster in Japanese folklore. It's a water spirit that appears as a humanoid turtle creature. They have a shell on their back, a beak, and one of their most known features, a dish in their cranium that holds water from their rivers. The dish has to remain wet or the kappa may lose its power and may even die.
In ancient times, people warned others to stay away from rivers in fear of an attack from them. They would often try to please the kappa by tossing cucumbers into the water which was the creature's favorite food. They were often displayed as mean pranksters and their pranks would range from totally harmless to brutal murders.
They are still common in Japanese media, though they replaced the ugly brutality of the monster with cuteness instead. If you weren't aware of them until now, I would encourage you not to read ancient kappa lore unless you want stories befitting a bloody and uncomfortable horror movie sitting in your brain forever! Their stories are some of the worst I've read in folklore, and yet I can't help but like them so much...
Anyway, I watched this movie last weekend. This film is not a new one. It was released in Japan in 2007, but it only recently saw a release in North America last January. Unfortunately, it's only available in English subtitles which makes it difficult to put on while you do something else.
It starts immediately on a dirt road leading through the swamp at night. Two characters are discussing dragons. When the camera pans, we see the characters are kappas. I was quite surprised to see that we would meet them so soon. I expected an introduction to the creature in the context of the film, but it took us to our protagonist right away.
Coo and his father are hoping to catch the attention of some humans crossing the road. The father is concerned about their homeland because humans want to take over the swamp and replace it with rice fields. The kappas want to make peace with them and we see Coo has a fish to give them as a peace offering.
The two samurai coming down the dirt path has no idea what's awaiting them. Coo's father tries not to startle them, but it goes very poorly. As soon as he greets them, they freeze up. The kappa tries to reassure them that he comes to them peacefully, but when this only goes worse, Coo brings the fish to them. This only freaks out the men even more as they become paranoid about how many more of the water devils are nearby. Finally, the closer samurai chops Coo's father in pieces. In front of his son. On camera. Yeah, this movie may look super cute, but it's certainly not a family film. Nothing in this movie will disturb you as the old folklore will. There's not a lot of violence present, but there are a few more instances involving gore and death. Just something to keep in mind before you watch this with young children.
Right as his father fell, an earthquake occurred and Coo, understandably frightened, runs away from the samurai. He doesn't get far before the ground breaks beneath his feet and swallows him alive.
Coo dries up into a fossil and remains there until a modern-day boy named Koichi finds him and washes him off at home, rehydrating him and bringing him back to life. The family must adjust to having a mythical creature living under their roof.
Koichi and Coo become friends right away and the boy tries to help his new friend find more kappas and introduce him to the modern world without him being seen. Of course, he gets discovered later, but he was actually ok with it at first. I thought that was a unique twist on the trope of a mythological creature getting discovered. He even decided to go with the crowd's plan of appearing on television. The city wasn't too big of a problem until they wouldn't let the family go anywhere without swarming them for footage of the kappa.
The film is very pretty to look at and stays true to the original mythology without the ugly bits thrown in. The kappa isn't the only creature appearing in the film either. This is really neat because we get to see more of such amazing folklore while they don't take the attention away from the spotlight character. There's the zashiki warashi, which is a child-like spirit that appears in storage rooms normally. They tend to bring good fortune to the house they haunt. In the end, we meet with a Kijimuna which is a forest spirit who likes to make friends with humans, though they are often finicky and may or may not cause problems based on its mood. These two creatures are pretty obscure (in this part of the world at least,) and I didn't know about them before watching. This makes me even more glad for watching the film.
We get to see an Asian Water Dragon too. It reminded me of the dragons that appear in the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Ominous, intimidating dragons that float peacefully in the air. It came from a portal that opened up in the middle of the sky, brought a bit of rain, and then left mysteriously as it came.
The movie was worth my time, and in this part of the world, I would certainly describe it as an #underrated film. It may not be the best movie in the world but it is wonderful for folktale lovers like me.
You would certainly find some more enjoyment in it if you were already interested in the kappa and/or knew some things about it. Because of its popularity, the film doesn't explain very much about the creatures appearing in it. It assumes you already know about them.
If there was anything I thought negatively about is sometimes there are some awkward pauses or long still shots. Sometimes the music either grows a little too loud or isn't fitting for the scene, and there are some scenes that will make you uncomfortable with the gore and death that shows right on the screen. Some of the crying is uncomfortable too. Those last two points aren't too bad. If anything, maybe a good story should make us uncomfortable from time to time. The emotions and topics it dealt with felt very genuine!
Summer Days with Coo was an excellent story about friendship that didn't shy away from some of the dark sides of humanity. This is a film I would recommend and would watch again on my own.
I'm just sad that I found out this movie was based on two novels written by Masao Kogure. They're in Japanese. I can't read them, and I'm sure he told more tales involving the wonders of Japanese mythology.
If you watched or are going to watch this movie, tell me what you think on my social media!