Goodbye, Don Glees! (Cert PG)

Theatrical Release (Distributor: Anime Ltd.) Running time: 97 minutes approx.

Release Date: November 30th   

Kids are too eager to grow up, believing a world of unfettered pleasure and autonomy awaits them. Once they become adults however, they soon realise being a child has its advantages after all, and yearn for the days when they had little to no responsibilities. Indeed, we should all cherish these years for they are all often too short.

Childhood friends Toto and Roma who grew up in a small leafy village, formed their own little club named Don Glees, consisting of just them, but are separated when Toto leaves to attend high school in Tokyo upon reaching the age of 15. Toto returns to the village a year later, to find Roma has a new club member in Drop, who is a year younger than them.

As outliers, the trio aren’t invited to the school fireworks party, so they celebrate with their own fireworks whilst filming the event with a drone Roma bought with his savings. However, their fireworks fail to light and their drone gets lost in the hills, as a fire breaks out which the other kids blame on Don Glees. To prove their innocence, the trio need to recover the drone, setting out on an expedition which will change their lives.

Written and directed by Atsuko Ishizuka, who gave us the globetrotting series A Place Further Than The Universe, the enigmatically titled Goodbye, Don Glees! is not about a person – Don Glees is an Engrish pun – but an emotional entreaty to treasure the memories made in our formative years, recognising we have to move on at some point.

But it isn’t as simple as that, with the message extending its philosophical lesson a little deeper when we reach the second half of the film, taking us from a boys adventure tale to a lachrymose coming-of-age dissertation on regrets in life and finding that personal treasure to make us fulfilled. To do this through 15 year-olds might be hubris but there is a poignancy to it we will later discover.

Don Glees, in this three-man iteration, create a tight chemistry even with Toto needing to get used to Drop, a perky, androgynous lad with bags of energy and balls of steel. It is he who encourages Roma to send his entire savings on the drone and later is the instigator of the central rescue mission of the drone. At this early stage, we infer Drop might be an interloper set to cause a divide between Roma and Toto, but that would too predictable, right?

Following a lengthy build up, including a hilarious scene where the boys dress as girls to enter the fireworks display, it is time to head into the mountains, where a run in with a hungry bear, causing a detour in their mission. Hiding near a waterfall, Drop recalls how he spent a year in Iceland where he once found a telephone box near a golden waterfall. He then asks the others if they have any regrets if the world should end tomorrow.

This heavy question leads to some introspection – Roma has aspirations in photography whilst yearning for a girl named Tivoli, currently in Ireland; Toto is preoccupied with upcoming medical school entrance exams his father is pressuring him to take. Of the two, Roma’s plays a significant role in the climax, whilst Drop is a little vague about his treasure but what follows may surprise you.

Seasoned anime fans may suspect the trio end up in a mystical world where talking animals and magical girls will take them on a life affirming journey to put their issues into perspective and strengthen their bond as friends. Sorry to disappoint but this is not what happens, which is a relief as that would be the most anime direction it could take. With no hints of this bearing any fantasy hallmarks, the story is beholden to keeping its feet planted firmly in a recognisable reality.

However, this doesn’t mean Ishizuka completely forgoes adding just a little touch of the fantastic to the denouement, certainly not enough to be accused of mimicking the likes of Miyazaki and Shinaki. Regrettably there is a caveat – and that is the final act feels detached from everything that precedes it, despite the script finding a way to tie it altogether. This is due to the lack of any real high stakes in the mission beyond finding the drone, devolving into a bonding session with the occasional argument.

Going deeper into the ending is to spoil it, which I won’t do. It works, I’ll concede that but not without concerns which arise when put under scrutiny. Suspension of disbelief when watching anime is almost always a prerequisite, even in straight dramas, yet in this instance at no point is it ever suggest we prepare ourselves for a change of direction from the plausible to the fanciful to bolster the emotional heft of the denouement.

I can’t deny that I liked the ending but it feels like it belongs to a different story; the rhythm is uneven by going from gung ho adventure to emotional revelation, hampered by plot threads left hanging without a satisfying conclusion. We are certainly taken on a journey with natural peaks and troughs, only Ishizuka seems to forget why we are on it in the first place in changing the destination.

No doubt others will disagree, but we will be agreed just how stunning the film looks. Madhouse may have been instructed to keep it rural and homely but the world they present is suffused with typical anime whimsy, bursting with colour, energy, atmosphere and texture. The three leads are enjoyable characters; their chemistry evokes the pure joy of kids enjoying life together, their gangly movements adding to the levity.

Picking apart a film as luscious looking and well-intended as Goodbye, Don Glees! feels churlish and cruel yet I have to honest. It’s very good, teetering on great, only to fall victim to reaching a little beyond its remit.

 

Rating – *** ½

Man In Black

 

Goodbye, Don Glees! will be shown in selected cinemas from 30th November 2022 in Japanese with English subtitles.

For more information and to book tickets, please visit https://dongleesfilm.co.uk/

 

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