Koichi Uehara is a fourth grade student living in the suburb of Tokyo. One day, he picks up a large stone which turns out to be a fossil of a baby "Kappa" (Japanese mythical water creature) sleeping underground for the past 300 years and names it "Coo". Koichi and Coo become good friends and starts living with his family. However, Coo could not adjust to the lifestyle in Tokyo and starts to miss his family. On a hot summer day, Koichi and Coo decide to go on an adventurous road trip to find his own kind.
The only "Qoo" (pronounced coo) I knew was the mascot for a drink, though now with Summer Days with Coo, I'm introduced to yet another Japanese anime character which is not your typical cute creature, but one that's a "Kappa", a Japanese mythical water creature with a bald pate that requires moist, and an appearance that looks like a cross between a gangly frog with a bird's beak. What's more, it can speak the human language too, and that will certainly freak people out.
The introduction to the film contains a key scene to set the premise up, which I thought was quite violent by local PG standards. In any case, Coo here is some few hundreds of years old, found fossilized in a rock, only to be brought back to life by schoolboy Koichi Uehera. Deciding to keep it as a pet with the approval of his family save his young sister, Coo becomes an integral part of the family whose common sense meant that he should be kept under wraps to prevent prying eyes and curious onlookers.
You would then expect the usual formula to be applied, where child and pet develop strong friendship bonds despite their differences, and it helped of course with the Kappa's linguistic skills of Japanese. The narrative here is in two acts, the first which dwells on the relationship between Koichi and Coo as they take a road trip to discover more of his kind, whilst the second took a closer look at modern day social behaviour when faced with something novel, employing the use of consumer technology, which I felt this arc had captured well.
The runtime was a surprise though, clocking almost some 20 minutes over 2 hours for an animated film. There were moments where I felt that scenes could be trimmed for pace because it did felt dragging at times, or seemed as if it was a few episodes of a television short series being spliced together to make a feature. Then again it was an origin story of sorts, devoting scenes to explain the abilities, powers and weaknesses of the mythical figure, such as water being the key to survival, its diet and its powers, which given what was presented, are of a more destructive nature. Too many subplots contributed to bloated the run time, such as Koichi's dalliance with a secret crush, spiritual characters, and the family dog being the perfect soulmate of sorts for Coo, but such elements provided enough content for those who are looking for a lot more than just a simple story told through animation.
I can't help but to chuckle and speculate that director Keiichi Hara, who did some Crayon Shin-chan movies, imported some of that naughty character's erm, bits into the character design of Coo here. Like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, Coo has no qualms walking around naked, which meant that his reproductive organs are on full display here, for a film that children would likely pick up. I'm not going to be touchy about this actually, but so you know in case you're asked by the young ones why this character is walking around stark naked.
Coo's character design, as mentioned earlier, is not your usual cute and cuddly figure that will sell a lot of plush toys anyway. It takes a while to get used to his looks, and like the adage goes, never to judge a book by its cover holds true here in the story as well. Mythical creature nudity aside, there are also a number of bits here which tend to be more macabre and violent, a bit like watching the Discovery or National Geographic channels when observing how animals take on their prey in the food chain of nature. Tearing of fish, and biting off their heads, seem to be the norm for Coo too.
So it's fair to say that this functions more for a young adult and above, than for a child. The only kid in the movie here, though cute as she looks, possesses some really whiny, clingy tendencies in character, which I felt the filmmakers brought out really well despite being one of my least liked characters. Animation here is gorgeous and beautiful, especially vivid when capturing the colours and serenity of the great outdoors, which makes you want to set off exploring some nature of your own as well.
Summer Days with Coo has enough heart-warming elements to give you that fuzzy feeling inside once the end credits start to roll. It's a feel-good kind of film that demonstrates the strength of family dynamics, with excellent quality delivered in its final product, making it little wonder to the number of accolades that it has won so far.
There are no special features on this DVD.
The film is presented in a pristine anamorphic widescreen format with details in the visuals gorgeously brought out. Nothing specific in the film though that would have made the audio stand out.
Review by Stefan Shih