“It’s four days. We just have to get through them.”
It’s early in the film, Last Summer, and in the day and Eva, the yacht’s chief stewardess (early enough that she is smiling) asks Naomi if she’d prefer still or sparkling water with her lunch.
“Why are we talking about water?” is what Naomi is thinking, but she gets to the point and asks, “Where is my son?”
“He’s in his room…I believe he’s eaten already.”
If Naomi has any hopes that this holiday with her son is going to be easy, this is her first clue that nobody on board is here to help her and in fact they are there to make things even more difficult. She’s a beautiful young Japanese woman who has lost custody of Ken, her six-year-old son and she’s been given four days aboard her ex-husband’s luxurious yacht “to say goodbye”. But right away we can see that without visitation rights, this is more than just a goodbye, it’s meant to expunge her from her son’s life and to nobody is on her side, no one pities her, and her feelings are of no consequence. Everyone aboard (including little Ken, unfortunately), as been informed that she’s not to be trusted.
Last Summer stars Rinko Kikuchi as the soft-spoken Naomi and we are immediately horrified by her fate. The ship’s captain, Alex, played by Yorick van Wageningen, a stewardess named Rebecca, played by Lucy Griffiths, and Eva, played by Laura Bach are wondering “if what they say about her is true”, but she seems sweet, maybe a little severe but given her circumstances it’s hard to judge her. How did her rich, powerful ex-husband and his family manage to terminate his son’s mother’s maternal rights?
Young director Leonardo Guerra Seràgnoli and cinematographer Gianfilippo Corticelli do an excellent job with the visuals on the opulent and yet sterile environment of the ship, with scenes of Naomi looking small and alone on a long white couch or on the ships deck, biting her nails and trying to figure out how she’s going to win her son over before her time is up.
Last Summer is a gut-wrenching tear jerker, but the anguish we feel from Naomi’s heartbreak is curbed because that’s the way she’s playing it. We see her crumple only a few times, and only when she’s alone, and she keeps her temper mostly in check, even when the staff is being cruel. She has four days, and she can’t waste them with petty nonsense.
To everyone involved’s credit,this quiet, elegant film is completely without melodrama and hyperbole. The acting is never for a second over the top; Naomi never seems pathetic, the crew never cartoonishly monstrous, and Ken is just a little boy who doesn’t understand what is happening or how to feel about it. Can Naomi reach him by appealing to what can not be denied, his Japanese heritage?
It’s at first a problem, not knowing what Naomi did to deserve all of this, but in the end it’s a blessing. Does it matter? Anyone who has ever watched Dr. Phil knows that in the end, Ken will feel the sting from his mother’s punishment, but maybe four days will be enough to keep a little of her in her son’s heart.