Well, let’s just get this out of the way: Kousei’s performance STINKS. He’s literally all over the shop; shifting wildly from the same old soulless human metronome, to banging on the piano like a child wailing in pain, to stopping completely. But none of that matters. This was still a HUGE leap forward for Kousei; life-changingly huge. And it all came down to Kaori.
The ‘ghost’ of Kousei’s mom kept going on about his “punishment” for rejecting her and her dreams, but more than before, the cuts of her and the deep dark sea are interspersed with cuts of Kaori. She’s in his head more and more as the performance goes on, all but replacing Mom. He keeps his head up, looks at the lights as if they were the shining stars, and tries to finish the performance, even if he can’t be proud of it.
It’s still a struggle, but after he stops, he again remembers Kaori turning around and saying “Again!” At this point he’s lost the audience completely and disqualified himself from the competition, but his pause in the music is a crucial ‘reboot’ of sorts for his psyche. He fell, but he gets back up and gets back to the ivories, with Kaori constantly in his heart.
Once he’s playing again, albeit very badly, it occurs to him that Kaori and only Kaori is the one he’s playing for; the only one he wants to reach, just as she reached him so powerfully, both through her performances, but also simply by being there for him, guiding him out of the dark. He starts to channel those emotions through the piano, and his notes ‘shimmer’ as he begins to project to the crowd the imagery of the practice room as Kaori softly dozes.
Again, his playing changes. It’s not enough to make everyone forget the ugliness before, but it’s still plenty compelling, which is a lot to say for a pianist with a reputation for sticking to the sheet music. Everyone has this priceless “Huh? WTF is going on?” look on their faces, except for the few in the crowd who matter.
Now that he’s found something to replace the ragged gaping hole in his heart his mother left, Kousei can play with confidence and passion, although perhaps still too raw to make any headway with the judges. But again, that doesn’t matter: this was never about Kousei jumping right back into contention; that’s still a ways off. It was about breaking free, severing his puppet strings, and going his own way, for the sake of the girl he loves.
It would appear his music did in fact reach Kaori, who is moved to tears along with the little girl with the cat. Heck, even his Mom seems to be proud of him moving on in the end. After all, the villainess in Kousei’s mind was a ghost of his own making, forged from guilt and regret over how things with her. That ghost wasn’t something to be defeated, but rather transformed, as Kousei transformed himself this week.
It doesn’t do justice to say he’s merely ‘back’; thanks to Kaori, he’s been reborn; better than ever. Births may be messy and harrowing, as his performance was, but both herald the start of something new, amazing, and full of possibilities. As long as Kaori remains alive.