Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 02

"He's tapping his fingers...I knew he'd like being back here."
“He’s tapping his fingers…I knew he’d like being back here.”

I should have known this show had every intention of surpassing its already excellent first episode in pure win with its second, showing us just how powerless Arima is to Miyazono Kaori’s charms. He was smitten enough—as I was—before we heard her play. And then we heard her play, and goddamn, that was the best musical performance I’ve seen in an anime since Kids on the Slope; mayyybe a bit better. A truly spellbinding scene that almost seemed to transcend time.

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First I like both the feeling and the characters’ observaiton that the inside of Tama Hall almost feels like they stepped into another dimension. The world of classical music appears small, insular, and passionate. The set piece for the competition is Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 (Kreutzer), and the winner gets to play a rare Guarneri in a recital. We see as the competition progresses that this is a hall that can put you to sleep, but it can also be a place where light and magic springs forth from the hands of the musicians.

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The latter is what happens when it’s Kaori’s turn. She seems to utter a small incantation before not slavishly playing the composer’s piece, but feinting, lunging, and parrying the Sonata as if it were a fencing opponent. One of the more conservative judges calls her play blasphemy, accusing her of “picking a fight” with Beethoven. But I’m not sure he wouldn’t have enjoyed such a rousing version, which sounded nothing like the other players. (Note that I know jack about music, but I know what I like, as does the audience, who chooses Kaori.)

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Not only does Kaori bring the half-full hall to its feet in sustained applause usually reserved for formal concerts, but also tightens her grip on Arima’s heart. Tsubaki surprised him into coming, as this was once a venue where he was all but forced to perform at the highest level to achieve first place at any cost for his mother; in other words, he’s understandably edgy at first. But Kaori simultaneously calms him and sets his heart ablaze.

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After her performance, Kaori intently seeks Arima’s opinion, her hands shaking with anticipation…does she know about him and his past, or does she simply sense it (or neither)? Arima, speechless as he is, is still able to convey how he felt about it: it was the kind of performance that compelled perfect strangers to buy her flowers. I also like how he describes watching Kaori like some kind of movie. He could have also said it was the kind of performance to make someone fall in love, but the reality is she’s on a date with Watari, and he’s designated “Friend A” and nothing more.

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But from the way Kaori acts towards him, it’s bound not to stay that way. Watari, preeminent ladies’ man, senses Arima is crushing on her, but far from warning him to stay away from his girl, he advises him not to be so hasty in accepting defeat or believing he has no chance. He knows from experience, people fall in love not because the ones they fall for are obtainable, but because they sparkle in your eyes; it’s not rational. And its also not just up to Arima: Watari tells him the girl will let him know.

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Last week we had a Castle in the Sky reference, but the introduction of the violin is pure Whisper of the Heart

That’s quite the evolved sensibility from Watari; he seems the kind of guy who wouldn’t take a girl his friend formed a closer bond to. But again, it’s ultimately up to Arima to fight for her, and up to Kaori to decide who she likes. There are indications she’s leaning Arima’s way, judging by how seriously she valued his opinion and the fact she let his lie about Watari practicing slide because it was his way of professing his desire to walk her home, and promotes him from Friend A to Substitute Watari. Progress!

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Poor Tsubaki! She looked like a perfectly acceptable choice for Arima for most of last week’s episode right up until Arima met Kaori. But now, Arima settling for her, as cute and loyal and fun and close as she is, could only feel like defeat at this point. Kaori is rapidly restoring Arima’s passion for music and sweeping away all the bile that had amassing in him from his mother’s negative influence. But in setting up this fateful double date, Tsubaki may have handed her beloved Arima to another.

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Two episodes in, and this show is hitting on all cylinders, with few if any flaws. The animation during Kaori’s performance was fantastic, and while we have Beethoven to partially thank for elevating the scene, we have whomever put such a provocative, avant-garde spin on his Sonata for elevating it even more. I want a musical performance in every episode. And I want to watch Kaori and Arima to play together…like soon. Bra-fucking-vo. Encore! Buick Encore!!

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Mimi wo Sumaseba

During summer vacation, lazy bookworm Tsukishima Shizuku observes an cat riding on the train. Intrigued, she decides to follow him. The chase leads her to Amasawa Seiji, a boy who dreams of becoming a violin maker, and The Baron, a cat figurine who, along with Seiji, inspires her to explore her own creative pursuit: a fantasy novel. Shizuku and Seiji fall for one another just as he’s headed off to Italy for two months, and Shizuku contends with the loneliness by burying herself in her novel, affecting her marks and leading to a family meeting. When her trials are over and she delivers the draft of her novel to Seiji’s grandpa, The Baron’s owner, it evokes in him memories of his own lost love. Seiji returns, and he and an elated Shizuki take his bike to the highest point in town to watch the sunrise together.

We’ve wanted to review this film for a while now. Directed by the late Kondou Yoshifumi (who died before his time) with storyboards by Miyazaki, It’s a classic and perhaps our favorite Ghibli film (our top 3 tend to fluctuate), one that focuses on the real-life struggles of young people and limits the fantasy elements to their imaginations. We take an instant liking to Shizuku, remembering the endless possibilities of summer often boiling down to goofing off (or in her case, reading books indoors) until it’s suddenly gone. It’s full of brilliant moments like the transition from the dark clouds encroaching on a summer afternoon to the first day of school when it’s pouring, enhanced by Nomi Yuuji’s stirring, soaring orchestral score (gives us goosebumps every time). Meeting Seiji requires some degree of coincidence – call it fate – but their budding romance is straightforward and expertly handled. There are times, perhaps, when a kiss is called for, but the lack of overt gestures of affection doesn’t detract from the romance here. It’s understated, mature, and feels very real.

The film takes place in beautifully-rendered, intricately-detailed, sprawling West Tokyo in 1994, which is a character in and of itself. The hum and pulse of the city, with its engines and horns and sirens, people weaving around trains and bikes and cars, it’s all so vital and alive. Shizuku’s various moods as she walks and runs through the twisting streets are all perfectly accompanied by Nomi’s score, and there’s great contrast between Shizuku’s crowded, cave-like apartment (God, we love that apartment) and the gorgeous vistas of the dramatically-perched antique store (the vistas from the deck are superb!). We also enjoyed the side characters, from the very cat-like cat Moon to Shizuku’s pushy big sister and progressive parents, who let her do what she wants as long as she takes responsibility if she fails in her creative pursuit.

We could frankly muse about how much ass this film kicks all day. It transports us back to nineties West Tokyo and drops us right in the middle of the life of a girl tentatively striking out on her own road and, while on it, meets someone she can share the journey with. Whenever we watch it, it always lifts our spirits. It even inspired us to write our own novel, while being mindful not to expect instant perfection, but starting with roughly-hewed ore from which gems can be polished through hard work and patience.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Car Cameos: In a word, tons. There are cars, trucks, buses, and bikes zooming every which way, and Shizuku has some close calls while crossing the street or walking alongside it with Seiji. Recognizable models we spotted include a BMW 5-Series (E34); Honda Legend; Hino S’elega bus; an old Mitsubishi Delica; an original Mini Cooper; a Mitsubishi Fuso Canter truck; a Toyota Corolla (E80) multiple Toyota Comfort and Nissan Cedric Y31 taxis; a civilian Toyota Crown (S130); and a  Volkswagen Golf III. We’re not sure what kind of kei van Seiji’s gramps putters around in…or the makes/models of the myriad motorbikes buzzing around.