everything went better than expected
Otona Joshi no Anime Time – Kawamo o Suberu Kaze (The Answer Studio)
It’s always neat discovering little pieces of animation floating around seemingly hidden under the radar, overshadowed, apparently, by all the attention showered upon the more standard fare shown on TV. Well, sometimes they’re obscured for a reason, but there are also times where they’re unexpectedly good. Though I don’t really think this particular short film was obscured or hidden in any way, since after all, this one aired on the NHK (midnight, though it was) and was based on a story by a Naoki Prize – winning author, plus, it appeared geared towards the general public, beyond the spectrum of what people normally assume to be the ordinary anime viewer base. It just went about its business without any loud fanfare, did its job and went out. Which is part of the reasons I liked it.
Going into this I didn’t expect much, since I practically haven’t heard nor seen anything about it until many months after it aired. I didn’t even know it was based on a story by an award-winning author until today. It was an unassuming little film, not the type to catch the attention through a bold story nor glaring styles and white noise; it was businesslike in the sense that it merely relied on its own inherent devices to tell its stories and it didn’t resort to any kind of manipulation in terms of the emotional content or even in the visual department–even if there was a little something in the way of stylistic newness on its part. It felt like it ran on a very long thread which didn’t run into any tangle whatsoever. At the end I found myself asking if it was over or not, scratching my head believing that the short was half an hour long. Without my noticing, the film had caught my attention and steadily pulled me in. The film is good in that sense–it held my senses without being too loud and obvious about it.
It’s quite the tightly told story as well; it did all that it wanted to do in the standard running time of 24 minutes without running into any kind of distraction. The events were nicely planned, and were held together by a seamless narrative told by the female protagonist, whose personal conflicts are related to us in this film. Almost every scene feels measured in the anime, making them all important parts of the whole, and where nothing feels out of place. Controlling every sequence as to stop and go at just the right moment is a task I imagine is very hard to do, and it’s impressive how they were able to contain the essential parts of the plot into the short allotted time of a normal episode of a TV anime. If there had been just one or two stray parts here and there, it would have detracted from the experience, and at the very least would have stood out very glaringly and not in the good way. It has a sense of unity, beginning from the very first part where the pages are flipped right through to when the credits rolled.
I find that it’s the script that takes center stage here, and the directing and the other visual aspects take the job of supporting it and painting a very interesting picture out of it. There’s not much I can say about the music, which I guess, speaks volumes to the job they did with it. True to the unassuming nature and feeling of this film, the music is hardly remarkable, but in a good way. It did its job, all businesslike, at providing accents to the important sequences of the film, which adds little bits more emotion to them. But as I said, it’s the story that is of most interest. There’s something about it that felt and sounded different about it that I wasn’t able to pin down until after watching it. It told an obviously personal story, yet it felt as if it was presented through a literary lens, the flow of events giving off a simple, poetic effect. Simple events all add up and become a quietly convincing, and most of all, entertaining story. Then I realized that it was due to the story being lifted off a work of literature, something written by an award-winning author at that. It’s nice to see another anime adapted from literature, especially if done well, since there’s a treasure trove of those out there, and as superficially different media as they are, both have the ability to capture and set fire to the imagination of people.
It wasn’t as memorable or enjoyable as other literature-turned-anime pieces, like say Yojohan Shinwa Taikei or Trapeze, and certainly not as good as Paprika or TokiKake Shojo, but in its own right, Kawamo did its job at telling a good story and did it quite capably. And lest we forget, the directors of the prior anime I’ve listed are, in their own right, just that much better.
One thing that is immediately apparent from the opening shots is the visual style that gave it a sense of texture and a hint of atmospheric presence. This film used an integration of processed live-action backgrounds into the normal animation of the characters, which made for odd viewing at first. Perhaps it’s the only part of the film that I didn’t like as much, even as I got used to it as the film rolled on. It was really jarring to look at, as best exemplified in the train station-to-the-taxi section, where our protagonist and her son walk through a blurred and washed out rendition of real-life surroundings. The interior of the taxi was rendered normally, yet the exterior was a processed live-action image, a really shaky contrast. It made the people look detached and merely paste onto the background. This approach certainly isn’t new, as it had already been done before, with the earliest example I can name being Yuasa’s Mind Game (though I don’t know if there was an anime which used this style beforehand), and using that movie as proof, it can also be said that this style can be done well. It’s just that I found the approach in this film unnecessary and even gratuitous. Newness just for the sake of newness–truly I don’t feel as if Kawamo really needed to use this style, but they only did it to make the film stand out, which I can’t really blame them for. Part of the reason Yuasa can get away so much with inserting live-action into his anime is that he doesn’t use it in a half-assed kind of way. He controls each of these processed images and makes them blend seamlessly into his backgrounds, not making them odd for the sake of being odd, but mixing them into his own highly individualistic artistic sense. Save for Kaiba, he has relied on that combination for his works, shifting into new gears each time (I don’t think you can really say that he used the exact same look in both Kemonozume and Tatami Galaxy even if they both underwent the same process).
I don’t know if it’s just because the anime was aimed for women, or because of the source material, but I was surprised at the sex scene in this film, maybe because I hadn’t seen something even close to this in anime after Kemonozume. It’s a nice instance of change. The scene also had a hand in telling the story, so it wasn’t a gratuitous insertion. What I also liked about it is the fact that it was rendered quite tastefully, and was shown in a very restrained and serene kind of way. It wasn’t as heavily sexually charged as the ones in Kemonozume, but on the contrary, the scene here was very calm and atmospheric. Maybe it was also done that way because it was shown on the NHK, but I can’t say for sure.
There’s a very clever shot in the final scenes of the film with the portrait shown in the sweets shop. I won’t say what it is, but it’s a smart way of relating the feelings of both our protagonist and her old love without being too obvious and overbearing about it. It’s a testament to the subtlety and the quiet, sensible approach the film had to its presentation, where they didn’t have to rely on dramatic techniques that have long been ridden to the ground. I liked the way our protagonist’s situation slowly unfolded before our eyes. There was a very smooth transition from one scene to the next, where a flashback to her younger years alternated with scenes of her present life, which did a nice job at fleshing out her character and driving the story forward. The story was one of regret and reminiscence, and the situations and the problem prevailing upon our lady protagonist were presented in a grounded, believable way. The ending was really nice as well, not only concluding the story in a plausible way, but also providing a poetic, poignant ending to the story arc of our characters. It’s an effective, bittersweet closure.
Otona Joshi no Anime Time appears to be a program initiated by the NHK and another production company, so I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to see more of it in the future. As the title implies, the program is intended for the older female audiences, which is something to look forward to if you’re a fan of anime like this one. Kawamo was a good start to this program which premiered without much fanfare, as it was a convincing self-contained story that performed really well at showing all the important bits in a measured way, tied all together by the literary nature of the script. I don’t know what they’re going to do with this program next, but I believe they’re going to do well sticking to the example set by this unexpectedly likable film.
On another note, there was a short section of animation that really stood out for me in the middle of the film. It was where our protagonist begins to devour the left-over food from dinner in the middle of the night. Starting from when she begins to eat out of the pot and ending at the part where she throws up on the toilet, the animation was drawn with a strangely textured line that really looked different from the other parts. They felt alive, pulsating. These lines gave more life and flavor to the movement. The way the scene was drawn reminded me of Shinji Hashimoto’s work, but obviously he wasn’t in it since he doesn’t really do TV work. Anyway, I liked that scene, and I didn’t expect something like that to pop out in this film.