Tamako Love Story has a different focus than Tamako Market. Like their titles say, while the latter was mostly (kinda) about the Usagiyama shopping district community and Tamako’s life in it, the former, on the other hand, it’s about how Tamako deals with the sudden confession of Mochizou, what will she do after that. Will she reject him or do her feelings match with his? The process that Tamako goes to find the answer to that question it’s what this movie is about, and it uses all the visual and directing tricks and techniques to make it an amazing experience to watch.
And before going deeper into the movie’s details, let’s talk more about Tamako Market/Love Story direction and visual, about Naoko Yamada’s style. I’m not the right guy to explain Naoko Yamada’s work and style well (you can find a more detailed explanation in this Sakuga Blog post/essay and Under the Scope’s video) but this is my brief overview and interpretation in the work that I’ve seen from her so far.
Her style is about capturing everything as accurately and beautifully as possible, to give the impression that every place is a real and believable place and that every character is a real and believable person. How does she do this? By an almost maniacal attention to detail, by employing techniques from another art that’s all about capturing the most beautiful, elegant and accurate aspect of its subject, photography, and by giving everything the rightful respect it deserves, plus the feminine touch. From her first show, K-On, to this one and the movie, Yamada made sure that the places where the events took place were full of life by making them as close as a the real thing as possible since most locations in her shows have a counterpart in real life –the high school of K-On is based on a former elementary school in Toyosato, Shiga; and the Usagiyama shopping arcade was modeled after the Demachi Shopping Street in Kyoto-shi-.
Yamada also makes use of techniques that originate from photography to give this “realistic” feeling to the scenes where they’re employed; playing with the depth of field, how much of any shot is in focus, using Bokeh, the blurring or unfocusing of certain parts of a shot to guide the viewer into what’s more important in that moment, and if a character is the focus of that shot then it’s animated in a way that looks like as if a telephoto lens –that gives a shallow depth of field to the picture and blurs the background- was used, and overall, trying to represent everything in a way that feels like what you’re seeing is a picture out of it, not a drawing. There’s also that palpable femininity in her work; the highly detailed girls and their mannerisms, which she captures with her constant focus on shots to the hands, legs and facial expressions (but mostly them legs); how everything overflow with life and optimism, the predominance of bright and cheerful colors and her use of flowers and their language.
All of this is present throughout her work to some extent but, in my opinion, her style is really showcased in the Ending of Tamako Market and in Tamako Love Story.
Now going back to the movie, it starts with Dera, Choi and Mecha in their home island, making mocha and wondering how the people at Usagiyama are doing, then it rolls credits and cuts to shots of the Shopping District and its residents with Mochizou narrating his life there and, more importantly, his story with Tamako. The next important scene that happens is when Kanna decides that the Baton club should participate in the Usagiyama marching festival; Midori and Tamako are not sure if they should do it –the former because she doesn’t think they are good or prepared enough and the latter because she has to help with the mochi shop- but Kanna argues that since they already are at their 3rd year in high school they must take every opportunity to make memories and refer directly to Tamako that she can make mochi for the rest of her life, but her time in the club is limited and should not waste it, the other girls of the club agree to do it since it seems fun and Midori gives up and decides to join. This dialogue, this scene and others that happen throughout the movie are interesting because they not only happen to further the story or the characters’ respective arc, they also help -without being too obvious- Tamako to make up her mind and find the answer to the most important and focal question of Tamako Love Story: Will she -Tamako- reciprocate Mochizou’s feelings? The hardest part about this question is not if she likes Mochizou or not but that she can’t get her feelings in order to be able to give a clear and decisive answer to him, and that scene where Kanna tries to convince the other girls of the Baton club –to convince Tamako- to participate in the Festival is the first step to get Tamako’s priorities in order and make consider seriously about her feelings for Mochizou.
I said back when I was talking about Tamako’s character that she can be summarized with one word, love, but it’s her love for mochi what connects her with the majority of the other characters, and mochi is her whole world. When Kanna says to her that she can mold mochi all her life but her time in the baton club –in high school, in that short and limited period of her life- is almost over, it plants the seeds for Tamako’s development that happens throughout the movie.
It’s later shown that everyone is already thinking about the future after high school; Tamako obviously will succeed the mochi shop, Kanna’ll study architecture, Shiori plans to study English Literature abroad and Midori is still not sure, but what’s more surprising is that Mochizou decided to go to an university in Tokio to study filmmaking. This is major since throughout the show, while he has shown that he has some interest in cinematography, his character has mostly revolved around Tamako and what she does, so it comes as a pleasant surprise when it’s revealed that he has dreams and ambitions of being something other than the romantic partner of the protagonist, and it’s that what drives him –at least partially- into seeking a resolution for that part of his life –his long-lasting love for Tamako-, whatever it’ll be, so he can move on and advance to the next –his life as a college student and later filmmaker-.
But even though he has made his mind into going to Tokio, he still can’t bring himself to tell Tamako about his decision and his feelings towards her. Time still passes until he’s able to do it, waiting for the perfect and closest opportunity to tell her; he’ll tell her through the cup phone that they have but only if she catches it when he throws it at he; he’ll tell her in the way to school; he’ll definitely tell her, no matter what, when the next chance to do it comes. He gets the chances but he never takes them, he’s too afraid. It’s not until Midori confronts her because he seems to be more aware of Tamako than usual, that he checks her out a lot and seems troubled by it, that finally seems like the moment of telling Tamako is coming; Mochizou tells Midori about his decision, that he still haven’t told Tamako yet and that he has to do it soon, and it’s from that that the opportunity to do it is pretty much forced into happening, Midori tells Tamako that Mochizou has something important to say to her, and that he’ll do it on the way home.
The moment of truth, Mochizou’s confession, was amazingly executed. The flow of the conversation, how it drifted constantly to reminiscing about the past and about mochi, how the rock represented mochi and it getting tossed in the river meant the opportunity for Mochizou to tell Tamako about his decision and his feelings; and the scene where Tamako runs from Mochizou, how the worlds become fuzzy, made only of colors that blended together, representing how perplexed and confused she was at that moment. But it’s what came after that what impressed me the most, the process that Tamako goes to realize her true feelings. But to really understand Tamako’s thoughts and feelings about Mochizou, first we have to at the history that these two share together (and I know that I’ve been postponing this for quite a while but I believe that it’s at this point where it has the most weight).
Tamako and Mochizou have been together since birth. Despite the rivalry that their fathers and their mochi shops have, both families have a close friendship –their fathers go and have drinks together and it’s implied that their mothers were close friends too- so it’s natural that their kids go along too, right? Well… At the start, they weren’t that close, the toddler Mochizou used to tease small Tamako a lot –maybe he had a crush on her since that long ago-, often using mochi-related names to mock her; this made her develop disgust for mochi for quite some time. But then Tamako’s mother passed away, depressing young Tamako; but she’s cheered up by Mochizou using a mochi with a face on it, and it was this, along the with the association of mochi with the memories of her mother, what started her deep love for mochi –although Tamako believed that it was her father that comforted her, and it’s the realization that it was actually Mochizou that helped her put her feelings in order-. After this it seems that both youngsters developed a more friendly relationship, one so close that Mochizou’s mother made the cup phones for them so they could with one another from the windows of their rooms, and both of them treasure the cup phone –as it “connects their hearts”, a line that came straight out of Mochizou- and would be the medium by which Tamako would get across her feelings for him.
What happened with Mochizou really distraught Tamako. The day after that she isn’t able to concentrate at all; everytime she would mention mochi she instead would say Mochizou, during the Baton club practice she would make a lot of mistakes, and Tamako says that she has grown tired of mochi –and it’s at that moment where her past disgust for mochi and she got over it are talked about-. She also can’t avoid being flustered, extremely tense, in front of Mochizou but something interesting happens, she finds a brief comfort, a brief peace of mind, around the Usagiyama people; while the movie moved if focus from them to Mochizou, Tamako and friends, it’s nice to see that they at least employed the shop owners as a way that Tamako could relax a little and ease the tension that has been built up since the confession at the riverbank. But that doesn’t mean that Tamako’s tribulations to find an answer for Mochizou are completely forgotten, like I said, they’re just short respites, we are –Tamako is- soon reminded about it, and a lot of time passes before she could find a resolution for that matter.
Time in class seem to fly by in seconds, the practice for the Festival doesn’t seem to advance, she can’t concentrate enough to help with the shop so she has to take a break, and although Mochizou seems to be okay with that, continuing his daily life as normal, he’s as distraught as Tamako, waiting for that answer. When Midori finally decides to get Tamako to talk to her and she tells her what’s wrong, Tamako tells her everything, about him going to Tokio, about his feelings for her, about how they were always together –and this seems to hurt Midori a little in the inside, since she’s also her childhood friend and she also has feelings for her- and how Mochizou seems so far away from her and doesn’t know what do; Midori doesn’t know either but she does know that it’s not like Tamako to be that way. Even after that, Tamako can’t think of everything, the days are still passing by, but a conversation with Shiori seems to get her a little closer to the answer she’s looking for; Shiori decides to apply for home stay when studying abroad and that instead of worrying about it she just might as well give it a try; this hints Tamako that she should stop overthinking and just go for it but she hasn’t gotten the determination to do it.
In her way home she finds once again a bit of peace of mind watching the people at the shopping arcade talking with one another, going peacefully with their lives. And despite that, by the time she got home, she still as dispirited as she has felt recently, she finds comfort in yet again another important element that was presented in the show, the song that her father wrote for her mother in their youth, that would later become the last push to put her feelings and thoughts in order and finally confront Mochizou.
But tragedy strikes, Tamako’s grandfather must be taken to the hospital because he almost choked with mochi and fainted. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but it gave place to an opportunity for Mamedai to talk with Mochizou about his decision and that no matter what happens he should, at the end of it, come back; there’s also a conversation between Tamako and Mochizou where he tells her to forget about what happened and come back to the way it used to be, but obviously Tamako can’t do it. The next day, and after some banter between the friends, Tamako tells Midori, Kanna and Shiori about Mochizou and his confession, and what happened afterwards. The girls advise her that she should give him a reply as quickly as possible and prepare some chances where she can do it but to no avail –and it’s around this time where Tamako realizes that it was Mochizou who comforted her back when she was depressed for her mother’s death-. Then, at night in her room and while she listened the song her father wrote, she asks Anko if she want to try her middle schooler uniform since next year she’ll be one the next year; this lead them into noticing that in the same cassette tape, and after the song that it’s in it ends, it’s a recording of their mother in her youth singing a song –although pretty badly- as an answer for the one that he wrote for her, this is the last push. She decides that she can continue helping with the shop, she can concentrate in the practice for the Festival and gives an amazing performance in it, and finally gets the resolve to do give an answer to Mochizou, in her own way.
The opportunity to do it comes when it’s notified to her that classes will be suspended because of Influenza and if she could also tell Mochizou about it. She doesn’t do it and decides that the place she will correspond his feelings is going to be the school. But he doesn’t comes, instead Midori appears and says to her that Mochizou has already decided to transfer to Tokio and if she want to catch before it’s too late she should go to the train station, fast. This a lie, Mochizou is only going to Tokio to take the entrance exams and then come back; Midori told that lie to Tamako as a kind of catharsis, to put an end for those unrequited feelings for her since she knows that Tamako and Mochizou are the ones that’ll be together, and Kanna –that has just arrive to the scene- notices it as well, that Midori expression after that is pretty nice. Kanna decides that she should also “jump a wall”, that she should face her fear for heights; both Midori and Kanna run to the closest tall tree they could find, Midori screaming her lungs out, happy that she could finally liberate herself, and helps Kanna climb the tree whose is impressed by the views from up there.
Going back to Tamako and Mochizou, she arrives to the train station and seeks for him desperately but manages to find him before he gets on the train. Tamako screams his name as hard as she can and stops him. Mochizou is bewildered, he can’t believe that Tamako is in front of him, but she doesn’t wants to take a moment to explain, she wants to express her feeling and she’ll do it through the only way she seems fits, using the cup phones that “connect their hearts”. In her rush she throws both of the cup phones at Mochizou and he, in return, throws back the one that has Tamako’s name on it at her. Tamako manages to catch it and she’s finally able to say it, that she -Tamako- loves him -Mochizou-. The world goes black but returns for a moment to show his reaction of this, he can’t contain his happiness. And Tamako Love Story ends.
I love stories about fulfilled romances, and although Tamako Love Story comes from a work that, in my opinion, it’s imcomplete, that’s didn’t reached its maximum potential, it’s still a complete experience on its own that even goes further beyond. But even though I consider that, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I haven’t watched Tamako Market first, and that’s what happened; I watched Love Story without first finishing Market. And while I enjoyed it, it has some of the most awe-inspiring moments I’ve watched in my history with anime, I didn’t get the full picture. I was able to catch the meaning of most of the dialogue throughout the film that helped Tamako make up her mind, I was able to catch Midori’s feelings towards Tamako, how the shopping district community and the song gave peace of mind to Tamako, but it didn’t have much meaning. I didn’t knew the full story behind Tamako, Midori and Mochizou’ childhood, how important the Usagiyama people actually is for Tamako, the love story behind Tamako’s parents and how major it was that Mochizou decided to go to Tokio.
Tamako Love Story is a great work on its own, but it’s together with Tamako Market and the events that transpired there when it really shines; it uses what the latter build up to get across its message as strong as possible. But just as it complements it, Market drags down Love Story; the Usagiyama community went to second plane so still feels underdeveloped, Kanna and Shiori, while some of their dialogue help to move the plot, are not particularly special in any way –at least compared to Midori-, and the Mochimazzi didn’t add anything to the movie, and –while it’s more of a minor complain than anything- we don’t get to see further than the establishing of the Tamako-Mochizou couple; we don’t get to see how they fair with Mochizou going to Tokio and becoming a filmmaker while Tamako stays at Tama-Ya, nor how they both would act as a couple, but since that not the point of the movie this is more me wanting to see more than what I was given.
I also would have liked to talk more about the visual and directing; while I gave a brief summary of the style that Naoko Yama uses throughout the movie, I could have gone into more detail, I tried, but then I realized that what I wrote didn’t make it justice; I don’t think words can explain the visual and directing style of any good audiovisual work (movie, TV series, videogame) with accurate detail without feeling that it drags on, but one can try to express how it complements the writing of that work, at least that what I’ll try to do for now on.
Next in this journey through KyoAni’s works we have another movie, one that I have a bit of hype, if I’m honest, since it also made by Naoko Yamada and I still feel like talking about her. Next we have Koe no Katachi –Silent Voices-.
Until next time.