The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Piano no Mori

Title: Piano no Mori aka The Forest Piano
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Company: Madhouse/NAS/Piano Forest Producion Committee
Format: Movie; 101 minutes.
Dates: 21 Jul 2007

Synopsis: Amamiya Shuuhei has transferred from Tokyo to a school in a small town next to a large forest.  He’s been playing piano since a young age, but when he admits this on his first day, he quickly becomes the target for bullies.  He hears rumours of a piano in the forest, which is seen as a test of courage by the bullies, but when he’s taken there by a fellow classmate named Ichinose Kai, who comes from a poor neighbourhood, he’s overawed by the beauty, first of the piano itself, and second of Kai’s playing of it.  Mysteriously, though, Kai is the only person who can get the piano to make a sound…

The Highlights
Directing: Kojima shows a technical adeptness.
Animation: Stunning; Madhouse with a movie budget is a formula for success.
Music: Lots of beautiful tunes, both new and Classical.
Performances: Presented well; integral to the story.
Themes: Explored thoroughly; the story comes up with its own profound answer.

The only thing I knew about Piano no Mori going in was that it was directed by Monster’s Kojima Masayuki.  I quickly realized that Piano no Mori is a very different type of story to Monster; while the latter was a very intricate mystery filled with tension, suspense and drama of the highest caliber, Piano no Mori is basically a grounded kid’s movie, about working towards goals and overcoming one’s own inner fears.  But, nonetheless, even though these are the only two works I’ve seen helmed by Kojima, there are a few trends I can tentatively point out.  From what (little) I’ve seen, Kojima is a very technical director, with a great nous for attention-to-detail and a lengthy playbook of “how-to”s and situations.  He’s somewhat like the anti-Shinbo; nothing’s done with great ado, but every choice of camera angle and movement or character positions or visual effects is the right one, and still has an impact without drawing attention to itself.

The film itself follows the classic three-act structure, but it’s not really until the final third that the story really takes off.  Without doubt, this film is at its best as a recital drama, where the drama itself is fairly light.  The performances themselves have a similar sense to Nodame Cantabile (believe me, a comparison to that series’ performance scenes is high praise), but it’s also within these performances that the themes and character development really come to prominence.  The themes themselves are interesting and highly appropriate for a film which is probably aimed at a younger audience: the idea of piano as an artform versus piano as competition, the psychological barriers one faces when giving a performance, and the dichotomy between talent and hard work are explored thoroughly, to the point that the movie offers a crystal clear answer right at the end, one that is both simple, yet elegant, and certainly worth stating and thinking about.  The final third also features the most entertaining character in Takako, who overcomes her stage fright in an… err… interesting way.

While the “third act” was great, the first two-thirds of the film meander, and it takes a long while before it becomes clear just where this film is going and what it wants to say.  Ajino, the character with the most complex background, never really gets a resolution of any sort, while Shuuhei, despite learning a valuable lesson from his varied experiences, remains the same boring, meek boy he was from the beginning.  I also had a major problem with Kai’s character design, in that, I thought he looked like a girl.  It took a rather explicit comment to the counter about half way through the film before I was finally convinced that he was definitely a boy.

The aesthetics are just astounding.  On the visual front, the animation is superb; it’s Madhouse with a movie budget, and even if you were to base your expectations on knowing this, it still won’t disappoint, even for a second.  The music, understandably, is dominated by piano, and there’s a good mix of classics and sweeping, moving melodies.  Overall, this is light and rather cute drama which still offers a reasonable amount of character development and a bit of food for thought at the end.  It takes a while to find its tune, but once it does, it’s rather enjoyable.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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