Piano no Mori (Piano forest) is a pleasant anime film which revolves around a young, poor and talented young boy named Kai. The story is told through the perspective of a new student, Amamiya Shuuhei, who is from successful musical family and has been learning piano all his life. One day Kai brings him into a large forest where an old abandoned piano lies unused. When Shu tries to play the old instrument, it produces only a dull and creaky tone. Only when Kai sits down in front of it can the piano produce the beautiful, rich tone its capable of.
The overtly cynical probably shouldn’t watch this film, because although much of the film is realistic, there are certainly moments where you must suspend disbelief (which may feel a bit jarring). The piano whose true beauty can only be expressed by one pair of hands is one of those, however poetic it may be. Then there is a scene where a classroom piano produces a sound more like a professional concert grand recording (which it probably was), or various scenes revolving around the learning of the piano which aren’t quite true to life. The main character is also in some ways a typical shounen lead who has the expected immense talent in his particular field. It wouldn’t matter so much if it weren’t for the fact that so much of the rest of the film is grounded strictly in reality. I personally didn’t mind it so much, and I think that it’s fine for anime to take liberties like this. It’s the same as portraying the spirits of the children in Grave of the Fireflies.
Nevertheless, the concept is used to make a charming little movie which is certainly worth a look. The main characters are quite likable and secondary ones, such as Kai’s mother and his piano teacher (a former pianist who gave up the piano after an accident) are good additions. Kai is an outgoing and “bratty” character, but he doesn’t become annoying as those characters sometimes are. His interaction with the piano teacher results in some very touching moments. There are also some amusing sequences where Kai must fight with the spirit of Mozart in order to play the piano his own way.
The main theme of the film, as I see it, is the clash between the reason that Kai and Shu play the piano. For Kai, the piano is about expressing himself to the world and everything else means very little. He knows none of the composer’s names and doesn’t care about learning to read music. When he approaches the piano in the forest, he immerses himself in the sounds coming from the instrument and forgets the audience. Shu, on the other hand, treats the piano as most of the academia does – something that must be refined and taught the way it’s supposed to. By the end, they have both shifted a bit towards the direction of the other, but the film makes a clear decision on which one is more admirable.
The film does bring up the question of competitions and their true worth. Recently there was a dustup over the Cliburn competition, where audiences felt that the judges had given the prize to the safe but dull pianists rather than those they felt had something interesting and new to say about the music. As far as I see, judges in competitions are human and have opinions. The best pianists usually are the most controversial, so the votes will be split, while the more boring but consistent players will have generally positive scores, since they don’t fire anyone up in either direction. In classical music, people are always wondering what the boundary of interpretation is – how much of your own style can you have before you’re simply playing your own piece? How far can the performer go in personalizing the music he is playing? How much respect should we have for the notes as they appear on the page over our interpretation of them?
On production, the art and animation is not exceptional but very good. The soundtrack is excellent, with some enjoyable orchestral pieces and a very pleasant Debussy-ish piano piece that is used as the introduction of Kai’s piano playing. Combined with the generally good story and characters, the result is film of good overall quality that is worth your time. It perhaps could have been better, particularly with a deeper look into Kai’s teacher, Ajino-sensei, who was certainly the character I found the most compelling, but considering this is an adaptation of a longer manga, that is understandable. 1/2
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