Piano no Mori was certainly interesting and inspiring. But why did it have to be in the forest? Couldn’t it be piano in the attic, instead? (This review contains minor spoilers.)
Born in the family of professional pianists, Amamiya Shuhei was raised to be one himself. Piano was not his hobby but it was his life mission. And he was very good at it. The story began when Shuhei moved to Moriwaki elementary school and met Ichinose Kai. Kai had never taken music lesson but he had been sneaking into the forest near his house to play the abandoned piano. After hearing Kai played, Shuhei realized that Kai might be far better pianist than he could ever be.
Practice does not make perfect
The story was simple enough. Shuhei represented a person who worked extremely hard to the point where he stopped thinking about his own happiness. He was accomplished and well respected but not really passionate. On the other hand, Kai seemingly had the gift since he was born. He never had official training and he played purely because he loved doing so.
As you might have heard, we currently believed that multiple factors contributed to a person’s performance of certain skill. Chief among those factors were genetics and practice. But of course, when you talked about human being, nothing could be clearly defined. For Shuhei, he had loads of practice hours and he probably inherited good genes from his pianist father. His house was predictably full of piano competition trophies. But he lacked passion. Kai, on the contrary, had no musician family members and had some unsupervised practice. But he had love and passion.
Although I thought that Kai’s talent in playing piano was somewhat too good to be true. Suspension of belief might be needed to accept that Kai was destined to be pianist and was only the second person in the world to be able to play this forest piano. But the message was clear. Love was another key ingredient in any skills. It could not be measured but it could be felt. That was one thing I could not argue.
Why did the piano have to be in the forest?
Couldn’t the piano be in the attic, the basement or somewhere else? It was told that the piano was especially made for Mr.Ajino but when he retired, the piano was sold to a circus and was eventually left in the forest. But seriously, the circus could have left the piano anywhere. Having the piano in the forest might make it looked mystical and beautiful in cinematic context. But it was far from realistic. Piano was mostly made of wood and strings, which would naturally degrade if left unattended. In this anime, the piano had to withstand sunlight, cold, humidity, rain and animal in the forest. Unless it was some kind of magical piano, it was hard to believe that it remained functional.
A shift in point of view
Here I would elaborate why Piano no Mori fell short in terms of storytelling. It was obvious that both Shuhei and Kai were the protagonists of the anime. I didn’t know how things were in the manga version but in the anime, the two characters’ arcs were not well balanced. The point of view through which the story was told was also inconsistent. In the beginning, the anime followed Shuhei until his meeting with Kai and the piano. But after that point, Kai took the center stage. We instead followed Kai through his journey to his self discovery as a pianist and his interaction with the people around him. In the climax, we saw Kai overcoming his fears and realized his own potential. Shuhei’s character arc, unfortunately, was underdeveloped. In the end, Piano no Mori was no longer the story of Shuhei like it had apparently set out to be. I would love to see more about Shuhei. How did Kai affect him as a pianist? Would he eventually found his own passion?
Since we were talking about imbalanced character arc, there was also another troubling character that emerged out of the blue during the last part of the anime. Takako was just another competitor that Kai met before the performance. But for some reason, a large chunk of screen time was spent on her during this part of anime where it should be focusing on its two lead characters. And in the end, this character did not have any long-term influence on either Shuhei or Kai. I suspected that she was a major character in the manga. But for a 100-minute anime, Takako’s character was redundant.
Piano no Mori boasted fluid animation. It did not shy away from animating the character’s hands when he played piano, which was really impressive to watch. The anime color template consisted of mostly dull earthy color. As expected, the background music was mostly piano. I used to play piano during my school days and it was nice to hear those familiar melodies again.
In conclusion, imbalanced, underdeveloped and redundant character arcs prevented Piano no Mori from reaching its full potential. But it was still a good anime overall, completed with inspiring theme and interesting premise.
Title: Piano no Mori
Released date: July 21, 2007
Running time: 101 minutes
Director: Masayuki Kojima
Animated by: Madhouse