On the Eighth Day of Anime: Fleeting Whimsies (Tamako Love Story)

Make it no surprise that I enjoyed watching Tamako Love Story after writing about my experiences watching Tamako Market the year before. The original TV series stood out to me a particularly effective s’life during a time where I questioned how much I actually disliked the genre. And you’ll see a bit later with my Secret Santa anime exactly how much my views have changed towards the those sorts of ubiquitous, meandering types of shows. But that’s not particularly what I want to talk about when it comes to this film.


Tamako Love Story’s, uh, story… is not quite that complex. You have a high school cast. There’s a love interest between two childhood friends. Quiet and non-melodramatic stuff happens until they finally confess to each other. Yo. Yoooooo. Such riveting, deep shit. Kunihiko Ikuhara is creaming his pants as we speak. So yes, this film’s love story comes off as typical because it’s so grounded in the ordinary. That boring, old ordinary. But wait. What are those balloons doing in the background? Why’s the string glowing back and forth? Did she do drugs before running off like that? Why does everything look like it was shot on a shitty video camera? What’s the big idea?


The neat thing about stories told through frames per second is that the visuals are available to help drive home the themes of the story as well. Most stories are content with its cinematography and/or animation merely presenting their setpieces and sometimes that hardly impacts how well the overall product turns out. Anime in particular, with its harsh production schedules and limited time slots, cannot afford to imitate a lot of these fancy camera techniques without running into a lot of trouble. So using the animation itself as a tool to convey the story is at times out of the question.

In the case of Tamako Love Story, there’s a whole bunch of things going on with the camera and animation in tandem with how the story plays out. The screen might blur a bit when shooting a close-up of an anxious face. The camera may shift towards the scenery with characters playing tertiary roles on the screen. All of these seemingly superfluous moves not only contribute to the independent style of the film itself but also reflect how amateurish and inexperienced the cast are when it comes to their personal lives. The main two characters, in particular, struggle with the end of their time in high school and where exactly they should go. When you think about it, this style is a perfect fit.


I’m a real sucker for this kind of imagery. Expressive yet conservative. Surreal without being drug-induced. Just subtle enough to understand that the amount of meanings you can interpret from each shot is greater than one. And just as I’m able to glean whatever messages and/or lessons I can from how this film looks and feels, you are also free to be completely unresponsive to this film’s art direction. These images are, even after all is said and done, embellishments to an ordinary love story. So if a good plot is all you ever look for in anime, that’s more power to you. But I like to think that sometimes, with pieces like Tamako Love Story, that storytelling in anime can extend so much farther than the written word, and that it’s fine to use that as an excuse to enjoy something as a whole rather than just an art gallery with words printed on the side.




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