Sakamichi no Apollon – A love letter to jazz
April 19, 2012 6 Comments
There is something truly evocative about music, it has an ability to conjure up images of the past, inspire us and drive out imaginations. While not all music can have the same effect on us, there is still something about the medium itself that continues to move people’s hearts and minds, creating new friendships, reaffirming old ones and creating strong and lasting links between individuals and groups. Sakamichi no Apollon captures this beauty almost perfectly, it demonstrates that no matter what differences there may be between people there will always by the commonality of music, it also touched me in quite a deep and specific way, largely because of the jazz theme.
One of my great loves has always been jazz music; it is cool, infectious, and continually evolving, moving away from its roots in the Southern States of America, and continually bringing influences from other types of music and parts of the world. There is an infectious quality to this, like all music, with its ability to evoke strong reactions in those that hear it, and while, like many other forms of music it might have an egalitarian quality, there can also be an element of political and social engagement involved.
There was a curious moment right when Sentarou started playing the drums that encapsulated something Kaoru was missing in his life. Kaoru was struck with this strange, unfamiliar music, he was attracted to that infectious rhythm that Sentarou was producing, it was a moment of sudden change that went unnoticed due to the subtle way that it happened. This moment also effected me in quite a curious way, making me remember about my first time listening to jazz, my first time playing jazz, and even my first time performing in front of others. In a sense I was affected much like Kaoru but that rhythm, it got into me and while in Kaoru’s case it changed his whole outlook on life, it conjured up memories of things that I thought I had forgotten.
Kaoru is constrained by his view of life, his inability to change, and unwillingness to change. That he feels like retching when under any form of pressure, and needing to rush to the roof in order to calm down demonstrates how Kaoru is controlled by his own feelings and thoughts, with the roof symbolising an escape from reality and from himself. His rigidness and unflinching opinions of every school he goes to is further demonstrated in his music skills. He is perfect, too perfect; he plays the music without feeling it, just like his attitude towards school life, he may study and attend school, but he does not interact with the school, appearing as a fleeting spirit soon to disappear.
Sentarou introduces an element energy into his life, showing Kaoru the simple joys that he had been missing, the rain on his face, and the joys of music, even though he has yet to fully realise this. Sentarou can be seen to represent the unknown, he works on instinct, and follows his life the way he plays the drums, by ear, by feel, by instinct. But he lacks direction, it is one thing to play music by feel, but there needs to be an order, a beat, a rhythm. I could play my saxophone by feel, but that may not fit with what the rest of the musicians are playing, and it would add an element if discord into the piece. Kaoru and Sentarou are opposites, but it is this juxtaposition between instinct and order that is so fascinating.
That this moment can affect and draw two people who are polar opposites together and form such a strong bond, one that neither has yet noticed, further demonstrates the ability of music to move and change people. The change is an important one, but it is so subtle that neither truly notices what has happened, even during the end sequence when Kaoru begins to question is view of the world, there is still no recognition of the importance that this single moment has had on his life. But at the same time, Sentarou begins to see other people around him, he begins to notice things that he had otherwise ignored as inconsequential, it is a moment of mutual change within these two characters.
However, like all such moments, it comes and goes without anyone noticing, and the change that has occurred during these few seconds will only become apparent as the characters continue to move forwards and adapt to their new outlook on life and music. That a single drum solo can produce the same kind of reaction and change a character in such a way further demonstrates the value and power of music. To further demonstrate the impact this single scene had on me, I began tapping along with an old pair of drumsticks while watching, and once finished with the episode got out my Saxophone. It was not the piece of music in particular, it was the feeling that the music, and the overall aesthetic of the show that brought back memories of my past performances, which produced such a strong reaction in me.
There are numerous series that use music effectively to convey emotions, ideas, and promote the notion that music can bridge gaps where language and ideologies cannot. Macross is an excellent example of music being central to the entire franchise, with Macross frontier most recently demonstrating the ability to match a soundtrack to the story in an excellent way. However, such series tend to go about this in a grand fashion, with large scores used to convey these emotions, often resulting in spectacular set piece sequences that are both stunning to look, but also pleasing to the ear. Sakamichi no Apollon however, goes about this in an entirely different way, there is a subtlety to its use of music that is often missing from some anime. That a single scene with a drum solo has the potential to convey as much as a large set piece with full band and even popular idols singing demonstrates the power of even the simplest of music.
Sakamichi no Apollon to me is one of those rare shows that is capable of communicating what any number of words would fail to do, simply through the use of music. It is a story of loneliness, and one of friendship, of losing things important to you and finding something that you may have never realised existed. But more than that, it demonstrates how a single moment in time can change your outlook forever. I may be a jazz lover, but you do not need to listen to, or like jazz to recognise how much music can change your outlook on life.