They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but misery’s one that could rival it.
Two episodes in, I think it’s fair to classify Yesterday wo Utatte (Sing “Yesterday” for Me) as a visual marvel. At least as far as anime go, that’s all it’s needed to establish itself as a show not only beautiful as an aesthetic piece, but also wonderfully and delicately functional in storytelling terms. Last week, I was musing over the script’s efficiency. Although I was once again deeply impressed by how much ground Yesterday covered in 23 minutes without ever feeling rushed, the concise competence of the cinematography and character acting in conveying Shinako’s quiet suffering was the star this week.
Even from Shinako’s first moments, it’s clear from her body language and expression that while she’s able to interact with her daily life, engaging beyond the surface level is impossible because she’s simply and profoundly miserable.
Grief was my first instinct in watching Shinako’s carefully portrayed behaviors and movements, and grief it turned out to be. This is no great credit to me. Every moment that she’s on screen—even the way her silhouette relates to the world and people around her—speaks of her disconnectedness from… everything. It’s been six years since the person she loved died, but for grief time means nothing at all. One might be tempted to recall Blast of Tempest in that.
Time may heal all wounds, but the old cliché doesn’t say how much time. More to the point, that time can also be a weapon we use against ourselves to drive the knife in deeper. I truly love watching shows earnestly engage with the difficulty of these kinds of things. The way Yesterday wo Utatte envelops the audience in Shinako’s all-encompassing unhappiness—visually, musically, and through the scattered, sometimes uncomfortable script—makes it deeply moving.
In the premiere, one thing that stood out about Shinako was how many of her lines seemed focused on the past. When she first greets Rikuo in the store, she does so with a “Long time no see.” Not an unusual thing to say in such a situation by any means, although as we find out this episode, it had been less than a year. Still, it felt significant in an episode devoted to Rikuo’s own stagnancy. Maybe it’s pushing things a little with that example, but the second episode offered less dubious possibilities:
Time and its passing dominates Shinako’s consciousness because she cannot along move with it. And by the time we end up at the final scene, the subtlety of it all up to this point has been blown away. Eroded by Rikuo’s halting attempts to figure out what he wants to do, by Hayakawa’s appearance, by Haru’s childishly confident challenge—all of it leads to the final moment of clarity for Shinako.
In other circumstances, one might be tempted to feel for Rikuo. It is an impossible moment for him, in love with someone who is in love with a person already gone from this world. I thought I heard the phrase, “The living have no recourse against the dead,” somewhere before. But by the time we arrive here, Shinako’s grief, misery over her own inability to move on, and clear sense of displacement have dominated the episode so completely (even Haru’s buoyancy cannot lift it up), that the only thing that can really be felt is sorrow for Shinako.
Because, really, she doesn’t need anything else on her plate. Awkward attempts at staying friends with someone who is in love with her? When a ghost from yesterday still haunts her? She is too exhausted for that.
The killer line of the episode—“I think I’m tired of being in love now”—as evocative as it may be underneath the stunning pre-dusk sky, is only the tip of the iceberg. And yet it says everything about her past and her present and the memories that lie between. Her past has not yet been lain to rest. How can her future take its rightful place in her life? In comparison, Rikuo’s self-inflicted stasis and childish infatuation seem downright laughable.
Yesterday wo Utatte has impressed me a great deal in casting Shinako’s troubles as the vivid, articulate way that it has. You could not possibly mistake who is suffering most at this moment, who is most deserving of our sympathy.* The show has done both the hard work of immersing the viewer into Shinako’s headspace through its visual language, musical decoration (perhaps a focus on the soundtrack in a future post), and portrayal of her everyday interactions and the easy work of have her narrate it out. But because the entire episode has built to “… he’s gone now,” it is as if she has been speaking clearly the whole time—it only takes one moment to make it certain.
Maybe someday the cherry blossoms will mean something more than grief.
But not yet.
As an amusing(?) aside—I had a somewhat disturbing moment early in the episode, when Shinako is greeted by her colleague in the school teachers’ office. My first thought in that moment was, “Why are they at school? All schools are supposed to be closed because of the coronavirus.” As a friend on Twitter pointed out, normal, everyday settings in fiction do not actually jive with the world we’re currently living in. Thus, the cognitive alarm. I hope you are all well and safe.