I’ve talked throughout this blog about Yamada Naoko — Kyoani’s poster director. Throughout the years of watching anime or media in general, I’ve come to grow immensely attached to this relatively young director’s work. Through an explanation of Kyoani, Yamada Naoko, her style, and her masterful works, I will attempt to briefly fill in the gaps about why I mention Yamada Naoko pretty much every time I mention something positive. While this won’t be a detailed analysis of all of her shows unlike the lengthy Liz and the Blue Bird analysis that I did before, it will try to draw a timeline of how Yamada Naoko came to be the director she is at the moment. My last post was on the K-On series, next in line is the Tamako Market series. 

Tamako Market is not as high budget as the K-on movie but it definitely pushes on making the characters as realistic as possible. In fact, I would argue that the characters of Tamako market feel more real than any of the characters in K-on. This is because some of these directorial choices that I mentioned here become more prominent.

Here, I will focus on what I believe is the most key idea of Yamada Naoko’s shows: the realisticness in which she attempts to portray her films. This is immediately apparent in the first episode of Tamako Market; episode one of Tamako Market is one of the only episodes that have Yamada Naoko‘s storyboards. And she makes sure that her style gets shown. 

Most prominent feature in the first scene, different from anything in the K-on Movie, is the use of Chromatic Aberration or Color fridging. Color fridging happens when the lens is unable to absorb all of the wavelengths thus leaving it unfocused in different areas. Basically, it creates blurs on the edges of the cameras, specifically on the corners, and gives the red blue separate that’s sort of like 3D screens. While it has been used just for aesthetic purposes in photography to create red-blue separation and blurs on the edges, Yamada Naoko uses it for more than just aesthetics. 

One of the key points about color fridging is that it happens normally due to natural daylight on film. I’ve talked in my previous post about how Yamada Naoko attempted to use natural daylight rather than the camera side lighting that anime normally has to increase the reality — to make characters feel like people. Here, she is making it more blatantly obvious that the camera is situated outside, capturing events just like any live action film would. This type of technique especially becomes great here when we think in context about how Mochizo is always trying to get Tamako on film with his cameras. While this is something that lasts merely for a couple of minutes in this show, this is something that becomes prominent throughout her later films like A Silent Voice, being used pretty much throughout the whole movie. Although I find it slightly funny how live action films are doing their best to remove these types of errors in coloring in film, Yamada Naoko is using them to increase the realisticness and aesthetics of her films. It’s definitely something I love.

However, this scene’s prominence doesn’t just come from color friding; it also has the body language she emphasized in the K-on Movie. There’s a lot of legs and body movement. Interestingly, and almost expectedly, the first scene that we get from Tamako Market is an introduction of the characters through shots of the characters cheerfully jumping around town overlaid by their conversation. Here, we get a relatively clear idea of what the show is gonna be: a cheerful show about these characters. But more important than this, Yamada Naoko seems to put more focus on the dialogue in this scene. We never really get an indication that the conversation is happening fluidly in these scenes in matching times until Tamako is stopped in front of the shopping district. This gives me the indication that Yamada Naoko more so wanted to focus on how much Tamako can ramble on and on when it comes to mochi. And her attention and sense of direction, along with the audience’s attention, returns to what’s happening outside of the dialogue only when Tamako is stopped by her friends. This is a pretty clear and pretty way to introduce Tamako’s love for Mochi and the central mood of the whole show. 

After this, we separate from Midori and Kanna and the camera leaves us with Tamako. Here, she throws her baton high up in the air for the camera to follow and pan to Usagiyama Shopping District’s sign. 

This might seem insignificant. Quite frankly, it is — at this moment. However, this scene is one that I believe signals what’s to come about different great directing techniques throughout Yamada Naoko’s movies.

In this scene, Yamada Naoko is deciding to do something slightly different from normal to tell the viewers the setting of this show. We aren’t getting any exposition; we aren’t getting any forced dialogue about the Usagiyama Shopping district; we aren’t getting any awkward panning shots. Here, she keeps it to the simple show don’t tell as we naturally follow the Camera. 

Again, this scene isn’t anything too crazy as I made it seem to be; a lot of directors use a lot of different creative methods — whether it be objects guiding the camera through signs like this, creatively located words on backgrounds, signs that appear in the background, or even just really interesting dialogue that fits in context — to tell directors where we are. In fact, this is a creative and fun yet relatively normal way to do something like this. Rather, it’s the complete incompetence of what normally happens in cheap budget anime with introduction scenes like this that even gives me the chance to highlight something like this. 

The reason why I highlight this scene is because this is the first time that Yamada Naoko used objects in her works. In K-On, the instruments or the keychains have been used sometimes. However, they have mainly been insert shots that don’t really serve purpose other than to take us away from the subjects or to give editing points in the show. Here, she is using such objects with a clear purpose; in this case, to introduce the setting. In Tamako Market, Yamada Naoko uses an object — a baton — to create motifs. This becomes more prominent in Tamako Love Story and in her future films in a more impressive manner that uses objects to tell emotions. 

Apart from this first episode, however, Tamako Market really goes back to what K-On was in season 1. The expressive camera work and lighting choices I went on about in the first few paragraphs doesn’t really appear again; That’s to be expected as Yamada Naoko isn’t the one taking charge of storyboards for every episode.

But even without these special visual elements, I regard Tamako Market as an extremely successfully made show. And this comes from what the show is trying to portray. In its essence, Tamako Market isn’t about Tamako; rather the show is about the Usagiyama Shopping district. A location like this doesn’t have a single ending that they work towards. If we consider the life of a human, it is more so a slow repetition of what happens throughout the days of the event with different yet insignificant events making up your days. If we place this as the central point of what Tamako Market wishes to talk about as the people of the shopping district, there’s a lot that’s done to portray this. 

Throughout the show, the pacing is shown, the music is never really crazy nor are the colors created to be especially unique. Even our main characters Mochizo, Tamako, or Kanna have relatively normal hair colors compared to what you would normally see in anime. Because of this, apart from episode one, the show can be more accredited to Yoshida Reiko — the screenwriter for this show — because of the relaxed style. You can probably see from the dialogue that it’s very akin to Aria or K-On and I think she does a perfect job like she does with those shows to reflect the show’s pacing while giving the fun girl’s talk that we saw in those past shows. 

My favorite episode that kind of reflects this is when we get the introduction of Shiori in episode three. After meeting Dera on the streets, Shiori ends up spending the whole day with Tamako. As we see Shiori and Tamako make dinner together and go to the bath together, we really get a sense that everything is happening fuildily. Nothing happens suddenly, and Tamako’s easily attached personality and Shiori’s shy personality seeps through really well to the audience. Scenes like Tamako waiting for Shiori to taste the mochi or talking about the shampoo Shiori uses in the Bath are all really mundane conversations that do a perfect job of showing the character’s reactions and personalities perfectly to the audience. In fact, I’d argue that these simple conversations that have so many ways to branch off are better at showing the personalities of characters unlike more hyped up scenes that have fixed answers and actions for the characters. 

Even from here, Yamada carries on this event to the next day, where Shiori is trying so hard to find ways to say thank you to Tamako. While these types of scenes are great at showing Shiori as a character and giving the audience a fun moment of how characters like Shiori will overcome situations like this, the most interesting part is that everything turns perfectly normal afterwards. While the show almost makes it seem as though Shiori is going to be an extremely central part of the show after this, she just kind of shows up once in a while as the group gets along on beach trips or meets her at school. But for me, this is a lot better than the drastic change in relationship that we see in other slice of life shows. This idea of characters being people that just hang around you rather than suddenly becoming a tightly knit person that hangs out with you everyday looks more realistic because scenes like this aren’t made a bigger deal. You move on to continue with your everyday life everyday. You don’t have to immediately become best friends but we can clearly see that the two grew a lot closer than before. 

While this type of presentation that continues on throughout the show — the mundane conversations or the return to normal after the episode — may make the characters flat and uninteresting to some, to me I found the presentations of characters absolutely fascinating, especially understanding what Yamada previously talked about wishing to portray in her characters. In Tamako Market, Yamada Naoko doesn’t create characters that are not distinct in personality or character. Rather, she creates characters that aren’t explicit and complex. To Yamada, the humans that she wished to draw are anything but simple or stereotypical; they are complex and anything up understandable. 

But the Tamako Love Story is different. Tamako Love Story isn’t about Usagiyama Shopping district like the show was. Rather, the show is a little bit more clear in setting up the emotional response of the characters. Unlike the everyday life that Tamako Market portrays, Tamako Love Story is a show about two characters: Tamako and Mochizo. And naturally, like K-On, in its movie sequel, Tamako Market flourishes with Yamada’s choices. 

One line that caught me immediately was when Tamako was talking to the record shop owner. 

“No two days are ever the same. That’s what makes them wonderful. And also a little sad.”

Just twelve minutes into the film, we are completely denied what Tamako Market was all about. Immediately, Yamada signals to the audience that the daily calming events that we saw in Tamako Market are about to change. And this is something we definitely see throughout the film. 

The most interesting thing about Tamako Love Story comes from what it deals with. In anime romances, we normally focus on the good parts of it: the lovey dovey interactions, the cute moments, or the heartwarming confessions. However, none of these really capture what confessions are like for a teenager experiencing their first confession from a friend. If you blatantly ignore a confession or don’t think about it, it’s anything but realistic. This is exactly what Tamako Love Story deals with — the confusion of Tamako after receiving a confession from Mochizo. Here, Yamada doesn’t show us an anime character; she shows us a 17 year old girl. 

Unlike the happy atmosphere of the show that we saw throughout the show, in the movie, there is an air of tension. This is shown by the lower level of saturation in the colors. In the show, Tamako Market used a lot of lighting that came from the camera. This means that as the characters are facing towards the light source, the colors are a little bit harder and there are naturally less shades being formed on the characters. 

The color palette in the movie seems slightly different; there is a touch of gray that is added to the scenes. I believe that Yamada did to amplify her use of natural lighting to make the show feel more realistic. Take the shot above for example. Here, Yamada uses pink colors by situating the character during sunset. By doing this, Yamada is able to create a natural romantic feeling to the situation because of the feeling that pink gives. However, when the confession doesn’t work out, Yamada uses the gray colors to emphasize the emptiness that Mochizo feels. This is done through the use of a natural backlight with the light from the window. Similar to The K-On! Movie, the light from the window casts dark shadows around Mochizo’s face, creating a darker tone over his face. The same comes near the end of the movie when we see Tamako surprised that Mochizo has already left to ride the train to Tokyo. 

As aforementioned, unlike Tamako Market, Yamada drastically changes the way that character’s emotions are portrayed in this film. Whereas the visual presentation felt as though it was trying to convey the situation and atmosphere of the shopping district, in the movie, Yamada uses her camera to capture the emotions of the characters, even further than the lighting. And this is done through her unique use of blurring. 

Again, blurring isn’t something that is frequently used in animation. I talked about this briefly in my previous post about K-On!. Yamada specifically uses blurring to portray the added realisticness to the audience — almost as though the audience is holding the camera watching the characters. This is because blurring is more of a technique that’s found in live action films. But here, Yamada pushes this even further as the blurring acts almost as an extension of the characters. 

Above is an example of this from the middle of the show, after Tamako runs away to her room after hearing Mchizo’s confessions. Here, as Tamako takes off her glasses she looks toward her hand. Yamada uses a point of view shot to show us what Tamako is seeing. From this, we get to see both her eyes being bad but more importantly the fact that her confusion and instability about the confusion has left her to have her visions blurred — a state where she can’t look forward. By directly visualizing her confusion like this, Yamada is able to establish Tamako’s emotions directly to the audience. 

Of course, one of the most iconic scenes from the movie comes from immediately after the confession where Tamako runs back home. In the scene above, Yamada Naoko uses long shots and medium shots to visually portray the confusion that Tamako feels. Whereas we saw Tamako actively interact with her neighbour in Tamako Market, we see in the scene above that her vision has been completely blurred; the interaction between her and the Usagiyama shopping district has been cut off because of her confusion. By heavily using blurring of the backgrounds with bokeh, Yamada is easily able to get the audiences to feel the extent of confusion that Tamako feels. This is where Tamako really starts to think that staying the way it was — the everyday life that fueled Tamako Market — won’t be enough to catch up with others with so much changing around her. 

What makes these blurring even more interesting is that at the end of the movie when Tamako decides how to respond to Mochizo, there is a visible change in the use of blur and Bokeh. Whereas we saw the camera change as blurring happened in previous scenes with her glasses or her running, in her scene above, when Tamako is catching the cup phone she gave to Mochizo, despite the fact that she is unbalanced, the camera is stabilized. Through this, Yamada is able to visualize the change in stability of the relationship and Tamako’s mindset about the relationship just through the change in how she uses blur. 

But even with these unique cinematographic techniques not found much in Anime, other parts that Yamada integrates to the film makes it great as one. One prominent feature is one that I briefly mentioned before: the baton and the use of objects. From the start of the movie, Yamada sets the baton as a motif. We get continuous shots of her being unable to catch batons and it almost feels as though it is directly connected to the state of relationship between Mochizo and Tamako. It is only when Tamako decides on how to respond at the end where we see Tamako be able to catch the baton and perform in the festival the best she could with everyone else. 

We see that throughout this film, we see growth from various events, uniquely responding to events unlike anime characters but rather as real people. Of course, this was something we saw in her previous works in K-On!. But that was over the course of four years.  Here this change is more dramatic. This is something that continues on as she starts moving towards films rather than TV shows. And it was the interview about her next film, A Silent Voice, where she spoke about her wish to draw humans rather than characters — continuing her trend  In her collection, there is no other film like A Silent Voice that depicts what humans are.

Continued in Part 3

One thought on “Why Kyoani’s Yamada Naoko is the greatest director of our time: Part 2 — The Tamako Series

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s