With the topic of live action adaptations of anime fresh on everyone’s mind, thanks to the recent release of Death Note on Netflix, it seems a good a time as any to look at another film that retells one of my favorite stories.
As large a part of pop culture as anime and manga are in Japan, it’s hardly surprising to see many of them adapted into live action film. MyAnimeList actually has a featured article that points out 50 of them with a trailer for each one. A quick look through the list reveals some pull off the adaptation better than others, with most looking like smaller budget works (curiously, just like anime) that may not appeal to a widespread audience, let alone outside of Japan.
Even if these live anime adaptations did manage to appeal to foreign audiences, many are not easily found outside Japan. It’s not every day that you get something like the 2017 Death Note, but that’s slightly cheating since it was an American made film to begin with and distributed by an American company. For the topic of this post, we had to actually order a DVD from Japan to watch it.
But perhaps because of the Death Note film, there’s been a lot of discussion lately on what makes a good adaptation, live action or otherwise. In a post from 100 Word Anime, Karandi discussed how these films can set themselves apart from their source by not trying too hard to stick to the original material and characters, instead retaining a close focus on key narrative elements. I’m mostly inclined to agree, as a film’s run time hardly leaves enough room to develop everything that an anime series does. This begs the question: does deviating from the source, while keeping enough to tell a complete story, make for a good adaptation, or even a good film?
I aim to answer this question by taking a look at Takehiko Shinjō’s Your Lie in April live action adaptation, as this film does somewhat follow the strategy pointed out in Karandi’s article. Discussing where the film took liberties with the source material and examining these differences can help determine how fans of the series may receive the film, and how well it works as a standalone piece. As I will be discussing this film in its capacity as an adaptation, the rest of this post will contain heavy spoilers for the film and and anime series.
Similar to the anime series, the Your Lie in April film follows former piano prodigy Kousei Arima as he is lured back to the piano by a fun loving, unconventional violinist, Kaori Miyazono. Persuaded to become her accompanist after attending her recital, Kousei once again experiences the breakdowns that initially forced him out of competitive piano after his mother’s death. As Kousei realizes his growing feelings for Kaori, he must balance his admiration for her with the belief that she likes his best friend, Watari. When Kaori is sidelined by illness later on, Kousei boldly joins a piano competition with the hope that they can play a duet together again.
In this condensed format, Kousei still performs as Kaori’s accompanist for her competition as well as at the Gala event hosted by the music hall, but only joins one competition as a solo pianist as opposed to the three seen in the anime. Kaori’s illness is not a long drawn out affair this time, with the audience’s first glimpse of it coming only after she misses the Gala. The students are seventeen in this film, but the age difference (three years older than in the anime) doesn’t play a big factor in the story, and it may have just been an arbitrary choice to depict kids dating at the end of high school rather than middle school. Many anime depict romance stories in middle school, but I don’t know enough about Japanese live action film to know whether or not this is a common occurrence there as well.
There are also a few cast changes in the live adaption with Emi, Takeshi, and Nagi notably absent. Also, Hiroko is present from the beginning, rather than appearing after Kousei’s first competition, to look after Kousei while his father is away. This gave the film more time to focus on the relationships between the main characters, but at the expense of fully expressing Kousei’s journey back to the world of music.
As compared to the anime, the film is a lot more tonally even in the emotions and mood it depicts throughout. For example: There are comedic moments in the film, but none are as sudden or exaggerated as they are in the anime. Part of the reason for this is its portrayal as a drama, which wouldn’t be heavy on comedic material regardless. The other is that an animation medium makes it easier to recreate the more outlandish moments found in the manga which the film glosses over or omits. As seen with the below pair of screenshots, Kaori’s reaction to Kousei being an inadvertent pervert is quite different.
Where this is more pronounced in terms of storytelling is the emotional highs and lows in each version. Whereas the serialized format of the manga and anime made the emotional rollercoaster of Kousei’s journey more appropriate (and somewhat desirable to keep viewership), the film opts for a much more even tone. There are parallels, like the leap of courage off the bridge and Kaori’s collapse at the hospital to represent these extremes, but the film avoids the uncertainty that permeates the anime. It slowly reveals both Kaori’s feelings and her illness without going back and forth too often with the characters’ emotional states.
Both the anime and the film are adapted from the manga, a medium intended to be read rather than heard. For this reason both had to fill in the blanks when it came to music. Naoshi Arakawa had already chosen the performance pieces when he wrote the original work, so it’s no surprise that both adaptations retained these since there was no strong reason to deviate. Where these adaptations could uniquely express themselves, however, was in their OSTs.
Though you will find many a reviewer say that the Your lie in April anime has a mostly forgettable OST, I have fervently denied this and made sure to highlight a track in every episodic post I did for the re-watch event. Strangely, the opinion that I took such a stubborn stance against for the anime I find myself sharing for the film. Ryō Yoshimata does a decent enough job composing the soundtrack, but none of the pieces stand out tonally or thematically the way that Kimi wa Wasurerareru no or Watashi no Uso from the anime do. The anime’s OST simply did a phenomenal job of setting the mood of every scene at a level that the film couldn’t replicate.
It should also be noted that even as several performance pieces are kept, Kousei’s first competition is missing in the film, so you don’t get Chopin’s op 25 no 5 – “Wrong Note”. Without Emi in the film at all, op 25 no 11 – “Winter Wind” gets omitted as well. I mention this only because both are very interesting pieces that would have been nice to see. Also, having Kousei go straight from a breakdown during Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso to a perfect playing of Liebeslied is a bit of a stretch.
The bond between Kousei and Kaori sees a lot of attention in the film, depicting a growing friendship formed out of their shared background in music that grows closer over time. As the most central relationship in the story, this was a reasonable choice by the film’s writers to sufficiently develop the couple in the time it had. Many iconic scenes are reproduced, from playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the cafe to practicing in the music room to going shopping on Kaori’s day release from the hospital. Several other scenes that involved other characters in the anime and manga are additionally reduced down to just the two of them in the film to maximize their interaction.
This makes their friends, Tsubaki and Watari, into true side characters in the film, entering the story to nudge Kousei along, and hardly have much to consider as character arcs for themselves. Watari is still around to offer friendly advice and is just as much a cheerleader for Kousei as he was in the anime. Aside from also being the alleged target of Kaori’s affection though, that is the extent of his role. Fans of Tsubaki may be further disappointed as both her admiration for Kousei and her struggles with jealousy are featured too lightly to make her a legitimate part of the love triangle or shape her character. A few scenes, such as her dramatic demand for Kousei to choose her, are reproduced for the film, but none of the slow realization that he is more than a ‘kid brother’ to her is shown.
Another big change is in Kousei’s approach toward Kaori. While he is constantly bossed around by her and is often cowed by her boldness just as he is in the anime, the film doesn’t spend a lot of time on his refusal to play the piano or reluctance to visit her at the hospital. Though he does hesitate with his feelings because Kaori is dating his friend, he goes so far as to confess his feelings to her near the end of the film. This provides some payoff for fans who watched the anime waiting for them to get together, but also paints him in a more confident light than viewers might expect.
The Your lie in April anime began with Kousei abandoning the piano and ended with his realization of all the things music brought him. Though Kaori was very important to him personally, she was also the catalyst for the lessons and experiences that made him grow as a character. While the film is bookended with the same events and does imply that Kaori was the one who returned him to music, its focus is more on his relationship with her first and any resulting consequences second.
The absence of a couple of major elements shifts the film’s focus from Kousei’s reawakening to the budding romance between the main pair. The first is that the internal monologue which littered the anime and gave viewers such clear insight into Kousei’s mind is very sparse in the film. It instead relies on the actors to express these thoughts and emotions through their performance. Showing rather than telling is often desirable in visual mediums, but there is simply no substitute for the repeated motifs and poetic lines used to express Kousei’s thoughts in the anime.
The second missing element is his journey in returning to the piano. Just like the missing internal dialogue, the film doesn’t recreate that ‘bottom of the ocean’ feeling that cripples him during performances, nor does it give enough weight to the emotional trauma he faced at his mother’s hands. Her abuse was just something that he suffered, and then got over (albeit still during the Leibeslied performance). The lack of his rivals further minimizes the impact of his returning to competition, as their inclusion in the anime highlighted his effect on the people around him.
The above points lead into the main difference between the anime and live action film, in that they pursue different stories by choosing to focus on a slightly different theme. Kaori’s lie, as the namesake of the story, is the capstone of both the anime and film. As such, both use her letter to explain her development, and to leave Kousei with her final thoughts. While its content is more or less the same, the direction of the rest of the story frames the letter in different lights.
The film, despite being told mostly from Kousei’s point of view, acts more like Kaori’s story. Her quotes at the beginning and end of the film explain her intent to bring color into Kousei’s life, as her letter reveals he had done for her. Her letter also reveals how she changed her life around after her first hospitalization in order to make her dream of playing with Kousei come true before her time was up. Thus, even if Kousei was the subject of the narrative, his character arc was more or less defined by Kaori. What he does after her death is almost inconsequential, even if the ending makes it a point to show his friends supporting him. Kaori’s passing is more about the viewer lamenting the loss of her character than the impact of her life on Kousei’s, and vice versa.
Conversely, Your lie in April the anime was always Kousei’s story. Everything about Kaori’s feelings in the film still holds true, and the audience can still feel her loss as a character. But the part of her letter that explains Kousei’s influence on her stands out that much more considering the amount of time the series invested in Kousei’s struggle to return to competitive piano. Because the other characters also had their arcs based around Kousei’s influence, Kaori’s admission that he was the reason she took up violin keeps the focus on him. The realization that Kaori only became the person he loved because of his ability to play is a statement on Kousei’s power to bring color to others’ lives. This not only makes his return more relevant, but the vital element of the anime’s narrative.
So where does this leave us?
As implied earlier, the Your Lie in April live action movie is primarily a drama film about teenage romance set against the backdrop of musical competition. It tells the story of Kaori’s entrance into Kousei’s life and the demanding way in which she pulled him back into music, revealing at the end that it was her goal to do so before her terminal illness claimed her. With their relationship being the central focus of the film, Kousei’s motivation to return to the piano is born out of a desire to at first help Kaori with her own competition and then to give her the inspiration to fight against her illness.
By retaining many of the powerful moments from the manga that shaped their time together, the movie provides a fairly good presentation for anyone who is new to the story. Kousei’s growth is still inspirational, and Kaori’s loss still heartbreaking. Though the quality of the acting may not be Oscar worthy, it’s serviceable enough to provide the necessary depth of emotion that the Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso manga strove for.
But if you were to compare it against the anime, it simply doesn’t hold up. Yes, the anime had much more time to flesh out characters and develop the story, and could provide a lot of content that complemented the main themes. While those things help with immersion and investment in the story, what really makes the anime transcend the simple tragic love story that sits at the core of the narrative is its presentation.
Part of it lies in the magic of animation. There are some absolutely gorgeous scenes in the anime that brought the manga pages to life which can’t be easily replicated in live action. This can be logically considered a separate element, but the intangible impact it has on viewer isn’t easily disassociated with the work. Your lie in April, without its stunning animation, is a much less powerful experience.
The other major factor which really sold the anime for me was its ability to make each scene feel significant. Through a combination of internal dialogue and shot composition, the anime unfolded with an artistry that the film doesn’t attempt. Even as it recreated most of the major scenes, the film wasn’t as well suited to capturing the smaller moments. Those moments, as expressed by Kousei and others throughout the anime, are everything.
By trimming the source down to the essential points of Kousei and Kaori’s relationship, Yukai Tatsui (film screenplay) was able to provide a complete story that would have otherwise felt rushed and cluttered if Kousei’s struggle was made into an equal part. In this, the film was successful and is a perfectly enjoyable work on its own. But fans familiar with the manga, and the extremely close adaptation that the anime achieved, may feel that anything taken out of Arakawa’s original work makes the story less meaningful. Kousei’s exchange with Kaori in the anime dub explains it best:
“Isn’t it funny how the most trivial moments can be unforgettable?”
“None of it was trivial.”
Well you’ve read what I have to say, now what do you think? Have you seen the live action film? If not, do you think you would like it if you are a fan of the anime? Let me know in the comments.