Shelf Life Tamako Love Story
by Paul Jensen,
I went on a vacation of sorts this past weekend, by which I mean that I went to a place and spent money but never actually stopped working. This was my second year in a row attending the IndyCar race in Watkins Glen, and I did all the things one might expect to do at such an event. I met a bunch of the drivers, I stood within arm's reach of cars that cost more money than I'll ever make, and I got a wicked sunburn while sitting in the grandstands. That last one wasn't as much fun, but I'm calling it a successful weekend anyway. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Tamako Love Story
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Shelf Life Reviews
Tamako Love Story is the second Kyoto Animation movie to cross my review path in the last few weeks. Like the Beyond the Boundary movie, it wraps up a couple of storylines that went unfinished in the TV series. Let's see how this one fares.
The movie picks up some time after the end of the TV series. Dera the talking bird has gone back home to his island with Choi and the prince, and life in the shopping district has largely returned to normal. Now seniors in high school, Tamako and her friends have begun to think about what they want to do with the rest of their lives. While Tamako is more than happy to stick around and inherit the family mochi shop, her longtime neighbor Mochizo is thinking about going off to Tokyo to attend a film school. Mochizo decides to confess his feelings for Tamako before he leaves, but saying, “I love you” isn't always as easy as it sounds.
The absence of Dera and the rest of the Mochimazzui family has a significant effect on Tamako Love Story. The loud, broad comedy that Dera brought to the TV series is mostly gone, as is the storyline of trying to find a bride for the prince. With all that talk of island kingdoms and royal families out of the picture, this movie ends up feeling more grounded than its predecessor. Viewers who felt Dera was obnoxious or simply out of place in the TV series will likely see this as an improvement, while those who enjoyed his goofy brand of comedy may feel like something's missing from this movie. As someone who neither loved nor hated the talking bird, I merely found his absence to be an interesting difference between the two titles.
These changes affect the narrative as much as they do the tone, and even those who miss Dera will likely notice that Tamako Love Story is a much more focused work than Tamako Market. Instead of meandering around in search of an emotional hook, it zeroes in on the relationship between Tamako and Mochizo. The other characters get a modest amount of screen time, and Midori in particular has a role to play in the outcome, but at its core this is a story about two kids dealing with their feelings for one another as the world around them starts to change. As simple as the plot is, it benefits from some artful presentation. The sentimental side of the TV series is still intact, which works well with this gentle storyline.
My key gripe with this movie is that there's just not enough substance to support all that sweetness. Low dramatic stakes compromise Tamako Love Story's emotional impact throughout; it just never feels like the characters are in danger of losing anything significant. There's plenty of teenage angst to go around as Tamako and Mochizo try to sort out their feelings, but it's clearly just temporary indecision that will eventually be swept aside in pursuit of a positive ending. Even the movie's climactic final scene is robbed of its “now or never” quality by the knowledge that it's not actually the characters' last chance to convey their feelings to one another. It just seems like Tamako Love Story goes too far out of its way to be relaxing and harmless, and it ends up being less compelling as a result.
While the narrative doesn't quite have what it needs to really grab the viewer's attention, the visuals will more than catch the viewer's eye. Tamako Market was no slouch in the animation department, but Tamako Love Story still manages to outdo it. Shots are framed with care, the animation is strong, and the backgrounds are impressively detailed. As much as the story's focus moves away from the shopping district, there's still a strong sense of place to everything. The English dub features good casting and performances, so you can enjoy those visuals without having to keep one eye on the subtitles if you're so inclined. Anyone lamenting Dera's absence in the movie will want to look at the on-disc extras, which include a comedy short featuring Dera, Choi, and the prince.
I enjoyed Tamako Love Story, but my recommendation comes with too many “ifs” to bump it up into Shelf Worthy territory. If you enjoyed the TV series, if you don't mind Dera's absence, and if you're all right with the lightweight storytelling, then it's a lovely little movie. Despite the slightly different tone, it makes a worthwhile sequel to a series that often sits forgotten in the shadow of Kyoto Animation's better-known titles.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!
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