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Sayonara Debussy – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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16-year-old Haruka lost the people she loved the most in a fire. Haruka is also physically and emotionally wounded from the fire, but she still dreams of becoming a pianist. She takes part in an upcoming competition. Inauspicious incidents then occur around her. Musical student Yosuke, who teaches piano to Haruka, tries to solve the case.

Based on the novel of the same name by author Shichiri Nakayama, Sayonara Debussy is a surprisingly sincere film dealing with one individual’s attempt to overcome the obstacles in their life for the sake of themselves and to those around them. A film from longtime actor and director Go Riju, Sayonara Debussy has all the elements of being another unremarkable and overly sentimental experience for the audience, but it slowly transforms into a powerful exploration of personal triumph and perhaps most notably, also allows Ai Hashimoto to deliver one of her finest performances yet.

Director Riju, alongside screenwriter Keisuke Makino, present the cinematic adaptation of Sayonara Debussy as closely linked to the sentiments of the novel itself, focusing primarily on Haruka, played here by Hashimoto, as she struggles through her rehabilitatory process to once again play the piano and simply live as a normal girl. The film does extremely well when it comes to defining Haruka as a character, with her being continually haunted by her past as well as her facing an uncertain future. While rather unexpressive in many of her previous roles, here Hashimoto showcases much more depth as an actress through her portrayal of Haruka, conveying her as a damaged individual with conflicting emotional and physical ailments. With Sayonara Debussy, we see Hashimoto proving that she can hold her own in a dramatic role. Whether this is seen in her impassioned yearning to see her deceased sister once again, to the obvious emotional distraught she experiences given her inability to initially play the piano, Hashimoto’s prowess as an actress is certainly visible throughout the film and remains a highlight.

But considering that the film does a great job in having us sympathize with the plight of Haruka as a character, an important subplot in the novel involving a sort of “whodunnit” premise makes its way into the film adaptation, which is unfortunately executed in a rather lackluster fashion. For one, while it was an important element in driving the suspense found within the novel, it is seemingly rushed within the film version to accommodate exploring more of Haruka’s developing relationship with her piano teacher Yosuke, played here by Shinya Kiyozuka. While it certainly does provide the film with some tension, one can obviously see that Riju and Makino were much more interested in focusing on Haruka and Yosuke more so than anything else, which turned out be an effective decision on their behalf. The film feels much more appropriate given these directorial choices, providing a narrative that remains strong despite oddly veering into different directions at times.

With director Riju delivering a dramatic but not overly sentimentalized account of one girl’s necessity to rise above the odds, Sayonara Debussy is a film that will perhaps take a lot of viewers by surprise with its genuinely moving narrative. With a popular young actress such as Hashimoto taking the lead, the doubtful nature of the film’s ability to escape the entrapment of being just another excessively contrived tearjerker is certainly an aspect of the film that is difficult to escape from. Fortunately, the strength of the source material carries the film, delivering a thoughtful tale that does not extend outside the realm of the implausible. Considering one’s personal liking towards Debussy as a composer, the believability of the film’s narrative is also what makes it all the more appreciative in the end, with Haruka resonating as an individual we may even know as someone in our own lives.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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