This was an amazingly simple episode of Sakamichi no Apollon, really. Basically four main scenes, plus a few supporting ones, spread out over the winter holidays as Kyushu is covered by a light blanket of snow. I can only describe the way Watanabe constructed it as “elegant”. If Tsuritama is Oscar Peterson – bright and brash and slightly out of control, bursting with creative flair, Sakamichi is Bill Evans. Not a note is wasted, and not an unnecessary one added. Watanabe, like Evans, plays only what needs to be played to communicate the feeling behind the music. If I had to take one of those two pianists with me to a desert island, I’d be glad I wasn’t on a desert island and grateful that the jazz world has given me both.
Think about all that Watanabe accomplished here. He tied up Jun’s arc as neatly as you could want, tied a bow on his relationship with Yurika, allowed Ri’ko to come to terms with her feelings for Sentarou, and settled the question of which guy she had decided on (though not without a hint of suspense). And oh, by the way, it saved perhaps its more powerful emotional punch for the farewell between Sen and Brother Jun, and in the process delivered another jackhammer of a jam session with all four players attacking Miles Davis’ “Four” (from Four and More, 1964). That’s why he’s one of very few directors who could have taken on the task of distilling this long manga down to 12 episodes without losing the essence of what it was.
I’ll start with that scene, because it was probably by favorite of the episode. It was such a quintessentially “guy” way to say goodbye – neither one of them could find anything to say to each other after their awkward, violent parting. So they duked it out through their music – full of emotion and affection, not expressed tenderly but ferociously and angrily. It was the first in what I expect to be a string of goodbyes over the final four episodes, and given that friendship and jazz are at the heart of Sakamichi, it’s fitting that it was an absolute home-run of a moment. Jun was a supplemental part of the story, but a critical one, and I’m glad his departure was treated with the respect it deserved.
With him of course went Yurika, although I was in suspense right up to the last minute about that. There was a lot of feeling to the contrary, but it was my opinion all along that the two of them had never done more than kissed – and that her mother’s “gynecologist” comment last week was effectively her assuming that her daughter had been seduced and preparing for the worst. Yurika has exceeded expectations several times in this series and she leaves the story in grand style, true to herself with her pride intact – and she was willing to stay behind as Jun went back to Tokyo to join Arita’s new publishing venture, once she was satisfied that Jun was doing what he felt was right. It was only when Jun realized just how hopeless a situation he’d be leaving Yurika in that he became her knight in shining armor. Logically, it makes much more sense for her to stay behind – she’s too young for Jun, and his future is uncertain. But an uncertain future is better than one almost certain to be loveless, and in the end he followed his heart instead of his brain.
Perhaps a week later than I expected, that appears to truly clear the field for the main trio. There was an amusing diversion at Yamaoka’s Christmas party early on, which Kaoru had attended as a way of distancing himself from Sen and Ritsuko. As he was thinking “I wonder what those two are doing right now?” I could help but wonder which one he was jealous of – and then realize, the answer is really both of them, in different ways. I’m also beginning to suspect that Watanabe is intentionally teasing us about The Olympus playing The Beatles, because everyone keeps suggesting it and they keep playing Spiders’ songs. And Seiji proves himself quite the character, prancing about in a bedsheet toga as he sings lead.
That’s more or less just preamble to the Trio’s situation entering its next phase. This was really a Ritsuko ep mostly, as she was the one doing the introspection – puzzling over her anger at Kaoru for pushing her towards Sen, after she’d been the one to reject him. Her chat with Yurika and “Chet” the cat (does he play trumpet and sing, and did Yurika smuggle him off to Tokyo with her?) was refreshingly direct and authentic(and let me add, this ep gave us both Yurika’s reference to Ritsuko’s “Prince” – and “whiskers on kittens and warm woolen mittens”. That’s almost embarrassingly good stuff). And it all serves to push her towards admitting her feelings and, more than that, acting on them – as she states herself, to be the driver of action rather than simply reacting to others. Rit-chan is fundamentally a sweet and kind girl who puts others first and has a somewhat negative view of her own worth – but what she came to realize in this episode is that there are times where you have to be selfish, and pursue your own happiness.
Even after Yurika had retrieved the ball of wool from the trash, there was just a hint of doubt in my mind about what Rit-chan had decided. But when she told Sen, “Yes – you got it wrong” that answered the question for me. Credit where it’s due, it took real courage for Sentarou to finally confront her that way. With the air cleared between the two of them, she’s free to do what her heart tells her – which is shown in lovely fashion when she hides Kaoru’s new gloves in the piano in the studio. I can’t imagine Sentarou will accept this without some pain, though in effect, he and Ri’ko are siblings – it’s going to hurt to think of she and Kaoru having each other, while he has no one. Perhaps the message will be that what the two of them feel for Sen – and he for them – is just as real and from the heart as what they feel for each other. Romance and sex aren’t absent from Sakamichi no Apollon by any means, but more than those things, the series is about love.