Review: The Anthem of the Heart
Words can hurt. In today’s Internet culture, hateful and spiteful comments are thrown left and right without a second thought. It’s easy to forget that our words can carry weight and greatly affect others. The Anthem of the Heart is a genuinely endearing modern fairy tale that reminds us of the power of our words.
We’re introduced to Jun Naruse, a happy-go-lucky tyke and adorable ball of energy. Through Jun’s innocence, she can see something as seedy as a man and woman leaving a love hotel and interpret it as a king and queen gallantly departing from a castle on horseback. At home, while speaking to her mother, her shiny happy world takes a turn for the worse. Being the eager extrovert that she is, Jun carelessly utters words that cause an irreparable rift in her family. During a moment of deep heartache and despair, Jun encounters a magical egg fairy which casts a curse on her and seals away her speech. While she doesn’t actually lose the ability to speak, any word uttered from Jun’s lips causes great stomach pains.
The film time skips to her second year in high school, where we see that Jun has changed dramatically. With her head down, her slightly unkempt hair draped over her face, and her fingers nervously fidgeting in every which way, it is starkly evident that this isn’t the same Jun that we saw at the beginning of the movie. Our bouncy little chatterbox has been replaced by a socially awkward shell of her former self. To Jun’s surprise and disapproval, her teacher assigns her to take part in the “Community Outreach Committee” responsible for putting on an event for the school and local community (Note: the film’s official website lists an alternate name for the group: Regional Friendship Exchange Executive Committee). The rest of the main cast is introduced through this committee. There’s Takumi Sakagami, the everyday normal guy, Natsuki Nito, the popular cheerleader, and Daiki Tasaki, the former ace all-star baseball player, sidelined by an arm injury. Like Jun, we see that each committee member has their own issues with communication and expressing their true feelings. The film offers several opportunities for these characters to interact with Jun and with each other. It is through these interactions in which we see that words can be helpful as much as they are hurtful.
Although Jun can’t communicate through normal speech, she can communicate through song. This motif of music as a form of communication is pivotal to the film. Eventually, the Community Outreach Committee decides to put on a musical. The story told in the musical serves as a metaphor for how Jun truly feels. The guilt that she feels for causing her family strife, her resulting solitude and loneliness, the way that she views herself… everything is revealed through the musical. It’s in these moments that The Anthem of the Heart shows us that music and the art of singing can be the purest form of expression.
The music in The Anthem of the Heart is just as important as its cast. Beautifully moody and melancholic piano melodies complement the story well and mirror each character’s emotions. Notable songs that some might recognize include Beethoven’s “Pathétique,” “Around The World” from the movie Around the World in 80 Days, and the most noteworthy standout, “Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. There is a key discussion in the film which refers to the interpolation of melodies. It’s essential to understand that concept to fully appreciate the musical number during the climax.
Along with the music, particular attention was given to Jun’s facial expressions to ensure that she would remain expressive despite her lack of dialogue. Whether she was writhing in pain amidst the pangs of a stomachache or coyly watching Takumi as he sung and played piano, Jun was a tranquil tornado of emotion. I’ll refrain from divulging any details about the final scenes and the musical itself, but as you can assume, the calm before the storm eventually gives way to tumultuous winds.
Throughout Jun’s turbulent journey, The Anthem of the Heart flows surprisingly well. Austere, poignant moments are counterbalanced with instances of light-hearted levity. When we’re introduced to the egg fairy, Jun is uncontrollably sobbing to herself as she asks him “why are you an egg and not a prince?” The film’s pacing never loses its stride, and Jun’s interactions aren’t limited to her fellow committee members. In fact, her brief conversations with her mother are among the most insightful scenes out of the entire movie.
While we are shown a comprehensive look at Jun’s life and struggles, we are only given small glimpses into the lives of the other committee members. After all, how much can you fit into a two-hour movie? While I was fully invested in Jun and rooting for her at every step of the way, I wasn’t as interested in the side stories that involved the other committee members. Daiki was acting like a jerk to his baseball teammates? Natsuki is having relationship issues? Why does Takumi live with his grandparents? When the discussions regarding those questions were brought into play, I simply wasn’t attached to these characters yet. Though these other characters were fascinating, the film didn’t feel quite right when it wasn’t focused on Jun. In a fully fleshed-out T.V. series, this wouldn’t be a problem, as the staff would have ample time to give for character growth and exposition.
The motifs used throughout the film are exemplary. At first glance, the egg could be passed off as a completely arbitrary object, but The Anthem of the Heart is about breaking out of one’s shell. The film brilliantly tackles social anxiety through Jun’s curse. People suffering from social anxiety disorder can go through physical symptoms much like Jun’s stomach pains. Also, using music as a means of communication isn’t as farfetched as it sounds. Songwriters have used music and song to express themselves in ways that they otherwise couldn’t in a normal everyday conversation. Some of the most socially awkward musicians and vocalists can be bold and uninhibited onstage.
The fairy tale motif is rather fitting for The Anthem of the Heart. A princess with a curse to be lifted? Check. A valiant prince to save the day? Check. A grand ball, a wicked witch, an ambiguous anthropomorphic magical creature? Check, check, and check.
The Anthem of the Heart also contains several references to The Wizard of Oz. The characters of both films embark on analogous journeys. In The Wizard of Oz, the main character, Dorothy, is accompanied by a scarecrow who was in search of a brain, a tin man who sought a heart, and a cowardly lion who was on a quest for courage. In The Anthem of the Heart, Takumi (arguably the leader of the Community Outreach Committee) was accompanied by Daiki, the jock who needed to use his brain, Natsuki, miss popularity who struggled with matters of the heart, and of course, there’s poor fractured Jun, slowly but surely garnering the courage to put herself back together again.
Since the creative staff behind The Anthem of the Heart is the same team that brought us Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, the same level of quality and expertise was expected for this film. I can assure you that the “Anohana Phenomenon” is very much alive and not a lingering spirit or hallucination. The Anthem of the Heart even takes place in the same city as Anohana, so viewers are treated to the lavish settings of Chichibu. Fans of Anohana will definitely feel a permeating air of nostalgia from beginning to end. Make no mistake though. This film stands to create its own legacy and certainly doesn’t need to ride its predecessor’s coattails. The Anthem of the Heart is an emotionally charged story that will resonate with you long after the credits roll and the last note is sung.