Review for Tamako Love Story
Ask any serious collector of home cinema, and they’ll tell you that region coding is the work of the devil. We supposedly live in a global economy, but that’s only for the corporations. Customers are subject to protectionist measures that prevent the easy import of DVDs and Blu-rays. You need a region free DVD player to watch discs from countries outside of Europe, and you’ll need a Multizone Blu-ray player for HD discs from Regions A or C. There’s another insidious trick up the studios’ sleeves, and to my knowledge it’s restricted to anime on Blu-ray and just anime from Sentai Filmworks at that. It’s called Geolocking. Some Blu-ray players give you the chance to set your country when you set the machine up, although most don’t (certainly true of my Panasonics), and the machine’s home country defaults to where it is sold. Separate from Region Coding, you can author a disc to play in a specific country, determined by the machine that it is played upon. A lot of Sentai’s discs only work on US players. I was fully expecting Tamako Love Story to be one of those discs, and I only bought the BD/DVD combo for the DVD disc; a timely discount affording me the chance to watch the feature film spin-off from the delightful Tamako Market, even if only in SD. Colour me surprised when it turned out that the Blu-ray does indeed work in a Region B, UK Blu-ray player!
Tamako Kitashirakawa has a great life in the Usagiyama Shopping Arcade. She has her friends Kanna and Midori, and she knows everything there is to know about mochi, the sweet delicacy that her father’s shop specialises in. It would be peaceful and idyllic, except for the rival mochi shop across the street, and the gentle antagonism between the owners. It can’t be too antagonistic, as Mochizo Oji, the son of the rival shop owner has been Tamako’s friend since childhood, although while he has recently been developing feelings for her beyond friendship, Tamako remains characteristically dense to all matters of love.
Things took a turn for the whimsical during the year when a talking, egotistical bird from a tropical island stayed at Tamako’s place, ostensibly to find a bride for his island prince, but really to feed his mochi addiction. But Dera left, and took the bizarre whimsy with him. Now, it’s Tamako’s final year at school, and while she is certain that her future lies in the family mochi shop, her friends have other plans, especially Mochizo, who has decided to go to college in Tokyo, but not before he finally, and indelibly confesses his love for Tamako.
Tamako Love Story gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. We have great detail, great colours, and no issues with compression or digital banding, just as it should be. That’s exactly what a Kyoto Animation production needs of course, as you have the detailed, lush world design, and quirky and memorable characters as well. The animation really deserves it too, detailed, smooth, with a discerning eye on character and individuality. This a joy to watch simply from an animation perspective, while KyoAni add delightful little touches like jump cuts, and deliberately allowing the focus to drift in certain scenes, all to really make the cinematography come to life.
Just as in the TV series, you have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked during playback. The subtitles are Sentai yellow in hue and size. The Japanese audio is the way to go here, as Tamako Market’s dub from Sentai is not one of their better ones (it isn’t helped by the constant puns and wordplay in the Japanese which don’t translate well to the English). The characters are all individual and quirky, and the voice performances have to reflect that. The dialogue is clear throughout, the stereo gives the film room to breathe, and there’s an extra emphasis on music in terms of the story. It all comes across without problem on this Blu-ray, while the subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos. It’s odd that a feature film didn’t get a surround mix.
You get two discs in a slim BD Amaray, one with a latch on the side, with one disc, DVD and BD on each inner face.
The disc autoplays a trailer for the HIDIVE streaming service before booting to a static menu. The film is followed by a translated English credit reel.
In terms of extras, it’s really just the usual promotional material, the textless opening and closing to the film, the textless closing to the short, a promo video for the film, and trailers for Children Who Chase Lost Voices, K-On! The Movie, Girls und Panzer der Film, and Wake Up, Girls The Movie.
You’ll be most interested in that short though, Dera-chan of the Southern Island. Other than a rather contrived scene, the wacky bird isn’t really part of the film, so he got a 6:02 short that played with the film in theatres, as he tries to get the Prince, and the fortune-teller Choi to make some mochi for him.
Tamako Market was all about the whimsy, the bizarre cuteness that erupted when a talking bird came into contact with the insular world of a girl and the shopping arcade where she and her friends lived. It was a show of small, emotional gems, and absurd situations, eccentric characters. That’s really what I loved about Tamako Market. This feature film spin-off, Tamako Love Story has very little of that, telling instead a rather mundane and familiar story, that of a boy and a girl, and faltering first love. It’s all about the boy, Mochizo Oji working his way up to confessing his feelings, and it’s all about the girl, Tamako Kitashirakawa dealing with that confession, and trying to sort out her feelings, at a time when she and her friends are at crossroads in their respective lives. It’s also about a baton twirling competition. There’s not a lot of story to the film, barely an episode’s worth, but it fits the 80-minute runtime of a feature film well enough, mostly because we get to spend more time with the delightful characters that the series introduced.
Really, that is the extent of the story, and how much you get out of the film depends on how much you invest in the characters of Tamako and Mochizo. It certainly isn’t the first time that Mochizo has tried to tell Tamako how he feels, and he tried more than once in the series, stymied by his awkwardness and sudden shyness around his childhood friend. Tamako has always been emotionally dense, her world revolving around mochi, her father’s shop, and the shopping arcade, with very little else getting a look in, so Mochizo needs the emotional equivalent of a sledge-hammer to get his feelings across.
It’s because Tamako is at a crossroads in her life that she is finally vulnerable to what he wants to say. They’re coming to the end of high school, and while her ambitions are comparatively small, staying at home, working in the family shop, her friends have different plans, plans that involve leaving. Tamako has to redefine herself as her world changes, what she thought was constant suddenly revealed as fluid and mutable. The biggest change, that of Mochizo’s confession and his announcement that he’s leaving for Tokyo throws her for a loop. How she sorts out her feelings will come as a delightful development if you’ve enjoyed the series episodes. Of course she needs the help of her best friends to get motivated at the key moment.
Tamako Love Story isn’t the film that you’re looking for if you want more Tamako Market. But it is rare for a feature film spin-off to do something completely different from, yet still in keeping with the series and its characters. Mochizo’s love for, and Tamako’s immunity from that love were a running gag in the series, and that the film actually develops that storyline gives a degree of closure to the series and the characters. But it is a small scale, personal, and very common storyline, with nothing new to add to its particular rom-com genre. It all depends on how much you care about its characters.