The story takes place in old Tokyo, the Tokyo of August-September 1923 (Showa 12). At this moment in time, the city is a mixture of extremes... past and present, rich and poor, good and bad. This is a city where we see both horsecarts and motorcars, swords and pistols, lords and businessmen.
A wealthy woman from an upper-class family finds herself attracted to a handsome young man, Taka. He and his younger brother seem to be allied, perhaps not entirely willingly, with some of the city's criminal underground (Yakuza). The lady's lovely young maidservant, Sara, meets him too, and a conflict ensues which can only lead to tragedy, passion, and dishonor. But, as events move on, and the days pass, the viewer sees a terrible date coming closer... that unforgettable day of September 1, 1923, at 11:58, when the Great Kanto Earthquake and tidal wave struck Tokyo, causing the death of almost 100,000 people, one of the greatest disasters in human history.
As ever, feel free to to skip most of this review down to the last paragraph before the colophon, if you want to avoid any spoiler and just know whether it is recommended by the house.
How much sacrifice are you ready to consent in the name of love? It is a simple question Kasei Yakyoku offers to answer through the pang of four characters, during a tumultuous era of Japan. KY [thank you to banish on the recess of your mind any salacious joke in relation to a certain brand of condoms] is a original Josei tale geared around the very idea of emancipation. Indeed,
the personal dilemma of Taka, Akiko, Sara and Kiyokuni hinges around it. Akiko looks to escape the confinement of the prestigious house of the Marquis Hasho, her father. At the light of the first wave feminism ideal (which is in vogue at the time) she thinks of the traditional Omiai as a dusty matchmaking device, to the dismay of Kiyokuni. Her assertive femme du monde composure breaks like a shell past the harrowing reality check, after she first interacted with the man she fell for. As for Kiyokuni, the heir of a solid banking company, he occupies an unique place in this tale for he is the only one to relinquish any vague desire of self made independence. He thinks of his arranged marriage as a necessity as much as a benediction. It highlights his complete unselfishness and then an attitude improper for a healthy romantic relationship. As for Sara, the maidservant and childhood friend of Akiko, she embodies the old-styled maiden ideal. She wants to owe nobody but ends with manifold predicaments due to her ingenuity in regards to the cruel world she steps in. Taka, the main protagonist is simply prisoner of his situation as a high-ranked mobster, whose talent to dispatch "wordly" affairs is much coveted by his organization's boss. It pretty much forged his seemingly reserved and detached character. As you notice, there is an interesting quator to weave a compelling story around. KY's success is heavily dependent on a right dramatization. So, does it deliver at it? Yes, it does!...
This success can partly be attributed to the solid direction of Osamu Dezaki. Properly efficient at conveying a melancholic atmosphere to his pre earthquake disaster love tale, it unfolds with drawling gravity, earnest key dialogue lines and Dezaki's trademark use of pastel freeze frames, which accentuates a transient and yet etched intensity. While it lacks foreshadowing regarding certain questions (as how and when exactly Taka fell for his assistant's sister), the story holds itself well together with the limited available length it has. Probably due to time constraint, the animation can somewhat look stilted at times, which is particularly noticeable during certain action scenes. Also, the cuts to earthquake's countdown information would have gained in being inserted into the screenplay, rather than being simply shown with a drab static card. However, these are minor concerns and overall the cinematography aged finely thirty years later... Art direction in itself is lavish, particularly in the wake of the introduction. The establishing sequences, brimming with Jazz age imagery, are a sight to behold... Akiko climbing down the stairs, donned with her slanted sequin dress and her headscarf, takes one back to a dated and yet charming ambiance. A clear disruption is noticeable past the first OAV, as to signal a clear disruption between the happy-go-lucky modernity of the roaring 20s and the ever lingering Japan of traditions, holding people captive of its desiderata. The soundtrack, a low-key one, is at the image of this dichotomy with a dominant sway in favor of traditional instrumentation. It fits the mood perfectly, as a more ostentatious sound-design would have made the dramatization too overbearing.
Stylistically, the chara-design opts to go for what could be called a Gekiga approach, if this term ever applied to animation. The obvious concern is to graphically convey maturity, rather than blooming innocence. Tonally, a last word has to be addressed in defense of the open ending: KY is all around rounded as a period drama. Providing a decisive ending would be as arduous as unnecessary. How Sara is supposed to find back Taka when the only clue she has is that he is alive? How the ex-yakuza can possibly reach for his lost half when he has to lay low because of a bounty on his head? How can it end in a significant way for Akiko as her sentiments are as unrequited as Kiyokuni's? What is usually considered as taunting cliffhanger does not apply here. It is a conclusion more in the style of Kayako Ebina's biopic, Ushiro no Shoumen Dare. Just like a harshly smite Tokyo recovers, the scarred protagonists hold on as good as they can. That's how life naturally goes, with its share of dead ends and wasted opportunities.
If you are set to watch a period drama/romance series capped off in a bittersweet way, you cannot go wrong with Kasei Yakyoku. It is mature, paroxysmal, elegant in spite of some cheesy melodramatic accents. It is going to leave you hanging, and that, is the evocative magic the underrated studio of Satoshi Dezaki prides itself in.
Praise be unto Sacred Geometry~
..| Colophon |..
This section is dedicated to content indication in order to inform audience in a practical way. On the next paragraphs, the potential spectator gets hints about the title's strong suits and drawbacks.
Ketchup meter: Violence mostly permeates from the unfulfilled distress of the protagonists. The action scenes aren't too racy even though the conflagration in Hanai's house shows some teeth.
xXx meter: There are bare breast scenes. They're not staged through a voyeuristic lens though, as they are there to evidence a couple's sincere passion or in the case of Akiko and Taka's pair the glacial, loveless reception of sexuality.
Fishing scene(s): None.
+ A rare Josei tale foreshadowing a little known Historical disaster
+ Osamu Dezaki's literate cinematography
+ Care for characterization and cast interactions
+ Tonal consistency in complete favor of tragedy (without gratuitous misery pornography or jarring bits of comedy)
- Lack of build up regarding certain key plot elements
- Somewhat campy lines, here and there
- A slightly unlined editing at times (instance: the love scene between Sara and Taka. It's as if it had two different takes and the staff was unable to choose one so included the two redundant together)
It's a beautiful love story, although it's a bit short and has an open end.
It shows faithfullness and pure love despite hard circumstances and poverty , and that love can't be bought or forced ...
It also shows the sadness of both poor and reach people (how poor people have to work hard to live and not choose the easy way to earn money by throwing away their dignity and selling their bodies, and how rich people have difficulties to live free of the family obligations and formalities and to trust people...)
The end was clever, it wanted to show that people can begin from zero and
chage themselves to be better and change (for the sake of the loved one), exactely like did Japan after the disastrous earthquake...
The development of the characters was good (compared to the number of episodes).
It's an old animation, but it has beautiful art (the same as "oniisama e" ...).
There's no comedy at all.
The problem is that it's not available on net (I found it subtitled to arabic).
I really recommend it, it's a touching and a realistic story.