Netflix recently released Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 四月は君の嘘), a Japanese anime focused on a middle-schooler’s life and coming to terms with death and life’s purpose. This is a long review, with many spoilers, but I hope it will shed some light both on what I learned from the series and what being a Mormon is all about.
The main character is Kosei Arima. To his friends he is Kosei, and to his acquaintances he is Arima, his family name. Like many anime of this variety, he lives alone. His father all but abandoned him, his mother is dead.
As the story unfolds, it is revealed that he is a particularly talented pianist. At a very young age, he started playing, emulating his mother’s example. In his youth, his mother, dying of an unnamed disease, drives him to insanity, going so far as physical abuse, trying to distill in him all the basic skills needed to be a world-renowned pianist. He wants to play passionately, she wants him to focus on technique and in copying the masters (who should never be questioned) and to win all the competitions.
He gets the mistaken idea that he can somehow cure his mom of her disease if he can simply play perfectly enough and well enough that he can touch her soul. She dies before the final round, and he has a break-down on stage where he can no longer hear his notes. His last words to her were a cruel response to a cruel incitement. He lives with regret for saying those words, but most especially, failing to play well enough to cure her.
Whenever he tries to play the piano, he feels like he is swallowed up in the deepest abyss. The notes don’t make any sounds other than the thumping of the keys and the mechanical movements of the dampers and pedals. His hands get heavy, he plays loud and fast, and people think of him as a second-rate pianist who can’t even play properly. Consumed with despair and regret, he refuses to even try to play the piano again.
It is Kaori Miyazono who is the light that picks him out of this abyss. At her endless persistence, he agrees to play as an accompanist to her violin concert. Her last accompanist quit after she played without even following the music. But her music touched the hearts of everyone, including Kosei. Kosei never agrees, but his friends force him to play in the competition, and so he forces himself to play. Sinking in the abyss, eventually, he stops playing mid-performance. Kaori continues, but after a while, she stops too. After pondering his situation for a while, and seeing the light that exudes from Kaori, he decides to play for her, and they end up playing a beautiful impromptu piece based off of the original music that touches everyone’s hearts.
Kosei sees the effect that Kaori has on him, and so he agrees to enter another piano competition at her suggestion. Although he loses, he gradually begins to understand how to handle the stress and insanity of being raised the way he was with the help of the top pianist in the country, close friend of his mother, Hiroko Seto. Hiroko is always trying to pull him out of his depression. She worries that he will one day give up piano altogether. So she agrees to take him under her wing, partly feeling responsible since it was her suggestion to train Kosei in the first place against his mother’s wishes.
Kosei comes to grips with his particular situation. Rather than let his sinking into the abyss be a burden, it becomes a stepping stone. He learns how to look up and see the light. He learns how to play for other people rather than himself. It seems all is coming together. That is, until Kaori fails to show up for the performance, and it is revealed that she is deathly ill and incapable of playing violin ever again.
As the series comes to an end, Kosei devotes himself to another competition. He also promises himself to playing as accompanist one more time with Kaori. Kaori is sick in the hospital, and Kosei knows that it is his mother all over again, but he won’t fall to despair. After seeing Kaori crash, he gives up, sinks into despair again, refusing to practice or do anything. Kaori, returning from the ICU, pushes Kosei to perform and promises to play together in the near future. In a touching scene, Kaori draws on an imaginary violin and plays a beautiful solo before collapsing again. With new hope, Kosei promises to perform and Kaori promises to stop thinking of suicide and instead take a chance on surgery.
At the closing scenes, Kosei plays through his despair, delivering the most amazing performance. At the same time, Kaori is in surgery. Her spirit appears, playing against Kosei’s amazing performance. Kosei’s purpose is twofold: Keep up with Kaori and to show his friends and the audience what is in his heart. It is revealed that she died, but Kosei is moving forward, promising never to forget Kaori and never to stop playing the piano. For the first time in the series, Kosei has come to complete terms with death and despair, and has a recipe to use when he sinks into the abyss: his friends and his purpose. He is a pianist! He must play!
I’m sorry to spoil the entire thing. There are other stories that are just as noble and worth watching within this series, and I fear my words can do no justice to this beautiful series.
There are several themes here. I’ll touch on a few and comment on them from the perspective of a Mormon.
First is the theme of music. Music is mechanical, but it is also the means of communicating heart-to-heart. When we can communicate heart-to-heart, people change. Mormons are consumed with attempting to obey the commandments, just like Kosei was consumed with playing each piece with unnatural perfection. Like Kosei, though, we know that simply mechanically following the rules will not inspire anyone. Despite these rules, or rather because of them, we can uncover the composer’s intention. In the case of commandments, the intention is love. God gave us these commandments so that we can draw closer to him and especially to each other. It is only through obedience that we can begin to understand one another.
Another common theme is death and despair. These are real issues, and they don’t go away. Wishing someone won’t die, and working super-duper hard at it will not prevent the tragedy. We live in a world of death and despair. That’s the truth. Sometimes we succumb to it, becoming immobile. What’s worse than Kaori’s suicidal thoughts are Kosei’s incapability to do anything but mope. I am told that truly depressed are so depressed that they can’t even find the energy to kill themselves. When they are treated, sometimes they end up committing suicide, because despair is worse than death.
Just because we live in despair and death doesn’t mean we have to be consumed by it. Kosei’s friends are ignorant of what is truly going on in his life. Only Kaori really understands. Kaori made the conscious decision to live her life to the fullest, and her decision became a light to Kosei. Kosei’s decision to move forward became a light to the people around him. Ultimately, it is only Kosei, it seems, who can shine light in the darkest places. Indeed, from a young age, Kosei has touched the hearts of many, including Kaori, long before they met.
In a way, Kosei is symbolic of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ descended below all things. He suffered all tragedies. He suffered all pain, all sickness, all sin. What drew him out of it? I do not know, but I imagine it was his love for us. Finding the strength to look up from the infinite abyss, he overcame all. We cannot understand what he felt, although we may be blessed to suffer some of the things he did. But we can understand that he can be a light of hope in all circumstances. Like Kosei, and like Jesus Christ, we can be a light to others when we learn to look up and out of our own abyss.
And so we get to the point: What is our purpose? The two great commandment, love God and love one another. We show love to God by devoting ourselves to perfection, always falling short, but practicing harder anyway. We show love to one another by playing for the benefit of the people around us. As long as we keep our focus on these two things, everything else will fall into place, and no loss or tragedy can stop us from moving forward.
Kosei’s childhood was horrible. This was because of his mother’s endless torment and physical abuse. His mother had only a limited time to impress upon her son what was most important. She felt a duty to do so, even though she was extreme. In the end, Kosei came to understand this, and he replaced the demon of his tormenting mother with the angel of what she intended to do. We too, can learn to forgive. We can learn to see people the way they truly are, rather than the way they appear to us. As mormons, we are taught that the worth of souls are great in the sight of God. We are taught that God descended below all things for each one of us. We are told that inasmuch as we do it to the least of our fellow humans, we are really doing it to God. We are taught that if we cannot learn to forgive, we will suffer a worse sin than whatever sin was committed in the first place. Sure, Kosei’s mother was tyrannical, and as Hiroko explained, unnecessarily so, but it was Kosei’s inability to forgive that truly hurt him. Once he learned how to forgive his mother completely, he was freed from the demon that haunted him.
Another theme is rivalry. I don’t think we appreciate the idea of sportsmanship anymore. Our rivals, the people we compete against, are there to make us better. It is through the challenge that we get better. In reality, we are all following each other, all learning from each other. We need not fear competition. As long as we keep the basic rules of the gospel, competition and rivalry can be a very good thing. I think this is one of the reasons why we, as a country, are getting weaker: We have forgotten how to compete properly. We are focused on winning rather than playing the game to our best ability. The standard of conduct has been set in this series. It is touching to see rivals say, “I must beat him, but I must beat him when he is at his best” and cheer for their opponent to get stronger and overcome their challenges. What started as childhood envy became a motivating force for good. Bitter rivals became close friends who truly understand one another and care for each other.
Another theme is friendship. Kosei’s friends aren’t pianists, and don’t understand what that means. They have their own sports, their own personality, but they love and accept Kosei and challenge him to be better. In a way, Kosei was the selfish one, because he was always focused on his own challenges. But by seeing his friends remain by his side, he learned to cheer for them as well.
All in all, many gospel principles were taught in this series. They didn’t hide from death, defeat, and despair, and they didn’t glorify it either. They showed that true beauty comes only by facing life’s challenges and learning to overcome. And you can only overcome if you have help from the people around you. It is a tragedy in that everything bad happens, but a comedy in that we learn how to live happily despite our losses.