Notes on Streaming: FOREST OF PIANO, Playing Through Pain
A young boy from a rough background discovers the magic of music as a means of dealing with his miseries.
So much beauty! So much music! So much talking!
Forest of Piano
Now streaming on Netflix.
Ichinose Kai lives with his prostitute mother in a neighborhood that is notorious for its naughtiness. One day, he stumbles upon a grand piano sitting in a nearby forest and feels compelled to play it.
Without any musical education or training whatsoever, he follows his instincts. Playing the piano allows him to escape from his disadvantageous life for a few minutes or hours. One day, he is discovered by Ajino Sosuke, a formerly famous pianist who now lives quietly as a music teacher at the nearby elementary school. Soon, Kai is enrolled in school, accepts the lessons offered by Ajino, and immediately strikes up a friendship with fellow piano-lover Amamiya Shuhei, the son of a famous pianist.
Over the course of its 24 episodes, split into two seasons, the series explores Kai and Shuhei as their friendship morphs from true friendship into a rivalry that is sometimes conflicted by their competing goals. The first six episodes trace their growing friendship at the age of 12, and then the series jumps to five years later, when they are preparing for, and then competing at, the (real-life) International Chopin Piano Competition, held every five years in Warsaw, Poland.
As someone who began taking piano lessons at the age of 7, the series struck a lot of memory chords for me. (For the record, I can still read music, but I confine my keyboard exercises to typing nowadays.) Those first six episodes are very strong, and the three episodes that follow are equally enjoyable.
Cracks in the storytelling begin to appear once the Chopin Competition begins in the tenth episode. All the following episodes revolve around the nuances of the competition itself, and how individual pianists differentiate themselves by expressing their own distinctive style. This is exceedingly difficult for most of us non-musical types to grasp, myself definitely included, and so the filmmakers portray the inner thoughts of the pianists, their teachers, the competition's jury members, and also audience members, in order to explain.
Eventually, this becomes a zero-sum game because the constant, detailed explanations detract from the music itself. Granted, there may have been no other way around this aspect of the drama in view of the length of the series, which is based on a manga by Makoto Isshiki, published from 1998 to 2015. Yet it feels as though fewer episodes might have helped, cutting down on some of the repetitive nature that dogs the second season.
A feature film adaptation was released in 2007. Writing about the film at A Nutshell Review, Stefan S. noted in his very positive review: "It's a fantastic story about the human condition of enviousness of someone deemed unworthy, and the negative feelings of frustration when they get a leg up on you with opportunities that you crave for, which were given away nonchalantly."
Summing up: The first nine episodes, especially, tell a very good story. The series as a whole is a rewarding experience.