Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shigofumi 4

I think this series is growing on me. It’s unique, it’s filled with real emotional depth, and it isn’t afraid to leave things unsaid. The audience isn’t assumed to be stupid, and I respect that. So should you.

It’s a tense tennis match. 40-15. So maybe not that tense, if you know how tennis is scored. The girl tosses the ball up, it hangs in the air an impossibly long moment, and the girl smacks it over the net and right past her opponent. Yahiro wins! Pretty handily, too. The girls shake hands and then face the judge. The judge, another young lady, stares down at Yahiro with something more than admiration. Their tender moment is interrupted by a gaggle of younger girls surrounding Yahiro and calling her “sempai” and such. The judge looks at her and smiles, and a single white feather drifts down from above.

After the intro, we find Yahiro with the judge, Nanae, and they’re talking about all the overeager new young girls fighting for Yahiro’s attention. Nanae tells Yahiro that the best way to get rid of them is to get a boyfriend. Yahiro gets upset and turns around. Nanae tells her that she (Yahiro, that is) likes to be teased, and then she hugs her from behind. With something more than admiration.

That single feather we saw earlier finally falls to the ground and Fumika and her faithful staff, Kanaka (I can never remember her name), stand in front of a house. Yahiro, first name Ran, lives there with her father. Kanaka wants to know about the shigofumi to be delivered this time: it’s especially thick and heavy. Fumika won’t say what’s in it, naturally, so instead Kanaka asks about what we saw happen in the very last episode, with Kaname running up onto the roof after Fumika. Flashback, to Kaname asking “Mika” why she shot her father, and he’s saying that he’s been looking for her ever since. Fumika says a command to disappear, and, after some hesitation, Kanaka takes them away from it all. Back in the animated here and now, Kanaka is curious, but Fumika says that she doesn’t remember the boy at all.

Just then Ran runs out of her house and straight into Fumika, who holds up the shigofumi for her. After explaining what the damn thing is, Ran says, “Maybe next time,” and takes off again. Fumika speaks the sender’s name, and this freezes Ran right in her tracks. She turns around, smacks the shigofumi to the ground, and says that she doesn’t know that person. Oh, but I think she does!

At the train station, Ran is sitting by the window while the rest of her teammates toss candy back and forth. She’s looking pensive, and Nanae comes up and touches her on the face with a cold soda can. Nanae thinks that something is wrong, but Ran denies it, as any sane person would. A shigofumi?! Pfft. The younger girls loudly ask if they want to play “old maid” with them. Nanae (team captain, as it turns out) tells them to have a little more respect for their fellow passengers. Ran is the cool one, and proceeds to joke with everyone. Just then the train leaves, and we see Fumika standing all alone, with her undelivered shigofumi. She says they’ll have to get a pass to leave the city, and Kanaka is pretty excited. So am I!

Now we turn to Kaname and his family. His father, Noji the detective, is pouring stew over his rice, and Kaname tells his father that he saw Mikawa on the day of the incident at school. Last episode, remember? Noji slowly lowers his bowl and mutters, “Mikawa Fumika?” It’s impossible! Are you seeing the connection here, faithful readers? Fumika is pretty clear. The surname, Mikawa, is the same as the writer that Fumika quoted, too. I see plot threads being expanded.

Back with the tennis team. They’re in the country at a training camp. Nanae and Ran are ordering supplies, but Ran continues to look disturbed. She has a vision of people standing in the store’s doorway, and gasps, but the vision ends and a hip, attractive couple walks in. Ran stands rigidly, and Nanae stares at her. Afterwards, they’re riding a bike (Ran in front, Nanae hanging on behind her), and Nanae asks Ran if she really dislikes men that much. Ran says that she lives with her father, but Nanae cleverly rebuts that Ran doesn’t think of her father as a man. Ran scowls, but then she gasps (again), for Fumika is standing right in the road in front of her!

She holds out the letter, says that it’s from Tateishi Naoko. Ran mutters something about abandonment and flies off without taking the shigofumi. Kanaka isn’t really surprised. Getting a shigofumi could be scary, but Fumika vows that the letter will be delivered. Another voice says that young people are so very confident, and we pan up to see another girl, Chiaki, sitting in a tree above them.

Chiaki, a rather cute blonde, is dressed like Fumika: jacket, hat, short pleated skirt, but she has a scarf too. She jumps down from the tree limb. Yes, we can sort of see up her skirt. Woo? So Chiaki is the shigofumi carrier for this particular area of Japan. She has her own staff-thing, Matoma, who speaks in a calm, masculine voice. Have I mentioned that Kanaka sounds like a stupid teenage girl? Chiaki looks Fumika over and explains that shigofumi carriers are dead people, and thus they don’t change, but Fumika, Fumika, she’s growing. What exactly is going on here?

Enough of that. I want to see the tennis girls again, and I am happily obliged. Ran is having a tough practice, and taking it out on the younger girls. Later, back at their big group house, Nanae and Ran stand in the kitchen chopping up vegetables. Ran cuts her finger, and Nanae runs over and sucks the blood away. With something more than admiration. Then she asks who Tateishi Naoko is. Ran confesses that it’s her mother. Nanae thought that Ran’s mother had died a long time ago, but that’s obviously not true now, is it? Turns out Ran’s mother really had an affair and ran off over ten years ago. Ran hated her mother. Hated her even when the man she ran off with beat her up. That’s a powerful hate, but I know that some things can be unforgivable. At least, they can be unforgivable for a very long time.

Night falls, and Ran is alone in her room. The door opens and she excitedly turns toward it and cries, “Nanae.” But it’s only Fumika. She doesn’t say anything, only holds out the letter. Ran takes it and throws it in the trash. Kanaka is indignant. Ran says that she can do whatever she wants with the letter, and Fumika supports her. She leaves, and the shigofumi remains in the trash.

The next morning the girls are all running. Ran keeps having visions of her mother (I assume), and she trips on a rock and falls. Next thing we know she’s on a bed with her ankle wrapped up and an ice pack on it. Nanae is treating her, and she apologizes and holds out the shigofumi. Ran sits up and asks if she’s read it. Nanae asks Ran to read it herself. She will worry and wonder if she never does. Nanae puts the shigofumi into Ran’s hand and leans in close. She knows that Ran is scared, but she will always be with her. Their faces are just inches apart, and we’re suddenly looking outside, at trees, then at bottles of water on a shelf with light streaming through them, and I do believe that we have artfully sidled away from something much more than admiration between Ran and Nanae. I am reminded of Part One, Chapter 30 of Nabokov’s Lolita, where the Author leaves us at the moment of entanglement between Humbert and Dolores to contemplate an image Humbert might have once painted.
[1] This, my friends, is skillful ambiguity, and I tip my hat to the writers.

We see Nanae leave the building. Ran lies alone on her bunk with the shigofumi still in hand. She tosses it to the floor and mutters, “Nanae, you tease.” But what is the tease? The letter, or something more?

We see the bottles of water again. Turns out that the sunlight shining so prettily through them is being concentrated on one tiny point on a shirt, which starts to smoke.

At the tennis courts, the girls are practicing, until one of them sees the house on fire in the distance! Nanae looks on in horror.

The house is burning, quite right. Ran limps along the hallway, but flames and falling rafters are sort of getting in the way. In the distance, Fumika and Chiaki watch from a tree limb. Chiaki tells Fumika not to get involved. She looks slyly at Fumika and says that they are merely messengers, and it is a major violation to do anything more. Kanaka assures Chiaki that Fumika is merely ensuring that the shigofumi was delivered, but Fumika says nothing at all.

Ran manages to make it outside, but now she’s surrounded by billowing black smoke. She may die anyway, and tumbles to the ground. The shigofumi falls out of her hand. She reaches toward it, now wanting to see what’s written. She starts calling for her mother, and a statue in the courtyard stares down at her, in a very matronly way, and something like a tear runs down its cheek.

It’s not a real tear, of course. It’s a raindrop. A storm begins to douse the fire, and soak the shigofumi. A little farther away, the tennis team arrives. Nanae runs to find Ran, who is still prone on the courtyard floor. She looks at the letter and asks her mom not to leave. She has a vision of her mother, with another man, retreating into the distance, and we hear little Ran calling for her. In that tree, Chiaki asks Fumika if she caused the storm. Fumika says that it wasn’t her. Someone else did it. How kind of them. We see the matronly statue again. Fire alarms ring in the distance.

Flashbacks. Ran’s mother is talking, reading the shigofumi aloud. She’s sorry that she left, but Ran turned out well anyway. The woman talks about different matches that she went to watch (apparently without Ran ever knowing). She urges Ran to do her best. Now, Ran and Nanae lie on a rock over a creek. Ran talks about the letter, about how her mother went to see every single match of her daughter. Nanae asks Ran what kind of person her mother was. Ran, by way of answering, takes Nanae’s hand in her own and says, “A tease.”

[1] If you haven’t read Lolita, then go read it.

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