Ashita no Najda
Episode 5 ”The Starry Night - A Waltz Just for the Two”
Episode Director: Mamoru Hosoda
When I watched this episode, I knew something was very different. The compositions and the way subjects were framed had changed dramatically. A more particular use of shadow (and often the elimination of shading in favor of a complete character palette change) to depict mood. More use of the depth of field/simulation of a camera. Significant increase of pulling in and out with the camera. Pans to express the gulf standing between characters. Emphasis on the camera’s distance from Nadja when confronted with the subject of how far away a commoner like her was from the world of the nobles—specifically from her star-eyed knight. Every choice felt intentional and cinematic for the scope of this show. The voice of this episode was very different from the previous ones and many of the episodes afterwards. The camera felt more alive. The camera felt lonely.
I looked up the storyboard artist for this episode. And lo and behold, it was Mamoru Hosoda. He’d made Digimon: Bokura no War Game and would later go on to make the Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children—all great films—among other things.
One shot that stood out to me (which would later be a little signature of his) was a lateral tracking shot (thanks Tony Zhou!). In this case, it was used to depict a memory of Francis and his (now deceased) mother dancing together by panning from left to right, and back to left. A few times throughout this episode, and specifically right before this moment, it was mentioned that Francis wasn’t very good at dancing. When asked to dance, he’d surprise everyone and use that excuse before retreating outside. The onlookers would remark how much like his mother he is, and how she loved to dance but hated parties, and how she’d go to her rose garden. Francis would go on to do just that.
I’ve never really seen anyone do a flashback this way. It’s probably one of the few instances where I felt like I was having the flashback too. Instead of cutting away to a filtered sequence of images, I could feel him remembering right then and there, in that time and place. And because of that, for me, it was more effective in tapping into my empathy.
Pan left to right——>
and back to left again <—— all while maintaining the voice overlay of a younger version of himself and his mother. The gap between him and the memory is so wide. He’s so far away from it that he can’t interact with it at all. And to parrot Tony Zhou and his short analysis on “Up”, we’re so far away from Francis and his memory as viewers that we can’t do anything about it either. We feel that gulf, too.
And then he finally notices a girl dancing by herself within the shadows of the rose garden. A girl who, ultimately, is searching for her mother. Previously, within the ball, Francis stands far away from the other nobles, as if he is removed from them and their world. (Just like Nadja…! Albeit in a different way.) Within a few minutes of talking with her offscreen and with a huge distance between them, he realizes that he relates with this young girl and chooses to enter Nadja’s frame. He enters it and for the first time for him this episode, the gap is gone!
tldr; I really love Mamoru Hosoda’s storytelling style so much. If a storyteller can cause feelings to well up in me in the course of a few seconds, I want to find out why.