Cello Hiki no Gauche, also known by its english title Gauche the Cellist (year), is a feature film directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya), produced by studio Oh! Production, with a runtime of one hour and three minutes, based on a short story by famed Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa. The movie is about a young cellist by the name of Gauche, who just can’t seem to play his instrument properly, despite wanting to become acclaimed. For four days, one animal comes to see him, and teaches him an important lesson about how and what it means to play music.
One of my favorite things about the film is the visual storytelling, and in general, a type of visual storytelling I really like is coinciding narratives, such as in Summer Wars (2008), when during the action scene during the climax of the film, a baseball team the characters are a fan of which is playing a game on TV also win their game, these things happen simultaneously. Gauche also does this, although to a lesser extent. One example is during the opening sequence, when Gauche is practicing along with the other people in the orchestra. As the conductor’s patience with the performance of his orchestra is broken and he gets angry, the wooden box he is standing upon in order to raise his height also literally breaks, he falls through it.
The main theme of the film is passion and life experience, at the beginning of the film Gauche lacks both of the aspects to his character, however throughout the course of the film he slowly learns and gains these, and during the climax this culminates in him playing in front of a large audience to applause, while during practice at the beginning he was berated and unable to achieve even his own personal goals, independent of the expectations of another person. Another important theme in the film is that of the necessity of safe learning spaces, Gauche doesn’t appear to like practicing with the rest of the orchestra, but has to in order to achieve his goals. However when he is in his house and practicing alone, he enjoys it immensely, showing us that it is a genuine passion he is pursuing.
We can see the orchestra as a metaphor for the outside world, and as bastardized as the word has become lately, society, if you will. It is necessary for Gauche to participate in society if he wants to become popular and make important pieces of music, something we know he aspires to due to him having a picture of Ludwig van Beethoven on his wall above his desk. The first of the animals to visit him even make a remark about it. Through this we can also see “the importance of recognizing when you’re wrong.” Gauche attempts to learn music in one way, but it simply doesn’t work. The animals teach him how to make better music, and while he has to move outside of his comfort zone to do so, occasionally berating the animals for this, it’s also true that he would not have gotten anywhere were it not for them.
Gauche gets better at adapting to new environments throughout the movie, when the first animal arrives he literally closes the doors and plugs his ears and laughs, when the owl comes he throws a tantrum, but when the tanuki comes he simply feels down and seems to think that maybe the tanuki has a point about him being wrong, maybe he’s not correct all the time. Throughout the movie, he’s constantly pushing his boundaries. And that’s quite central to what I love about the film, thematically. Pushing your boundaries, but slowly, and saying stop when it’s too much at a time. And eventually, the practice will culminate in achieving your goals.