Thursday, April 29, 2021

Episode 4 Those Snow White Notes

 


 
There's a collection, On The Impossible Past by The Menzingers, that I tuned in to on steady recurrent one summer when I was getting 6 am transport rides to get to early-morning classes at a school 2 towns over. It's a record concerned with a lot of things, but chief among them is a deeply felt nostalgia for a time that, by the writers' own admission, probably never existed; some patchwork of faded memories, movie scenes, and imagined encounters that are as ephemeral as it is comforting. For me personally, it'll forever be tied to that summer, bleary-eyed and leaning on my backpack in an empty bus as the sun ever so gradually crept over the horizon. I know intellectually that I must have spent most of those mornings miserable and wanting to crawl back into bed, but with the distance of time, those songs can mold it into a quiet and peaceful retreat to a time in my life I'll never see again.

I bring all that up not on the grounds that anything on that collection sounds distantly like the music of Those Snow White Notes, but since that flexibility of memory and music is the focal passionate mainstay of this scene. Setsu, with some prodding from his brother Wakana and newcomer Rai, accepts that he's not yet the level of player that he can replicate his master grandfather's style, but also that he doesn't need to be in order to play for Shuri's grandmother. Music is at once ephemeral and persistent: the memory of a sound can fade into the abyss of time, yet a single phrase can etch itself into your gray matter for all eternity. Thus the emotion behind a piece can be just as important as any given note or chord, and so long as Setsu wants to communicate the meaning behind his grandfather's signature song, that's all that ultimately matters.

Truly, that goal comes a touch more rapidly than I anticipated. Setsu's disappointed, tension baffled copying of his good example's sound has been the main impetus of the show up until now, so to have him make a major stride as stripping down the tune to be something he can play with no guarantees, while surely the reasonable alternative, feels rather sudden. It's also a bit frustrating that, despite being the pivotal character in this fateful meeting, Shuri herself has little involvement with any of this besides arranging the visit. And really, after 2 episodes with them, I'm feeling kind of impatient for these other characters to start getting fleshed out besides just having arguments in between Setsu's story beats. This opening act has been excellent on its own, but if the show is going to sustain itself across an entire season it needs to give us more to chew on.

In any case, account, similar to music, is regularly more than the number of its parts, and each one of those niggles float away when this scene puts its melodic full speed ahead. Not only do we get the novelty of hearing the same piece played in drastically different ways – the creators even seem to have taken the time to play them on two different shamisens along with stripping down Setsu's version, which is some great attention to detail – but between the two we're able to peer into past as “Spring Dawn” evokes the cold and desolate place where the song was first built. In present-day it's a complex, expertly crafted work by a master of the craft, but originally it was the humble yet earnest expression of a lonely boy, hoping for reassuring dawn at the end of the harsh night he lived in. And through chance, that song gave hope to an equally lonely little girl, who generations later has kept its meaning close at heart until it, at last, found its way back to her. The presentation, sound, and circumstances are nothing alike, but that desperate and stubborn hope for a new day persists regardless. It's dramatic, poetic, beautiful, and perfectly delivered.

I keep on being stunned by this present show's eagerness to allow its music to do the enthusiastic hard work, while discreetly considering how long it can continue to pull off it. At some point, we're going to have to take a break from all the jaw-dropping musical sequences and settle into a more manageable form of storytelling, if only because the rest of the cast aren't highly-trained musicians who can tug on heartstrings through sound alone. The post-credits scene with Setsu's mom suggests we'll be getting into some sort of club competition next time, which will hopefully allow the larger cast to start shouldering the load. For now, though, this is an absolutely pitch-perfect performance.

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