Sing “Yesterday” For Me

Six months after graduating from university, feeling demotivated and disconnected from the world, Rikuo Uozumi still hasn’t done the expected thing and found a job; instead, he works part-time at a 24-hour convenience store, whiling away the rest of the time thinking about Shinako Morinome, a former university classmate with whom he was in love. Despite the fact that they spent a lot of time together, Rikuo was never able to bring himself to tell Shinako of his feelings for her; now, he expects that he’ll never see her again given that she has moved back to her home town to pursue a teaching career. At the same time, Rikuo finds himself unexpectedly pursued by Haru Nonaka, a strange, eccentric girl who, in addition to being a high-school drop out, has also adopted a crow whom she names Kansuke. Haru is estranged from her mother and step-father and lives alone in her deceased grandfather’s house while working at a nearby café/bar; she has been in love with Rikuo following a chance encounter with him some years previously. Rikuo has no idea what to do with the unconventional and persistent Haru; and his confusion is only deepened when he discovers that Shinako has in fact returned to the neighbourhood, having secured a permanent position with a local high school. But Shinako has her own emotional turmoil: she is still in love with Yū Hayakawa, an old friend from her home town who died from a congenital heart condition while she was at university. Shinako is certain that she only wants to be friends with Rikuo, but finds herself relying on him whenever she needs help; meanwhile, Yū’s younger brother Rō makes clear his feelings for Shinako, as well as his determination to win her over…

Based on the long-running manga by Kei Toume and co-produced by anime studios DMM Futureworks and Doga Kobo, “Sing ‘Yeterday’ For Me” aired on Japanese television from April to August 2020. Animated in a skilful blend of 2D and 3D animation techniques that capture both the impersonal nature of the cityscape amd the alleviating beauty provided by parks and trees, “Sing ‘Yesterday’ For Me”, with its complex tale of romantic entanglements and interpersonal confusion, might sound more like a daytime melodrama than a slice-of-life anime. But cheap histrionics and syrupy romanticism are avoided by the narrative’s relaxed – almost languid – pace, which, instead of heightening emotional tensions, allows us instead to gently enter the lives of the protagonists and explore the inner world of their thoughts and feelings. In doing so, we are brought to the realisation that there are neither heroes nor villains in this very human story, just fallible people trying to make sense of their lived experience, even with the burden of their respective immaturity, selfishness, and need. Indeed, part of what makes “Sing ‘Yesterday’” compelling viewing is the honesty with which the protagonists confront their own insensitivity and hypocrisy, all the while acknowledging their helplessness to do and be otherwise. It is in this context that the denouement plays out more ambiguously than might appear at first glance, placing a question mark over Rikuo and Shinako’s motives, and leaving open the question of whether they have learned anything or are just repeating past mistakes. Beautifully animated and skilfully realised, “Sing ‘Yesterday’” For Me” is a compassionate and gently humorous meditation on the nature of memory, the shadow of loss, the lure of the comfortable and the fear of rejection – a surprising and thoughtful elegy to the resilience of the human heart, notwithstanding our capacity to most hurt those whom we would most love.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.