Directed by Paul Leeming and written by Hamish Downie, a story of humanity, compassion and the universality of music in helping to heal the rifts between wartime rivals. Starring: Leon Masuda, Jun Matsuo, Qyoko Kudo, Lou Ohshiba and Adam J. Yeend.
One of the key things to know going into this film is that it’s based on a true story, it’s surprising that the filmmakers chose to slightly downplay this element as it has a lot of value to add. The emotions and message of this story are heightened by its reality, it means a lot more knowing that the compassionate actions of Youko (Masuda) are fact and not fiction. Similarly with the writing in its entirety, it underplays its hand, remaining restrained and composed. It’s possible that the choice of style does prevent the more emotional notes from really hitting as strongly as they could but on the other hand, it does feel culturally appropriate in tone for this story. The dialogue could flow more naturally, the actors occasionally bring it through a little too slowly and it needed to pick up the pace just a touch.
The directorial style and cinematography both feel extremely consistent, they open on a note that’s classic and elegant and it’s one that remains throughout. They use simple but very effective techniques to create the feel of the 1940s, it doesn’t try to over-extend itself so that its visual can be as era focused as possible. Its colour palette in particular, leaning towards beige or pastel tones is perfectly suited to the 1940s, rounding out that wartime atmosphere. Perhaps the only issue stylistically is that it’s too consistent, it doesn’t quite allow for a more charismatic or personable energy to come through which may have pushed the film further.
Giving the lead of a film to a child is always a risk but Leon Masuda does a good job here, there’s not too much asked of her but the few scenes she has to explore the emotions, she does a good job. Matsuo and Kudo similarly do well as Youko’s parents, though Kudo certainly lifts most of the emotional weight of the film, bringing a much more physical performance in her distraught nature. Yeend only gets a brief role but again, he brings a touch more emotion and his performance does feel sincere. The weak link however is Ohshiba’s policeman, he feels far too slow speaking, meek and browbeaten to get across the seniority and authority of his position, slowing things down rather than pushing upon the serious nature of the story.
An American Piano is a very sweet, optimistic, silver lining war story, the generosity, sympathy and openminded nature of Youko, despite having hate and violence right outside her doorstep, is inspirational. It would have been great to emphasise more that it’s based in truth, to help it push the emotional side which it occasionally struggles to do. It captures the feel of the 1940s perfectly and the direction and cinematography really help to emphasise the atmosphere that creates. There are a couple of aspects that could have been improved to allow for a larger impact but it’s a meaningful story and a well-made short film.