Director Takashi Anno; Character Design Atushi Yamagata; Art Director Hiroshi Kato; Chief Animator Masayuki Sekine; Voice Acting Hekiru Shiina (Alpha), Mikio Terashima (Ojisan), Akio Suyama (Takahiro), Ikuko Sugita (Doctor Koumiishi), Mikki Nagasawa (Makki), Ryu Naitou (Nai), Toshiyuki Morikawa (Ayase)
by Stephen Russell-Gebbett
When you come across something startling and unexpected you tend to say: “Why haven’t I heard of this?” Well, sometimes if you want to see something different or special you have to go looking for it.
Yokohama Shopping Log is based on a manga (written and drawn by Hitoshi Ashinano), as so many anime series are. This is the story of Alpha, a ‘female’ android who runs a coffee shop while her boss is away. Her boss sends her a camera. He asks Alpha to take photos and remember what she sees. She doesn’t take many photos but her search for places to immortalise allows her to explore the world.
Japan has lived through some sort of catastrophe. There appear to be few people left alive. Mankind, if it is about to pass away, is passing peacefully: “To think that an era came to its twilight so pleasantly”, says Alpha. It is hard to imagine this and easier to reckon that Alpha is not connected emotionally to the people who have gone. However, the human characters we meet – a grinning gas station attendant, his grandson Takahiro and an older woman doctor – are melancholy rather than sorrowful. They still smile.
There is no feeling that Alpha’s quiet, upbeat roaming of the countryside is ironic, or meant to contrast cuttingly to the tragedy that has gone before. It is a guileless story that says and shows what it means. The images are sad but not dwelt on for effect. Sad, not saddening. So immediate is it that it almost seems like the director and his artists have actually been to these places and brought sketches back from the future.
Yokohama Shopping Log is perhaps the finest example in anime of mono no aware, or what we would call more generally ‘slice of life’. Mono no aware literally means ‘the pathos of things’. It describes a depiction of the world that emphasises the transience of people, objects and places, and that poignantly and fondly mourns their passing. The series is full of details such as when splodges of rain darken a pavement. These grace notes trill within a steady languorous rhythm of repeated motifs – a wind vane, clouds passing, the sun colouring and recolouring the sky.
In terms of plot, not much happens. When not much happens we can say it’s boring. We want the show to come to us, to impress us. Here, it’s waiting. The less that happens, the more we should look at what is around us. Yokohama Shopping Log invites us to look at the world before it is too late. And it is so tranquil and so composed. A breeze, a pause, a twinkling.
The final ten minutes of this one hour, two episode show are breathtaking. It seems to slow its heartbeat and reach a state of zen – Alpha gently and wistfully nurses a cup of coffee as a storm rages outside her home. Later she will take a trip to watch a submerged city’s lights flicker on:
“The lights that used to shine brightly with a purpose now just shine for the sole purpose of shining”
What in a Yasujiro Ozu film would serve as time out (pillow shots) here become the bulk of the story. This is because the story has already happened. What we are left with is echoes. In other words, this is a quiet Japan waking up from an apocalypse to the still dawn of a still beautiful world.
I urge everyone to see it.
There is a second Yokohama Shopping Log OVA (Original Video Animation) subtitled Quiet Country Cafe directed not by Takashi Anno but by Tomomi Mochizuki, not quite as good but still well worth watching.
This first series is unavailable, as far as I can gather, on a subtitled DVD. Here is the first part of the first episode, subtitled, taken from YouTube. The next part will appear at the end of the last (both episodes are here):