ERASED has been the talk of the anime world this winter. The supernatural thriller from A-1 pictures tells the story of struggling Mangaka Satoru Fujinuma, who is sent back to his childhood to solve the murder of a girl named Kayo Hinazuki and prevent his mother’s death in the future. It’s an intriguing mystery conveyed with cinematic flair.
ERASED sits next to One Piece on popularity rankings, and it is currently the fifth highest-rated anime of all time on MyAnimeList. It deserves the love. Its plot is tightly-constructed, and its themes have a potent emotional appeal.
But I think ERASED owes the bulk of its success to its skillful direction at the hands of Tomohiko Itou (Silver Spoon, Sword Art Online), whose keen cinematic sensibilities elevate the series’ already great writing and acting to impressive heights.
There are moderate spoilers below!
Boku dake ga inai Machi Review
The clearest example of this is the show’s use of letterboxing (the black bars on the screen) to frame scenes taking place in the past. This serves to emphasize the shift in Satoru’s worldview as he leaps back in time. As a kid he sees things from a narrower, shorter perspective. The only people who fully fit into it are other kids. But the world around him also seems wider, with broader possibilities.
Itou also sets the tone for the series through use of color – red in particular. Red frequently appears on characters’ clothing, denoting vulnerability. As a child, Satoru wears a small red button directly over his heart. As an adult, his work uniform is red and his coworker Airi has a red ribbon on her school uniform. His mother is wearing a red shirt when she’s killed, as is Hinazuki.
This primes us subconsciously to be wary of danger when red clothing is on-screen. Its absence, meanwhile, signifies a false alarm. When Airi’s life is threatened at the end of episode 5, she conspicuously isn’t wearing any red, and as it turns out, she survives.
Red also appears in people’s eyes – most notably those of Hinazuki’s abusive mother and the killer – when they’re consumed by predatory instincts. That is, when they see and are about to exploit someone’s vulnerabilities.
These motifs help ERASED to tell its story more efficiently in broad strokes, but Itou’s true strength as a director is his eye for detail in shot composition and editing. Take the scene from episode 2 where Satoru first confronts Hinazuki.
When Satoru approaches her, they’re framed with a barren tree between them, representing the emotional barrier that Hinazuki has put up around herself. As Satoru catches her off guard Itou cuts away from the tree, and back to it when she raises her defenses. Eventually, when Satoru finally breaks through to her, they’re both shown inside the barrier.
Itou also has a knack for editing scenes in an evocative fashion. Earlier in episode 2, when Satoru’s friends are pushing him to approach Hinazuki, the show cuts on the action of him being pushed and jumps to him stumbling into place in front of her. This emphasizes the awkward abruptness of the encounter, as well as his lack of preparedness for it.
But for all of the detail he can pack into a shot, Itou knows the value of a simple, beautiful image – something he surely learned from working as an assistant director under Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Wolf Children). At the end of episode 3, Satoru and Hinazuki spend several moments basking in awe at the beauty of nature.
There is some meaning in the symbol of the tree as it relates to the one from episode 2 – if Hinazuki spends her nights in the park staring at the barren tree and contemplating the emptiness of her life, then the beauty of this similar, sparkling tree shows that she’s finding value in it thanks to Satoru. But that’s implicit in the subject matter itself, not the framing, which leaves Itou free to present the most breathtaking image he can conjure.
As a director, Tomohiko Itou knows how to make you think and how to make you feel. And he knows when to use each skill for maximum effect. His efforts elevate ERASED from an adaptation of a great manga to a great TV show in its own right.