Touch 4: Miss Lonely Yesterday

It takes a certain kind of bravery (or stupidity) to create a sequel that ignores the central concept that made its predecessors famous. Some series have tried to move through different genres with various degrees of success -- the Alien films went from horror to action to prison drama to art flick. Whether you liked each one depended on how much you got behind the new film's conceit. I can see where fans of Touch might feel betrayed by the fourth film in the series, Miss Lonely Yesterday. While baseball is along the fringes of the movie, it never takes center stage. That's a huge change, especially since the other films really didn't shine until Tatsuya headed to the mound. But in my opinion, that's exactly why Miss Lonely Yesterday is fantastic. All the concepts I wanted to see explored in the original trilogy of films are finally given their due. While some minor issues keep it from being perfect, it is my favorite picture in the Touch canon so far.

A few years have passed since Tatsuya took the Meisei team to the Koshien, the national baseball championships. He's headed off to college, but he's quit playing baseball, becoming content to once again be the layabout he was when his brother was the champ on the mound. His best friend Minami has returned to the gymnastics floor, and she's made quite a name for herself. While they truly care for one another, time and distance work their slow dark magic on their relationship. Tatsuya finds himself sideswiped into dating a young woman named Mizuno at his university. Meanwhile, despite her best intentions, Minami finds herself swept into the arms of Tatsuya's baseball rival Nitta. As the rest of the Touch gang struggles to make their way into adulthood on and off the baseball diamond, Tatsuya and Minami must determine what's most important in their lives...and if that includes one another.

For a number of reasons, it's important to note that Miss Lonely Yesterday followed 13 years after the finale of the TV series and the third theatrical release. The first change noticable is the artwork. The character designs have always been unique, and those remain much the same, thankfully. However, new characters look like they are out of a late '90s era anime. The mesh is OK, though not perfect. While the animation itself is better than what could be afforded before, this was (to my knowledge) a TV special, and you can tell they had time and monetary restrictions. A few shots should have been corrected and weren't, sadly. However, it doesn't look bad.

Another major reason to note the delay is the nostalgia factor. Viewers were seeing this through the lens of their childhood, not on an immediate knowledge of the hundred-or-so episodes of the television series. The average person watching this film had seen the show around the age of 10 and was now 23 -- almost the same age as the characters. I've seen only a couple of reviews of Miss Lonely Yesterday on the web, all dismissive, but I think they've missed the point of the series. Admittedly, I've watched the movies, not the TV program, and so my investment is different. I get that.

But Touch, ultimately, is not about baseball. If it is, then it's just one of many shonen titles with a sports theme. Touch was about relationships, specifically between Tatsuya and Minami and (as much as possible with a dead character) Tatsuya's brother, but also with the whole cast. The films never concentrated on finding the perfect pitch or the secret formula to sports success as so many in the genre have, and I assume the same was true of the TV show. And this film is all about the distance that grows between two people as they reach adulthood.

Miss Lonely Yesterday could be accused of using some well-worn formulas. Yes, there are a couple of times when old tropes appear. When Minami first sees Mizuno kiss Tatsuya -- by accident, of course, as she was returning his wallet and wasn't supposed to be there -- I thought we were going to trod down that ancient path of "contrived conflict based on simple misunderstandings." But here's where Touch changes the game: Minami takes it in stride. She doesn't rush in and yell and scream and cry. She thinks the best of Tatsuya, not the worst. That sort of thing was what I mentioned in my review of the first Touch film. There, I said, "The characters are far more authentic than what we get in most anime, ambiguous and dynamic and prone to change." That's still true, and it's on display in a way that the second and third movies didn't capture as well.

When we get into the romantic rivalries, it becomes impossible to hate the new love interests. They aren't evil. While Mizuno is annoying at first, we learn more about her that explains her attitude. At the same time, you wish that Tatsuya would man up and Minami would stop thinking that dancing around while throwing bowling pins in the air is a genuine sport. (I don't care what the Olympic committee says.) And eventually, in some way or another, they do make the leap to maturity...and it's at that point that we're left with the lead-in to the final film, Cross Road.

I really enjoyed the way Miss Lonely Yesterday cross-referenced its previous material. There are sequences that directly reflect back on the second film in particular, and it's intentional. In many ways, I was reminded of Rocky Balboa, which gave a final sendoff to that sports icon. Everything's the same, yet everything's different. The events of life are cyclical, but the emotions each time through the cycle change. While there are repetitions in a sense, they are weightier this time around. And I felt deeply invested. This is not the easiest picture to watch because the emotions, so long repressed, are front and center. It's painful to watch these characters you've grown affections for to go through the heartache they feel from sorting out the pieces of their lives. I've enjoyed the other movies, but this one, I felt.

I'll simply admit it...since the very first film, this is where I wanted to see the series go. I wanted to get some resolution to the romantic storyline between our leads. This does that. If you come to this movie wanting to see a nail-biter of a baseball game like in the third movie, you will be sorely disappointed. That's not the kind of tension here. Instead, the core of this film is about visiting with some old friends...and being on the edge of your seat to see if they will ever get together or not. Believe it or not, that can be a nail-biter too.

Touch 4: Miss Lonely Yesterday -- brief nudity, mild profanity -- A