Synopsis by Mark Deming
The give and take between the members of a string quartet becomes a metaphor for human relationships in this drama. First violinist Akio (Yoshihiko Hakamada), second violinist Tomoko (Sachiko Sakurai), violist Daisuke (Nao Ohmuri), and cellist Ai (Kaoru Kukita) comprised a student string quartet while the four were studying music in college; they stopped playing together after a disastrous student recital, and have had little contact with one another until they all arrived for an open audition for an orchestra. All four have gone on to rather unrewarding careers in music, and when they get word of an important music competition for small ensembles, they decide to reunite and take a stab at the prize. Looking for a impressive performance piece for the competition, Akio offers an original piece simply called "Quartet," not telling his partners the composition was actually written by his father. Akio quickly assumes leadership of the group, and as the other three chafe under his authority, the individual weaknesses of the four musicians become clear as they set out on a short tour to raise money and get into shape. After the tour, the quartet discovers their temporary manager has stolen all their money, and with their private lives in a shambles, they have no choice but to focus on salvaging their musical relationship in order to win the much-needed prize money. Karutetto was directed and co-written by Joe Hisaishi; it was the first feature for Hisaishi, who has a strong background in music as a leading Japanese film composer.