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28 June 2015 @ 09:59 pm
I'm not sure I've talked about it here--I know I've talked about it before in the book reviews I do--but one of the things that most annoys me about coverage of Japanese culture is the almost worshippful attention paid to the concepts of wabi sabi and mono no aware. Sure, let's talk about the value of wabi sabi while Japanese construction companies seeking fat government contracts cover every mountain, riverbed, and beach they can with concrete, and let's talk about mono no aware in a world of Twitter and Line and Mixi. I've gone on plenty of rants about it before and I won't do so now, but this post was prompted by softlykarou and I watching 秒速5センチメーター/5 Centimeters Per Second, which is one of the best examples of mono no aware I've seen in a long time.

I'm not going to recap the plot, since the Wikipedia article does a pretty good job of it. Takaki spends most of the movie fixated on a single event in his past and unable to see what's in front of him, and as a result, he lets life mostly just pass him by while he doesn't really engage with it. He has no close friends, he misses out on romance, all because he's stuck at a single moment without being able to move forward.

Mono no aware is the idea that some things are valuable because they're transitory. Cherry blossoms are so lovely because they bloom and fall in the space of weeks, and the same with our life experiences. Takaki and Akari's relationship was no less valuable for ending as it did, with letters slowly growing less and less frequent until they died out altogether, but Takaki's mistake was dwelling on it to the exclusion of the rest of his life. He always worried about being someone that Akari would be proud of, but he didn't realize that it was holding him back from living. If you're always gazing at the horizon, you'll probably trip and fall.

It's kind of easy to look at this and draw "lol kids" from it, and G-d knows that I've been prone to that myself, but I think the intensity that children and teenagers feel emotions is worth recognizing. I remember those adolescent relationships, where every motion and moment of silence was pregnant with meaning, and every word was written on the sky in fire. We told each other that we'd be together forever, but of course we weren't. Most people aren't. As I wrote in my review of the manga:
We get older, and our hearts fade, just a little, and we call it growing up.
There's something valuable in that kind of fire that's worth recognizing, because even if misguided or silly or outright destructive, those emotions exist and have to be dealt with as any other emotions do. But in the end, eternity isn't attainable for humans and only sorrow comes from not realizing that[1].

(Brief note: If you want a fantasy version of that same concept, read Nightfall in the Scent Garden. It's really good.)

I think that's why I loved 5 Centimeters Per Second so much, because so often media is devoted to the idea of happily ever after or everything turning out for the best, or, if not that, then the polar opposite of tragedy that still allows for happy memories. But life isn't like that. So many things don't end, they just slowly taper off over time. We all have people we've fallen out of contact with, and sometimes we wonder how they're doing, but life gets in the way. It's not neat, and it's not a story for the ages, but it's, well, life. That's just how it is. This movie is one of the only ones I've seen that takes that as its plot rather than one of the tidy endings that's more mainstream, and you might say that I haven't watched many movies and you'd be right, but it's no less good because of that. It's messy, and distasteful, and cringeworthy because you recognize part of yourself in it. Sometimes there is no ending, and there's a part of yourself that's always stuck in a moment, waiting, and all you can do is keep walking and hope it catches up to you.

I really feel like I'm not expressing this very well, but I can't find the words to say what I mean properly, so I'll leave it at that.

[1]: There's probably an entire separate post I could do to tie this in to Utena's desire to find "something eternal," but I haven't seen Shoujo Kakumei Utena recently enough to do so.
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: Sum 41 - With Me
q99q99 on June 29th, 2015 03:25 am (UTC)
Good post :) I never knew the Japanese phrase for that before.
dorchadas: Cherry Blossomsdorchadas on June 29th, 2015 03:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I didn't have space for it in the post, but there's a yojijukugo I really like that captures some of the same feeling: 一期一会 (ichi go, ichi e). I liked it enough that I used it as a tag, but the translation over there is mine. Literally, it translates as "one time, one meeting."
q99q99 on June 29th, 2015 05:54 pm (UTC)
I read a manga yesterday (Non Non Biyori) where one character thought they had a fantastic 'one time, one meeting' day, when really it was just her friend in a different hairstyle and outfit so she didn't recognize her ^^
dorchadas: Cherry Blossomsdorchadas on June 29th, 2015 07:45 pm (UTC)
 photo emot-fuckyou.gif

I guess that still applies, since it's circumstances that are unlikely to be repeated...
q99q99 on June 29th, 2015 10:03 pm (UTC)
And the character still didn't realize, she thought it was a mysterious girl who appeared, went with her, then left.