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Posted on: April 15, 2012 7:16 pm by small image

Our journey through Blue Literature continues, and this time we have two stories to discuss! “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom” and “Kokoro.” These stories were quite different from our first one, “No Longer Human,” but I found them quite fascinating in their own ways.

In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom

Got to say, it was really weird watching this story after No Longer Human. That was quite the contrast in style and tone! Under Cherries in Full Bloom is a short story by Ango Sakaguchi, written in 1947. The name Ango may sound familiar, since the recent anime Un-Go was (loosely) based on some of his mysteries. Sakaguchi wrote a variety of stories, and in the case of Under Cherries, he more or less wrote a fable. This tale is quite interesting, and can be read pretty quickly here online (at only 20 pages), translated into English. It’s an odd little story, which I suppose lends itself well to the loopy adaptation it was given here in Aoi Bungaku.

So what was up with these two episodes? One second we’ve got really goofy anime spoofs and anachronisms, and the next second we’ve got brutal, deadly serious murders (uncomfortably trivialized through gleeful song and dance). What is the point of this story? To me, the whole point of a fable is to give some kind of message to the reader (or viewer, in this case). The team behind episodes 5 and 6 certainly seemed to enjoy experimenting with their story source, and though I didn’t particularly like the way they went about it, I still found a lot of interesting things to at least ponder about.

What is Real?

For example, what are we supposed to believe is actually going on in this story? We’re in a much earlier era in Japanese history this time (at least before the Edo period [1603], according to the original text). The protagonist, a mountain man bandit named Shigemaru, lives by stealing from others (but is “nice” enough to not kill them). He’s got lots of wives, who seem content as long as Shigemaru continues to provide for them. The only thing that seems upsetting to him are the sakura trees, which can drive him to madness if he were to get lost in a forest of them. A major theme of the story seems to be that what looks wonderful to one person can actually be terrifying to another–or in this case, the thing he’s felt he’s wanted most in his life turns out to be what utterly destroys his life. A variation of be careful what you wish for? Be content with what you have in your life? Or simply be willing to anticipate negative consequences of positive events? It’s somewhat difficult to tell what is really happening in this story, since we have a pretty unreliable narrator (who may or may not be completely insane).

The Need for an Equal

Shigemaru likely viewed his wives as little more than property, so in essence he had nobody to interact with in the desolate mountains–save those he stole from. With this in mind, his understanding of human relationships is quite rough indeed. So is it too difficult to believe he was willing to do everything his beloved Akiko asked of him? Killing his wives, moving to the city, and then killing random civilians in order to provide her heads to play with… It seems interesting that his biggest frustration was not with all the murders–but with having to live in the city, and with the monotony of his repetitious, meaningless killing sprees, which never seemed to truly please Akiko.

So what was it that he loved so much about her? Of course, he was entranced by her beauty (which brings up the point of what actually constitutes beauty), but it seems to me that he needed an equal in his life. Before meeting Akiko, everything in Shigemaru’s expansive world of nature was his, his wives obeyed him, and no man or beast could stop him from doing whatever he wanted. But now suddenly there was someone in his life who wasn’t afraid to order him around 24/7. Her desires became his desires, for all he wanted now was to constantly please her–even if he had to go against his own wishes in the process.

In essence, they were one and the same in purpose, and the two complemented each other with their base masculine and feminine characteristics (Shigemaru with his brute strength and “brash manliness”, and Akiko with her deceptive beauty and “womanly wiles”). I’m not sure how much can be analyzed in this regard, but I do wonder if there are comparisons meant to be made between these brutal times hundreds of years ago to the modern era (due to the random inclusion of elements such as glasses, bubble gum, an mp3 player, cell phones, etc). Does society today in general hold preconceptions of women and men, intending them to have (to some degree) qualities similar to those of the lead characters of this story?

Lonely Alone, Lonely in a Crowd

In the end, it’s perhaps questionable if Akiko was ever actually real, since Shigemaru’s act of killing her actually killed himself. Was she a real woman? A demon? Or just a figment of Shigemaru’s imagination, gone mad from years of isolation and indecent living?

The theme of the story seems to largely have to do with loneliness, and how aspects of our lives can be both wonderful and terrible at the same time. Shigemaru felt content with his life alone in the mountains, but was there anything actually good about it? Similarly, Akiko always yearned for the more exciting life in the city, but that was clearly a pretty awful way to live. I suppose this all comes down to perspective, and what people choose to focus on in their lives. I’m not entirely certain what to make of the downer ending, but it seems to me that the author is showing how even as we strive to create relationships with others, in the end every individual is technically a single person–making everyone alone. Again, not sure what to make of that, or if that’s even close to what the author (or director) was going for… but those are my impressions at the moment.

Kokoro

The famous novel Kokoro was written by Natsume Soseki in 1914, and as Masato Sakai (who apparently voices the male lead in every story for this series) pointed out, Soseki was a troubled man who first wrote lighter books before delving into darker themes and plots. These two episodes for Kokoro were interesting to me because of just how human the characters are, and how there was nothing exceedingly good or bad about any of them. So how did the story end in such tragedy?

The title for the story means heart, but carries a connotation that can refer to one’s deepest feelings, or “the heart of things.” What is it that people seek in life? People go about their lives, and we can perceive bits and pieces of who they are from their actions… but it’s difficult to know how people are truly feeling deep down. One person can like or dislike another person–but isn’t it usually more complex than that? Generally, I think we like and dislike certain aspects of people. In Kokoro, the central relationship is the friendship between Sensei and K, but we also have Ojousan and the widow playing very important roles–which makes six relationships. Each character only plays a role in three of them, but every relationship is affected by each character’s actions. Which are, of course, triggered by each individual’s thoughts and feelings.

The Sliding Scale of Friendship and Love

I think it’s worth looking into these relationships a bit, to analyze just how each character felt in regards to one another. Did Sensei love Ojousan? Did K love Ojousan? Did Ojousan love Sensei? Did Ojousan love K? It’s well-established that these characters are all good-natured people, though the differing viewpoints for episode 7 and 8 cast a different light on K and Sensei, respectively (but more on that later).

In episode 7, it seemed to me that Sensei regarded Ojousan as a dear friend, but there seemed to be very little hinting at him feeling romantic attraction toward her. Instead, he seemed more focused on his studies, and his hope to make a better life for his troubled friend. So what spurred him to ask the widow for Ojousan’s hand in marriage? Did the widow (or even Ojousan herself) more or less orchestrate a romance of some degree between Ojousan and K, in order to spark Sensei’s jealousy–thus getting him to take the necessary step to finally advance Sensei and Ojousan’s relationship? At the very least, it seems clear the widow did not want the disconcerting K to marry her precious Ojousan, and had a much more positive impression of the amiable Sensei. And by merely announcing the marriage, K felt the need to kill himself (though the reasoning seems to depend on which episode you’re looking at). It’s clear in the end of both episodes though that Sensei and Ojousan were not happy on the day of their marriage. So I suppose the question is, would they have ever gotten together if K hadn’t moved in? Or could things have eventually worked out at a more natural pace for the two?

In episode 8, it’s shown that Ojousan is indeed in love with K–or at least infatuated with him. It’s impossible to be too certain how she felt about K. Perhaps she simply found him intriguing, and wanted to explore a more interesting relationship than she had ever been able to approach before with Sensei. Or perhaps she simply pitied the disheveled man, and only wanted to help him rekindle those feelings he had bottled away in his many years of emotionally-debilitating training. Whatever the case may be, she did not go through with her promise to elope with him. It’s unclear why she didn’t run away like she said she wanted to–one possibility is that her mother interfered and forced her to go through with marrying Sensei. (It’s certainly hinted that the widow was aware of what was going on.) Another possibility is that Ojousan simply realized she was letting her emotions get the best of her, and Sensei was indeed the more rational option.

Conflicts in Point of View

Based on a synopsis of Kokoro that I’ve read, it appears that episode 7 followed a simplified version of the plot (and only one section of it, at that). The whole book is told from Sensei’s point of view, so episode 8 is a brand new take on the story, more or less. Personally, I found this a clever and imaginative way of adapting literature into another medium. The events of the story in general are kept the same, but we get to see things from K’s perspective. While in episode 7 K is portrayed as a more menacing, mysterious figure (befitting his enormous size, surely harboring massive strength), episode 8 delves into K’s sympathetic traits: namely his struggle to come to terms with his conflicting thoughts and feelings. Does Ojousan really love him? And if so, what is he supposed to do? And these feelings he has himself… Is it love? What is he supposed to do?

Likewise, our perception of Sensei changes from one episode to the next. In episode 7 we pity his struggle to help K, though we wonder if his philanthropy was a grave mistake. But in episode 8, his ego is focused on more, and he is largely a stumbling-block between K and Ojousan’s developing romance. The characters’ actions are based on the way they perceive the events taking place around them. More so, individual scenes take on new meaning, and even lines of dialogue can hold more weight from one episode to the next. When K apologizes to Sensei in the rain (in the narrow lane before the long stairway), is it being said arrogantly or genuinely? To Sensei, it may mean that K intends to take Ojousan, and there’s just nothing Sensei can do to stop him at this point. But to K, it may mean that K is truly apologetic for being captured by his and Ojousan’s emotions.

Good Intentions, Yet an Unhappy Ending

K’s suicide can be analyzed in different ways, depending on which episode you focus on more. In episode 7, K may have killed himself in revenge, to ensure Sensei could never be happy with his marriage to Ojousan (since Sensei would feel responsible for driving K to suicide). But in episode 8, K may have killed himself in order to step aside and allow the marriage to go through without any further interference on his part. Indeed, it seems that at first he fully intended to kill Sensei–but when he stepped on the heat pack and saw the picture of the sunflowers, he found himself content with simply having had the chance to be cared for by Ojousan. With Ojousan in his life, summer was beautiful and winter was warm–and to him, that was more than he could have ever hoped for.

How much of our lives should be influenced by our thoughts, and how much by our emotions? This is the biggest question I’m left with at the end of Kokoro. How much priority do we give to our needs? To our wants? To the needs and wants of others? Can we really understand what it is others want or need? Can we really be certain what we ourselves want or need?

If you watched these four episodes of Aoi Bungaku, please leave any comments you wish here! I thought they were interesting to watch, and the animation is still top-notch. And I particularly enjoyed the music used in Kokoro–the piano music was quite beautiful. I look forward to discussing more on these two stories with everyone. And remember, next Sunday (the 22nd) will be our final discussion for the series (ep 9-12).