Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Distant Starlight

"We are far, far, very, very far apart... but it might be that thoughts can overcome time and distance."


This post combines two things I have a great affinity for: the music of Muse and the films of Makoto Shinkai.

In 2002, Makoto Shinkai, a CG animator, created an OAV (or OVA, which stands for Original Video Animation) single-handedly on his Apple computer; his only help came from some friends who composed and recorded the music and from his fiancee, who recorded a voice part. It didn't take long for this independent work to become extremely popular, prompting a new dub by professional voice actors, as well as (later on) an English dub. This OAV won many awards and captured the hearts of countless fans around the world who were drawn to this touching story of love separated by distance and time. This OAV was 「ほしのこえ」 (Hoshi no Koe), or, in English, Voices of a Distant Star.  

In 2006, popular U.K. rock band Muse released their fourth studio album, entitled Black Holes and Revelations. Their second single from this album, released on September 4, 2006, was entitled "Starlight," and it also deals with the theme of love separated by distance.



I think these two works of media, Voices of a Distant Star and "Starlight," make a perfect pair in showcasing their shared theme, even if that pairing was not intended originally.

"Starlight" almost seems like the feelings of the characters of Voices of a Distant Star put into song form...well, one version of song form (since the film's ending song could be described the same way). The film begins with two friends: Terao Noboru and Nagamine Mikako. The two friends are basically inseparable...until Mikako informs Noboru that she is heading into space. She's joining the military on an expeditionary/defensive mission against the Tarsians, an alien race.


As her journey begins, Mikako and Noboru exchange text messages frequently, but the farther the fleet flies away from Earth, the longer each message takes. Soon it takes a year for a single message to travel one way (a year in Earth time, that is), and after a hasty jump through space due to an attack, the one-way time is over 8 years.

"Far away / This ship is taking me far away / Far away from the memories / Of the people who care if I live or die."

Noboru feels the temporal separation more than Mikako does. Due to the advanced technology, Mikako is making jumps through time while remaining the same age, but time on Earth stops for no one. Noboru is getting older; at one time, Mikako sends him a message saying hello from her 15-year-old self to his 23-year-old self (I may have the ages slightly off). This time difference does not make Noboru forget about her, though; early on he admits, "I will become someone who only waits for Mikako's mail."


"Starlight / I will be chasing your starlight / Until the end of my life."

As Mikako gets into space battles with the Tarsians and Noboru goes through his schooling and continues to age, their desire for each other continues. Noboru claims he will make himself cold and closed off so that the longing for her will not tear him apart, but his desires stay strong, as evidenced whenever he receives a message from her. Mikako, too, still longs for him.

"Hold you in my arms / I just wanted to hold you in my arms."

The film ends with Noboru in his mid-twenties on Earth and Mikako in a damaged space suit after a battle lightyears away. Though the chances of their ever seeing each other again seems slim (unless Noboru joins the space force, which he intends to do), their love for each other doesn't dim.

"My life / You electrify my life."


And even with all their separation, they remain committed to each other. No matter what happens, their love for each other is permanent and lasting.

"I'll never let you go / If you promise not to fade away, never fade away."

The film's final scene is a shared monologue between Noboru and Mikako that my words cannot do justice: it's portrayed beautifully.



I hope you've enjoyed this post; I certainly enjoyed writing it. I'd highly recommend watching Voices of a Distant Star and Makoto Shinkai's later work 5 Centimeters Per Second (which is probably my favorite anime film I've seen so far). I'd also recommend listening to Muse: they are an amazing band. Anyway, I hope these reflections have struck a chord for you; this movie and this song always do so for me.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Thanks for reading. God Bless, and peace.


Nota Bene: Thanks to Anime News Network, Wikipedia, and IMDb for background information for this post. Thanks also to the random YouTube accounts hosting these videos: I am most grateful for their availability. All images are screenshots taken by me from the DVD.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

古河早苗 (Furukawa Sanae)

“The happiness between you two is our dream. So please seize your happiness.”


Furukawa Sanae is a pretty major member of Clannad’s cast, appearing frequently throughout the show; she is the wife of Furukawa Akio and the mother of Furukawa Nagisa. Her backstory is explained in Episode 21 of Clannad. Like her husband, she appears throughout the series, from the first episode to the last.

Personality

Sanae is a very caring, energetic, youthful, often overdramatic mother. Like her husband, she helps provide a good amount of the show’s comedy, with the absolute atrociousness of her pastries (which can at times be so bad as to fell an entire gang). Whenever someone insults her pastries (which is often), she runs out of the bakery crying, and her husband has to follow her, with her pastries stuffed in his mouth, yelling “I love them!” Besides the pastry-based comedy, there are other moments of her overdramatic nature as well; there’s also comedy in the fact that her looks are so youthful that many suspect her of being Nagisa’s sister. But when she’s not involved in comedy, she is incredibly caring, offering her home to whoever needs to stay there and providing support as best she can to anyone; she’s also very good with kids, sometimes running an after school program in her home. She’s also a very strong woman when it comes to true emotions, not overdramatic comedic ones; there’s only one instance (that I can recall) of her truly crying. Overall, then, Sanae is overdramatic and youthful, but caring as well; at least the first two aspects of this can be seen in her first scene:



Story

Like her husband, we first see her in the first episode, when Tomoya visits Nagisa’s house (also a bakery named “Furukawa Pan”: in English, “Furukawa Bread”). Not knowing the “unwritten rule” of not insulting her pastries, Tomoya makes her run out of the store crying. The ensuing dinner scene shows her energetic youthfulness (which at times almost looks like naïveté) and the comedy it can create.

Throughout the first season, then, she is usually a comic character, although she also opens her homes to others. She is the teacher for Fuko’s fake class, and there’s a heart-breaking moment involving her during the time that everyone is forgetting Fuko; she’s been staying at the Furukawas, and one day Sanae is talking with Tomoya and Nagisa, also saying hello to Fuko, but she breaks down. She admits that she went to visit Fuko in the hospital, and now she can’t see her spirit anymore. (The scene is more heart-breaking than how I described it.) Like with Akio, she’s at most major events throughout the season, like the wedding and the festival.



Mei stays at her home, as does Tomoya near the end of the season. When Tomoya’s there, he returns from school one day to find his room covered in children (some of whom begin to attack him). Sanae explains that it’s an after school program she helps run in her home. When Akio is explaining Nagisa’s past to Tomoya, we learn why Sanae has been doing so many teacher-related activities: she used to be a school teacher until the day when Nagisa collapsed in the snow and almost died, due to her parents’ leaving her alone. After that day, she left her teaching job and became a baker (with no skills; she might even have anti-skills), but she still helps out with teaching sometimes, as if evidenced by the series. She provides support for Akio’s inspirational speech at the festival.

During the second season, she has more importance. For one, she plays a part in Sunohara’s arc. Sunohara decides to find a fake girlfriend to impress Mei, and eventually he ends up having a disguised Sanae be his fake girlfriend. Sanae rebukes him for not helping out some lost children being bullied on a playground, and this instigates the conflict between Mei and her brother in the arc. This only works because Sunohara thinks Sanae is Nagisa’s sister, so he asks for her hand in marriage from Akio, leading to an obvious conflict.

Besides this part, Sanae is a comedy character for a while, but after Nagisa and Tomoya’s marriage, she becomes key. She’s the one that actually breaks the news of Nagisa’s pregnancy, and she introduces the Okazakis to Yagi, a midwife. She suggests the idea that, with Nagisa’s rapidly progressing illness during her pregnancy, an abortion might be an option to consider. Nagisa whole-heartedly rejects this idea.



After Nagisa dies and Ushio is born, Sanae helps take care of the little girl, and she’s the one that gets in contact with Tomoya about going on a trip with them all. Through some craftiness, she gets Tomoya to go on a trip alone with Ushio, and she also gets Shino to meet them on the trip. After this, she is, like Akio, a common sight, though no one extra is living at her house anymore.

During this time period is a very impacting scene. Tomoya is sleeping (I believe at the Furukawas’ house), and Akio and Sanae are talking outside on the porch. Tomoya wakes up and listens in on a little of their conversation. After a little talk, Sanae begins to cry. The talk reveals that, due to taking care of Ushio, Sanae has never really gotten a chance to grieve over her daughter’s death. Since Tomoya is taking Ushio back to his home, now, Sanae finally has that chance to mourn and heal. So she sits out on the porch crying, with Akio supporting her.



Following all this, she does her best to help Ushio during her illness, but it’s ineffective (since it’s most likely the same incurable, mysterious disease Nagisa had). Once the mysterious events of the final episode are over, she’s seen during the montage as she often is: running out of the bakery crying, with Akio sprinting after her to support her.

Effects on Main Plot

One of Sanae’s biggest effects on the plot is just being at her house; her house is a common scene of action in the series, being the home of not only Nagisa, Akio, and herself, but at times the temporary home of Fuko, Mei, and Tomoya. Her caring nature helps her provide for many characters, not just her daughter. She acts as Sunohara’s fake girlfriend and prompts the conflict in his arc. Besides her constant care in many smaller acts, she is included in some very big acts in After Story. She introduces Tomoya and Nagisa to Yagi, the midwife, and she advocates them discussing with their doctor whether to have an abortion or not, due to Nagisa’s condition. After Nagisa’s death, she helps take care of Ushio, and she sets up what may be the most emotionally powerful episodes in the series: Ushio and Tomoya’s reunion trip. Not only does she somewhat trick them into going on the trip, but she gets in contact with Shino and has her there waiting for them. Without her, then, Tomoya and Ushio may have never reunited; thus she is essential to the plot, truly essential. Without her, the show may have just ended hopelessly, with Tomoya and Ushio having a separated relationship for the rest of their lives. I think Sanae is what lets Clannad have a happy ending.

Themes



Like every single other character, there’s family. Sanae deeply cares for her daughter and does her best to help her, and she does the same for her granddaughter. She understands the importance of family, which is why she sets up the trip for Tomoya and Ushio, and she gets Tomoya reunited with Shino as well. Without her doing, Tomoya would have been separated from his family, possibly for the rest of his life. Without her, much of the show’s emphasis may have become useless in the light of the ending (that is, if Tomoya never reunited with Ushio, Shino, and Naoyuki).

With Sanae, we see some of the other themes of the show, but not as much I think. She has much more of a minor role, compared to her husband, in terms of the themes.

Reflection

Sanae’s an interesting character. Of course, she’s humorous, and she has some dramatic moments, but overall I find her much more minor than her husband. That’s not to say she’s not important; as I mentioned before, I don’t know what the last few episodes of the series would be like without her. For most of the series, though, she feels like much more of a background character, at least to me. I do recognize that she’s necessary, though.

The real thing that bothers me a bit about her is her suggestion of Nagisa’s having an abortion. I understand where she’s trying coming from, with the fact that Nagisa is ill, and she wants her daughter to live. The thing is, you have to put yourself into Nagisa’s shoes as well: wouldn’t she give up anything for her child, even her own life? Sanae shows that she sacrifices for her family, so why wouldn’t Nagisa sacrifice for hers as well? I understand that Sanae is trying to be caring and protect her daughter, but killing her granddaughter is not the way to do that. Thankfully, though, Sanae accepts the fact that Nagisa won’t have an abortion, and she supports her in her pregnancy. That’s definitely a redeeming factor of that part of the story.

I don’t really have to much more to say about Sanae. She’s a humorous character with some dramatic moments, and she orchestrates one of the greatest moments in the series, so I have to give her kudos for that. Besides that, I think I’m out of things to say about her. Thus ends my post.


Thanks for reading. God Bless, and peace.

Nota Bene: All clips are from the Clannad Central YouTube channel run by the Clannad (クラナド/Kuranado) fan page on Facebook. All character themes and other music from the show can also be found on said fan page, in the music player. My gratitude to them and all the work they do.

古河秋生 (Furukawa Akio)

"We didn't give up on our dreams! We changed our dreams into your dream! That’s what parents do! That’s what family does!”


Furukawa Akio is a main feature of the cast of Clannad (though, by my previously-stated definition, he’d still be a minor character); he is the wife of Furukawa Sanae and the father of Furukawa Nagisa. His backstory is for the most explained in Episode 21 of Clannad and Episode 15 of After Story. He appears throughout the entire series, though, from the first episode to the last.

Personality


Akio is a boisterous, somewhat flamboyant, loud-mouthed, yet caring, father. Comedy is a key part of his makeup, and he enjoys everything from practical jokes to puns and witty comments. His jokes aren’t quiet affairs, either: his excessive volume is part of what makes his comedy so effective. His relationship with his wife is characterized by a recurring joke of her pastries being the most abominable creations on earth and his having to reassure her of their (and thus her) value. His relationship with his daughter is characterized by often strange comments (which have a habit of sometimes becoming a tad perverted…definitely a character flaw on Akio’s part). By the end of the first season, and developing even more so in the second season, his relationship with Tomoya is dynamic, characterized by a loud interplay of extreme reactions and witty statements. Amidst all this boisterous joviality (which also includes frequent baseball playing), though, Akio is also a caring father. He does his best to provide for both his daughter and his wife, working long hours in the bakery and making sure everyone knows not to mess with them. In the end, nothing is more important to him than his daughter: he gladly gives up his long-sought career in order to better be there for her, and he is incredibly tight-fisted about letting her be married (her potential husband definitely has to prove his worth first). All in all, Akio, even though he leans heavily to the comic side of things, has a mix of both humor and deep caring in his personality. His first scene shows the heavy emphasis on humor, with a bit of the caring hidden in there as well:



Story

We first meet Akio when Tomoya decides to randomly stop by Nagisa’s house (which is also a bakery run by her parents) during the first episode. After insulting Sanae’s pastries, Tomoya is accosted by an angry Akio surrounded by flames, who is about to deal a painful blow to him before realizing he’s a friend of Nagisa’s. The first dinner Tomoya has with Nagisa and her parents shows well Akio’s personality: he makes countless jokes, and also throws in some statements about how Tomoya must be adamant in claiming the woman he loves (while Akio dismisses the possibility of Tomoya ever marrying Nagisa). Many of Akio’s scenes are similar to this.

Throughout Fuko’s arc, Akio is somewhat present, especially after Fuko begins to stay at the Furukawas’ house. He helps carve starfish (which leads to some physical injury on his part), and even after forgetting Fuko, he attends Kouko’s wedding. Throughout the series, Tomoya frequently visits the Furukawas’ house, leading to encounters with Akio. The dad is also present at Kotomi’s violin recital, where he mourns the “death” of Sanae due to the terrible sounds being passed off as music. Besides all the humor, though, Akio doesn’t really begin to play a major part until the latter part of the first season, when, after realizing yet again how much his father doesn’t seem to care about him, Tomoya takes up Nagisa’s offer to stay at his house. Living in the same house as Akio leads to more humorous scenes (of course), and it also leads to Akio’s truly dramatic moments in the first season.


Since Nagisa is devoted to making the drama club a success, her dad helps her out and supports her. One thing Nagisa wants for her play is an old story she remembers from when she was little; she and Tomoya start looking through a storage shack for the play, and Akio gets worried about it. He jokes that they’re looking for Nagisa’s potty chair, and when he decides to talk to Tomoya about what’s really bothering him, he uses “potty chair” as the code word.

The real thing that’s bothering Akio is his family’s backstory. When Nagisa was young, Akio was on his way to becoming a professional actor, and Sanae was a school teacher. With both of them working, Nagisa was often left at home alone. One day, in the winter, Nagisa was excited for her parents to return home, she decided to wait outside for them to arrive. Unfortunately, that was a day of heavy snow and very low temperatures. When Akio got home, Nagisa was collapsed in the snow. He and Sanae waited by her bedside, just praying she’d wake up from her unconsciousness. Thankfully, she did, and at the same time Akio and Sanae realized that she was so much more important than their careers, so they left their jobs and started a bakery so that they could be there for her.



Nagisa has low self-confidence, and she can often blame things on herself when they aren’t her fault. Akio’s afraid she’ll do that if she finds out that her parents changed careers for her sake; even more, Akio left his theater career, and theater is what Nagisa is focused on. After explaining all this, Akio asks Tomoya to stop looking through the shack (where there are journals and pictures and things from that time of their lives) and to watch out for Nagisa. Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, the night before the drama performance, Nagisa stumbles across the pictures and such, and she goes into a self-blaming mood. She becomes obsessed with her parents’ former careers, even going to the point of watching old videos of Akio’s acting that are in the school library.

All this means Nagisa is a mental wreck at the festival, and she just starts crying onstage. When it looks like all her dreams are shattered, Akio bursts in and shouts amazing words of inspiration, pushing Nagisa to seize this opportunity and act.



Following Akio’s dramatic moment, he’s still around, what with Tomoya living at his house. He helps put together a neighborhood baseball team with almost all the characters in the show. He gives Tomoya a job at the bakery after graduation. He supports Tomoya when he goes out to live on his own (even though he uses caustic language, like normal). There’s one instance when he’s not as supportive: when Tomoya asks for Nagisa’s hand in marriage.

Tomoya first asks Akio if he can ask him an important question. Akio says he can…if he can hit one of Akio’s pitches. Tomoya trains an ungodly amount of time and fails time and time and time again, until the pitch Akio says will be the last, when he hits it out of the park, falls on his knees, and asks for Nagisa’s hand in marriage. Earlier, he got Akio to promise to say yes to whatever the question was, so of course Akio says yes, as long as Tomoya takes care of Nagisa. Following the marriage, then, Akio becomes Tomoya’s father-in-law, and they still have a dynamic relationship, which now includes frequent advice-giving on the part of the father-in-law.

Akio is constantly seen, since he’s now an official part of Tomoya’s family. That means there’s plenty more humor, but there’s also more drama. Akio reveals more of his backstory: when Nagisa seemed dead, in his desperation, he took her out to a field and wished (maybe more accurately, prayed) that she’d survive, and thankfully, she did. She woke up right there. Now that field is being developed and turned into a hospital, just another one of the changes in the town; at the same time, Nagisa is now pregnant, and she’s getting sick. These two things may be connected; at the least, Akio seems to imply it, saying how Nagisa has a connection with the town.



Soon, though, Nagisa’s condition takes a turn for the worse: she’s dying as she’s giving birth. There’s a heavy snow, and Akio tries to get a doctor, but it’s too late: Nagisa gives birth and then dies. Tomoya becomes a wreck, and Akio and Sanae take care of his new-born daughter, Ushio, for the first five years of her life. Thanks to Sanae’s working, though, Tomoya and Ushio are reunited and become a family. Akio (affectionately dubbed “Akki” by Ushio) sticks around, helping out as much as possible. There’s also a painfully touching scene involving him and Sanae, when she finally cries for the first time after Nagisa’s death.

His last real appearance is when a field day competition is approaching at Ushio’s school. Akio ends up being on a different team from Tomoya, and they start training up to play each other. Suddenly, though, Ushio becomes ill, most likely with the same mysterious disease Nagisa had, and the disease progresses rapidly, until she and Tomoya both collapse in the snow.

After the mysterious events that unfold thereafter, Akio is seen in the final montage in a common scene: chasing after a crying Sanae with her bread in his mouth yelling “I love them!”

Effects on Main Plot

Being Nagisa’s father, Akio is very influential to the plot. Obviously, he provides a place for Nagisa to stay, and at other times Fuko, Mei, and Tomoya as well. I don’t have a clue what Nagisa’s personality would be like without him as a father, so he’s key to her character. He provides the inspiration that allows Nagisa to finally fulfill her dream of performing a play with the drama club. He gives Tomoya his first job (along with letting him live at his house for a while), and he (eventually) gives Tomoya Nagisa’s hand in marriage. He also takes care of Ushio until Tomoya becomes a true father again.


I don’t think it’s possible to imagine the plot of Clannad playing out in anywhere close to the same way without Akio. Not only that, but he’s integral for forming Nagisa’s character, and I think Tomoya’s as well; at the very least, he helps with Tomoya’s character development as the show progresses.

Really, I could probably go into infinite ways Akio affects the show, but I think it’s just sufficient to say that Clannad could not exist in the same form without Akio present. He’s essential to the show (as are all the characters, of course).

Themes

Again, there’s family. Akio’s speech at Nagisa’s play reveals this blatantly: family is important. Also, family’s about sacrifice: Akio and Sanae give up their careers in order to support their daughter better. Family’s also not always a fun and happy thing. In allowing yourself to become so close to certain people, it hurts that much more when bad things happen to them. So in a way, family can amplify suffering, such as Akio experiences when Nagisa almost dies in the snow, and when she later does die during a snowstorm. But family can provide a way to get through suffering as well. Akio and Sanae take care of Nagisa’s daughter, and I think that helps them deal with Nagisa’s death; they found a goal, something worth living for, in their granddaughter. Overall, Akio is just an extremely family-centric character, whose words and deeds show forth the importance of family.

Besides that, he’s also involved in sacrifice, as mentioned above. Not only does he sacrifice his career to help Nagisa, but he sacrifices his taste buds to make his wife feel better. He also pounds this lesson into Tomoya, telling him again and again how difficult it is to be a father and how he’ll have to give up to make it happen.



He’s also got a bit of breaking out of conventions: at first, he seems like a purely comic relief character, but he ends up being involved in some of the most emotionally powerful scenes in the series (and his speech at Nagisa’s play is still one of my favorite speeches ever).

Reflection

I have to admit before I start reflecting: Akio is my absolute favorite character in Clannad. The fact that he can both be hilarious and touching is amazing. That’s actually one of the things I love about Clannad in general: it combines both comedy and drama into one astounding series, and I think Akio is a good one-character representation of that.

How do I reflect on my favorite character? First off, he’s just absolutely, 100% hilarious. Who doesn’t laugh when he first appears onscreen holding a baseball bat and surrounded by flames? His over-expressiveness and exaggerated actions add to his comedy (which has a bit of a slapstick feel at times), and one of the biggest aspects is his overly-violent reaction to many events. Who else would get mad at his son-in-law when he learns his daughter is pregnant? It’s Akio’s at times unrealistic (or maybe just impractical) reactions that make him endearing, I think. There’s so much more about his humor that I could mention, but I don’t feel like portraying myself as a fanboy too much.


Besides his hilarity, there’s his emotional side. Like I said before, his speech at Nagisa’s play is just astounding (I’d encourage you to scroll back up and watch it, if you didn’t before; or maybe re-watch it: it’s just that great!). It really showcases his character: even though he has all this comedy on the outside, on the inside he truly, deeply cares for his family, and he’ll do anything to help them, even give up his dream of being an actor. Even though it’s difficult, he even suppresses the memory of himself even being an actor, because he knows it’s better for Nagisa’s emotional well-being. Then he’s forceful and assertive when Tomoya wants to marry Nagisa: she’s his daughter, and he won’t let just anyone take her from him. Her husband has to prove his worth. I just love the thought of a father having that much pride in his daughter, that he’d go that far to protect her, and I love the thought of a man having to show the father that he is trust-worthy enough to be with the daughter. It’s just an amazingly romantic idea (and yes, I am a bit of a romantic). Then there’s the fact that after his daughter dies, he stays strong in order to care for his granddaughter. Really, Akio is an example of true strength and caring, in my eyes.

I don’t think Clannad would be what it is without Akio. He’s really a big part of what makes the show balance both comedy and heart-touching drama. There’s just no way Clannad would exist in the same form without Akio; I believe he really is that important.


Thanks for reading. God Bless, and peace.

Nota Bene: All clips are from the Clannad Central YouTube channel run by the Clannad (クラナド/Kuranado) fan page on Facebook. All character themes and other music from the show can also be found on said fan page, in the music player. My gratitude to them and all the work they do.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Reflection on the Eishes Chayil


The "Eishes Chayil" is the name of a section of the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament of the Bible; more specifically, it is the name for Proverbs 31:10-31. The words "Eishes Chayil" are often translated as "Woman of Valor" or "Woman of Worth," because that is what the verses describe: a good wife. These verses are popular in the Jewish religion, usually being recited or sung on Friday nights, before the Shabbat dinner, by the husband of a family as praise towards his wife (it can also be sung in praise of all Jewish women if no women are present, or in praise of Jewish womanhood if no men are present). Basically, the poetry in these verses (in Hebrew, they create an acrostic poem, with each line beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet) describes the ideal wife. If taken completely literally, it directly praises many of the tasks a woman of the period would do to care for her family; many of these tasks are not very common in today's culture, so I like to try and discover the characteristics of an ideal wife that each verse is praising instead of just the tasks themselves.

I think one of the best wives in an anime is Nagisa from Clannad, so as I explain the characteristics in this poem, I'll compare her to them. I don't expect her to match all of them (after all, she doesn't live in a culture with much Judaism present), but I think she could fulfill a surprising amount of them. We'll see what the results are as I summarize this beautiful poem (a translation of which can be found here). Also, whenever I mention God in this post, I'm talking about the God of Judaism and Christianity, the God I believe in.

Verse 10: “She is far more precious than jewels,” as one translation says. It’s very obvious from watching After Story that Nagisa is definitely precious in Tomoya’s eyes. What makes this ideal wife so precious? The rest of poem will explain it, and we’ll see if Nagisa matches up with it.

Verse 11: She is trustworthy; her husband can safely trust in her, and he will gain much from her. Nagisa is definitely not a flimsy wife who leaves at a moment’s notice: Tomoya trusts in her, and with good reason. Even if he breaks a promise or two or is unusually harsh with her, she doesn’t desert him; instead, she is always at his side, a strong support for him, and he gains so much strength and happiness from her.

Verse 12: She doesn’t hurt her husband. The only time I can recall Nagisa ever hurting Tomoya was in her death, which was completely beyond her control. She never harms him out of spite or anger; instead, she only does good to him.

Verse 13-15: She helps provide for her household. The poem speaks of her seeking out material for making clothing and food for her household to eat. I don’t ever remember Tomoya bringing home food: it seems Nagisa was the one who always obtained that for the household. She always has food ready for Tomoya when he comes back home from work; she most definitely provides some of the basics for him.

Verse 16: She can make independent decisions for her household. This kind of fits with the above group of verses of helping provide, and, again, I think Nagisa does this well.

Verse 17: She’s strong. It could be interpreted as being in general strong, but the verse itself seems to be speaking of physical strength. That’s one of the areas Nagisa does not do well in; it’s not her fault, but she is just not physically strong.

Verses 18-19: She’s industrious, and she works to provide for her family. These verses seem to speak of the wife creating merchandise to sell, to help add to her household’s funds. Nagisa does this by taking a job as a waitress; she works hard to make sure her family isn’t left destitute.

Verse 20: She helps the poor and needy. I don’t recall the show ever mentioning Nagisa doing works of service; I don’t think it would be against her personality to do so, but it’s never shown, so I don’t think we can say she does well in this area.

Verses 21-22: She creates fine things for her family. Specifically, the verses talk about creating fine linens and clothing for the family, but it could probably be expanded to other items as well. Does Nagisa do this? I don’t remember seeing her sew clothes or anything for her family; I don’t remember her making anything besides food, so maybe she doesn’t really fit these verses either.

Verse 23: Her husband is well-known. I’d guess this verse is implying that her worth helps make him known, but that might be extrapolating a bit too much. At his work, Tomoya seems to be held in high esteem, so I think this verse is fulfilled well.

Verse 24: See Verses 18-19.

Verse 25: She is strong, dignified, and secure in the future. She’s so secure that “she laughs at the time to come.” I think Nagisa has these qualities in spades; she often seems to have them more than Tomoya does, at least by the time After Story rolls around.

Verse 26: She is wise and kind. Again, like with the previous verse, I think Nagisa has these qualities, more so than Tomoya does.

Verse 27: She takes care of her household and is always working for them. Can you imagine a time when Nagisa is shown to slack off and take a lazy day? I can’t recall one.

Verse 28-29: She is blessed and praised by both her children and her husband. I’d suspect Ushio would bless her mother, even though that’s not seen in the show, and Tomoya definitely praises her. He praises her so much that he often feels unworthy of her. I think can easily see him quoting verse 29 to Nagisa: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Verse 30: She fears the Lord. Here’s the one where the break in cultures shows up most prominently. This verse says that the woman of worth is devoted to God. Nagisa’s not Jewish or Christian, so she can’t fulfill this verse. There’s a short shot in the ending montage that includes her and Tomoya burning incense, which I’d assume is a Japanese religious ceremony (who knows, though, I could be wrong). Even if it’s not, there’s no indication of her being Jewish (or Christian), so she’s not devoted to God. There’s just no way around this one.

Verse 31: She should be praised for her worth. Tomoya praises her, at work (if I recall), with her parents (I’m pretty sure), and with her daughter (I’m positive on that one). Nagisa is most definitely praised and held in high esteem.


In the end, then, how does Nagisa stack up to the qualities of a “Woman of Worth” portrayed in this poem? Very well, actually. She provides for her family, she’s industrious, she is strong, dignified, kind, and wise, and she does only good for her household. She doesn’t completely fit this poem, though. I think the cultural differences are part of this, mainly. The biggest thing is that she’s not a follower of God. This poem is part of the Bible, so the woman praised therein must of necessity be a holy woman who fears God. (Since I’m Catholic, I would agree that for a woman to truly be, in the best way possible, a “Woman of Worth,” she must fear the Lord. Disagree with me if you will, but I think this is the truth.) The other area Nagisa doesn’t match up well with, from what’s shown in the series, is caring for the poor and needy. I don’t know how much emphasis the Japanese culture and associated religion place on caring for the downtrodden, but it is heavily emphasized in Judaism and Christianity, so a “Woman of Worth” would have to be kind to the needy.

In conclusion, then, it seems Nagisa fulfills the majority of the qualities of a “Woman of Worth” portrayed in the “Eishes Chayil.” She’s not Jewish or Christian, though, and she doesn’t (at least from what’s shown) care for the poor and needy. She seems, then, to fulfill the poem’s descriptions as best as possible, based on how much the Japanese culture and the Jewish culture overlap. Nagisa is a valiant woman, then, but not perfectly valiant, in the eyes of this poem; she's a hell of a lot better than most female characters in media, though.

Nota Bene: Thanks for Wikipedia for providing some background information on this poem. The website aish.com also informed me of some new facts, and it has some good background on Jewish womanhood. Images are from Google Image Search.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

崖の上のポニョ (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)

"I don't want you to turn into a fish again. I'd miss you."


Ponyo (the actual title is Gake no Ue no Ponyo, literally translated as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) is a 2008 anime film by Hayao Miyazaki, the world-renowned anime director/animator (known for such films as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle, among others). Like many of the films by his studio, Studio Ghibli, it, dubbed with an all-star cast (ranging from the folk hero Liam Neeson to a sibling of annoying pop star Miley Cyrus), was distributed with the help of Walt Disney Pictures. Ponyo tells the story of a goldfish-like creature (Ponyo) who escapes her tyrannical father (Fujimoto (who, I might add, looks strangely like Beetlejuice)) to find the outside world, eventually striving to become human so she can spend her life with Sousuke, a 5-year-old boy she meets on a trek aboard dry land.

The film's animation is of great quality, as most of Studio Ghibli's work is (from what I've heard: the only other film I've seen by them is Princess Mononoke), and the music is pretty charming (even with the basis of one of the songs on Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" (at least, I've read there's a connection there)). The voice acting seemed great in the English dub (though I don't know how well it actually fits the feel of the original Japanese: I have yet to watch that).

The real thing, though, is the story. It was actually inspired by and loosely based on the Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen entitled "Den lille havfrue," whose English title is "The Little Mermaid" (and yes, the 1989 Disney musical animated film was based on the same story). If you've seen the Disney film, then you already know how Ponyo will end, even if the path to the ending is very different. An interesting thing is that the film takes place in modern-day Japan, not 1800s Denmark, which lends it an intriguing feel.


All in all, I didn't think the story was bad, I just consider it more of a children's story. It may not be incredibly deep, but it has some layers, and it has enough witty lines and well-drawn animation to keep adults watching as well. The ending, like most children's stories and fairy tales, is predictable, but that shouldn't be counted against it: that's just the nature of the genre. The path to reach the ending includes some less predictable twists (though nothing too shocking), and this path is also populated by vibrant, laughter-inducing characters.

In conclusion, then, I'd consider Ponyo to be a fun film to watch, enjoyable for both children and adults. While I wouldn't count it as considerably deep or thought-provoking, it provides some wholesome family entertainment (at least, I'm pretty sure it did), so it's not something that will feel like a waste of your time. Overall, I'd give Ponyo an 8/10. Not a film I'll rant and rave about, but one I wouldn't mind recommending to someone in a mood for a witty children's fairy tale.

A Deeper Look

For me, Ponyo provided an experience I haven't had in a while: watching an English dub before the original Japanese. I much prefer to watch anime subtitled; I think the inflections and voices of the Japanese actors can often more accurately portray how the creators intended the characters to be (since, if I understand the dubbing process correctly, which I may not, the Japanese actors have more communication with the creators than the English ones do). That's not to say I condemn English dubs: I just want them to accurately portray the characters and to be done well.

With Ponyo, I can't analyze that first criteria, since I haven't watched the original Japanese yet (I saw this film in a group, if you were wondering why I watched it dubbed to begin with), but I can tell that the dub definitely fits the first criteria: it is done extremely well. While the fact that Ponyo's voice is Miley Cyrus' little sister (and Miley Cyrus definitely bugs me) and Sousuke's voice is the Jonas Brothers' little brother (and the Jonas Brothers definitely bug me), I couldn't even tell while watching the film. The voices seemed to go well with the characters, from what I can tell (although, like I said, I need to watch the original still), and I loved the fact that Liam Neeson was in there. He's just got a very cool voice (like James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman, who would sound incredible in English dubs of anime), plus he makes the character witty, which is always good.


Overall, then, I actually liked the dub of Ponyo (so far), even if I'll always prefer subtitles.

As for the story aspect, like I said, it's a fairy tale meant for kids. I've heard some people say that it has some bad themes; for instance, the fact that Ponyo doesn't care about the balance of nature and that she risks all of nature just to get what she wants (to be with Sousuke). I heard one person say that this could instigate extreme, dangerous individualism in people watching the film. While I agree that extreme individualism is a terrible thing, hands down, I'm not sure if a children's fairy tale could instigate it. That might just be my view as an older person (a.k.a. not a child), though: I can see that this is just a fairy tale and that it's not realistic. Of course, then you have to think: why was the fairy tale written? Was it written to promote some moral? That's a possibility. So if the whole moral it's promoting is individualism, then there's a problem. The thing is, I didn't get that vibe from watching the film. I wouldn't have even thought of it if I hadn't heard someone mention it after the fact. In the end, then, do I agree that there's some morals in Ponyo that might not be correct? Yes, I think that individualism is incorrect. Do I think that Ponyo will corrupt children and other viewers? Not so much. True, I don't really know the effect it could have on a child, but I know on me it didn't really have any effect. I'm strong in my acknowledgment of individualism's faults, so maybe the effect is different on everyone.


What's the final message, then? Just keep a bit of a look out when having children (and people with child-like minds) watch Ponyo, and make sure they understand that this individualism is not ideal morality. Does that I mean that I think Ponyo is an evil, corruptive film, then? Of course not, as long as you use some common sense and make sure people are aware of the faults.

Even with that individualism debacle, I'd still probably recommend Ponyo, though; it hasn't colored my thoughts of the film that much.


Nota Bene: All images courtesy of Google Image Search. Thanks to Wikipedia for lots of useful background information. And thanks to that random person analyzing Ponyo after watching the film for inspiring the last part of my post.

岡崎史乃 (Okazaki Shino)

“Please tell Naoyuki to come home. I will be waiting here for him.”


Okazaki Shino, at least in terms of screen time, is a very minor character in Clannad. She only speaks during her first appearance, in Episode 18 of After Story; she is also seen during the montage of Episode 22. Besides that, she is never seen, and she isn’t mentioned too much more either.

Personality


Shino is an old woman, and she seems to embody the personality of a kindly old woman. She is humble and soft-spoken, yet she is devoted to letting the truth be known. Optimism could be seen as one of her traits; she sees the good in everyone, and she tries to help other people see that goodness as well. Even though she is elderly, she is still devoted to caring for her son, because she understands the importance of family. Overall, then, Shino is an optimistic, kind, caring old woman.

Story

As I mentioned above, Shino is completely absent for the majority of the series. Even her existence is hidden from the characters. She appears during Tomoya’s trip with Ushio. After Ushio loses her robot in the sunflower field, Tomoya walks about a nearby set of stairs, feeling that they are somehow familiar to him. When he reaches the top, there is a sight-seeing spot with an old woman. This woman introduces herself as Okazaki Shino, Naoyuki’s father. This is Tomoya’s grandmother, whose existence he had never known of until this moment.



She engages in a little casual conversation with Tomoya, revealing that Sanae got in contact with her to have her meet Tomoya on the trip. Then she goes into the real reason why she came: to reveal Naoyuki’s true self. As she says, “I wanted you to know what kind of father Naoyuki was.” The story she tells is explained more explicitly in my post on Naoyuki, but here is a rough outline: after his wife died, Naoyuki had it rough, but he kept going because he knew he had to care for Tomoya. Even though he eventually fell into alcoholism, and he was definitely not perfect, he really tried the best he could to be a good father to Tomoya.

Tomoya slowly remembers Naoyuki’s actions from his childhood, including a trip the two took to the same place Tomoya took Ushio. Shino is glad that Tomoya has remembered Naoyuki’s goodness, and she tells him, “Tomoya, he has worked too hard. It’s time he took it easy.” She asks a request of Tomoya: that he ask Naoyuki to come stay with her. It is obvious that he’s not really able to take care of himself anymore: he’s just worn out. She is still full of life, so she invites Naoyuki to stay at her home instead. Tomoya agrees to asking him.


Subsequent to his walking with Shino down the stairs (allowing her to see her great-granddaughter), he has an emotional encounter with Ushio, in which he remembers many parts of his past with his father.

After returning home, Tomoya goes to see his father, introduces him to Ushio, tells him he met Shino, and reconciles with him. Following this reconciliation, Tomoya helps Naoyuki make himself presentable, he helps him pack, and then he sends him off to Shino’s house in a touching scene of familial love.

Besides these two episodes, Shino is only seen once more, in the final montage. The Okazakis are going to visit her, and Ushio is seen running into her kind embrace.

Effect on Main Plot

Though she doesn’t appear until the fifth-to-last episode of Clannad, Shino still plays a major part in the plot, that is, Tomoya’s development. To put it simply, Tomoya would never have reconciled with his father if it hadn’t been for Shino’s talk with him (which was somewhat engineered by Sanae). Without reconciling with his father, Tomoya would never have received his light orb (which I think is absolutely crucial for the ending). Besides the fact of obtaining the light orb, the reconciliation with his father is what really changes Tomoya. It’s one of the biggest obstacles he’s had to face in his life (possibly the biggest), and without Shino he would have never overcome it. I think overcoming this obstacle is also what helps Tomoya become a true father to Ushio, so without Shino, he also would have never truly accepted his role as Ushio’s father. Basically, without Shino, Tomoya may have never finished his character growth, and thus his life may have stayed stalled as a depressed workaholic forever.

Themes

And, yet again, family is the absolute biggest theme for Shino. There’s not really any other theme for her, since she has very few actions in the series. She reveals Naoyuki’s true fathership to Tomoya, and she herself is a relative of Tomoya (his grandmother), and meeting relatives for the first time is always (usually) a joyous occasion. A family is not just father, mother, and child, like is seen in the most of the show: other generations are important as well. Thus Shino appears as a grandmother and great-grandmother, and also Naoyuki, Akio, and Sanae become grandparents. So, besides her aspect of family, all her themes are tied in with her explanation of Naoyuki’s story, so see his post for more details.

Reflection

Even though Shino only has a total of maybe 10 minutes of screen time over the entire series, she’s still a powerful character. The experience of meeting a relative you never knew existed is a rare one, and having this newly-met relative basically single-handedly effect the healing of your relationships with your daughter and with your father must be a one-of-a-kind event. I wouldn’t be surprised if Botan has more screen time than Shino (and I’m positive Misae and Shima do), yet hers is the role that truly changes the main plot. Without her, the show would probably just drift into nothingness, with Tomoya being separated from all of his family, including his daughter, staying a workaholic with a penchant for alcohol and gambling for the rest of his life. Instead, her actions (just telling a story!) create the possibility of the last few episodes of the series. I can’t stress how important Shino is. Basically, her appearance is one of the events that make the show into a hopeful one when it could so easily stay pessimistic and depressing and hopeless. It just goes to show that every person can make a difference; even just telling a story can dramatically change many lives. A great moral to learn from Shino? Every person and every action can be important, no matter how small it may seem.


Thanks for reading. God Bless, and peace.

Nota Bene: All clips are from the Clannad Central YouTube channel run by the Clannad (クラナド/Kuranado) fan page on Facebook. All character themes and other music from the show can also be found on said fan page, in the music player. My gratitude to them and all the work they do.

岡崎直幸 (Okazaki Naoyuki)

"It looks like I’ve done everything I needed to do without even realizing it….That’s wonderful….Wonderful.”


Okazaki Naoyuki is an often-appearing character in Clannad. He’s first seen at the end of the first episode, and then he’s seen many times throughout both seasons. His backstory is explained in Episode 18 of After Story, and Episode 19 contains a conclusion to his story.

(Be prepared: this is most definitely a long post.)

Personality

Naoyuki is (at least from what is seen in most of the series) a lazy, disheveled drunkard. He is often seen passed out surrounded by piles of trash and a glowing TV screen (sometimes a radio is on as well). Though he sometimes tries to talk to his son, it usually does more harm than good. When asked to help make decisions in his son’s life, he often passes the buck on to his son, saying (basically), “Tomoya can do it on his own.” Most of the time, he just passes through life without making much of a ripple, except for his negative effect on his son’s home life. During his backstory, we learn some new facts about his personality, but those will be described in the section below. Overall, then, for most of the story, Naoyuki is an unenergetic man who merely sits at home watching TV and listening to the radio, drinking and surrounding himself with trash, destroying his son’s home life. His first appearance at the end of the first episode portrays this well.



Story

Naoyuki is first seen passed out in his house as Tomoya comes home from school one day. This is the most common image of this drunken father. Whenever he wakes up, he often tries to start a conversation with his son, but it’s not very effective. Tomoya despises him and his inability to be a good father. As we learn when he goes to play basketball with Nagisa after school one day in the rain, Tomoya’s relationship with his father has even caused him physical damage. Okazaki Atsuko, Tomoya’s mother and Naoyuki’s wife, died in a car accident when Tomoya was three. Following this tragedy, Naoyuki fell apart and dived into drunkenness. One day in middle school, Tomoya got in a fight with his drunk father, and this fight caused a lasting injury: Tomoya can no longer raise his right arm above his shoulder. This explains one of the big reasons Tomoya hates his father: not only does he not provide emotional support, he’s caused lasting physical infirmity for his son.


Following this revelatory tale, Naoyuki passes into the background. Tomoya is rarely seen at home, due to his wish to avoid his father, and because Naoyuki seems to rarely (if ever) leave the house, we don’t see much of him either. His next major event is after Tomoya is suspended from school after a fight. Tomoyo and Tomoya were both attacked by a gang, due to Tomoyo’s past, and Tomoya took the blame for the fight so that Tomoyo’s reputation would stay strong for student council elections. Due to that blame, Tomoya got suspended from school, and so a school official went to his house to discuss this with his father. Naoyuki is very lax when he learns about this, mostly saying, “Tomoya is Tomoya.” He doesn’t even care about his son being suspended, and he doesn’t care what happens to him. Tomoya is furious about this. Nagisa went with Tomoya and the official to see Naoyuki (so that Tomoya wouldn’t run away), and after seeing his family situation, she offered to let him stay with her parents. Though it’s a bit of an awkward situation, Tomoya agrees, because he knows he must get away from Naoyuki.



When he packs his bag to leave, Naoyuki does notice, asking where he’s going and why his bag is so large. Tomoya simply says he’s going to stay at a friend’s for a while. Naoyuki comments that the house will be empty, and Tomoya walks out, leaving Naoyuki with a pained expression on his face (I believe it’s the first appearance of him actually having an emotional reaction to his son).
Naoyuki appears only one more time in the first season, and that’s at the school festival, where Nagisa puts on her play. Nagisa, who understands the importance of family, invited Naoyuki to come see the play; the meeting between him and Tomoya doesn’t do much to mend their relationship, to Nagisa’s dismay.

During the first half or so of After Story, Naoyuki is rarely (if ever) mentioned. Tomoya is staying at the Furukawas’ house, not at Naoyuki’s home, and he is busy getting acclimated to adult life. When Tomoya is offered a promotion at work (the electric company), Naoyuki violently bursts onto the scene. Just as it seems Tomoya has a new job, which will require moving to another town, he gets a call saying his father has been arrested for dealing something illegal. This criminal offense by someone so close to him leads to Tomoya’s loss of his new position. He and Nagisa go to see Naoyuki in prison. Even though Tomoya is shouting furiously, Naoyuki offers no comment or reaction at all. After leaving the prison, tears in his eyes and anger in his heart, Tomoya smashes his fist into a wall, and during a climactic (and absolutely beautiful scene), he proposes to Nagisa, and she accepts.

The next episode, as Nagisa graduates and the two prepare to marry, they go to see Naoyuki in prison again. He’s slightly more responsive this time, at least to Nagisa. Tomoya is vehemently silent.


A whirlwind of emotional events follows this in the coming episodes, until the death of Nagisa and the birth of Ushio. Following Nagisa’s untimely death in childbirth, Tomoya goes into depression, falling into the habits of drinking and gambling, working only enough to have the money for both vices. After about five years of this, Sanae plans a trip for her, Akio, Tomoya, and Ushio.

Unbeknownst to Tomoya, it’s really all a secret plan to get him to spend time with his daughter. During a trip he takes with her, he ends up at a field of sunflowers, with Ushio anxiously looking for a lost robot toy Tomoya bought her. Tomoya gets a strange feeling when he’s there, though, and he climbs up a set of stairs that seems familiar to him. When he gets to the top, he sees an old woman who introduces herself as Okazaki Shino: Naoyuki’s mother.

Shino explains the true story of Tomoya’s youth: after Atusko died, Naoyuki was able to keep going because of Tomoya. His son became his life, and he did all his work for him. He’d provide him with sweets and do his best to keep Tomoya happy. Naoyuki wasn’t perfect: he did fail and eventually become an alcoholic. But as he was doing that, he was still devoted to his son, and he persevered in doing what he could for him. He even took him on a trip to the sunflower field where Tomoya took Ushio.


As Shino explains all that happened in his youth, Tomoya begins to remember. His father wasn’t just a drunk widower: he also did his damnedest to be a good father. Shino describes it perfectly: “As a human being, he may have failed in some areas, but as a father, he did a great job.” Tomoya agrees. Shino asks Tomoya to ask Naoyuki to return to his hometown to live with her, and he says he’ll ask. Then he goes back out to the field and has an emotional reunion with Ushio.
Soon afterwards, Tomoya brings Ushio to Naoyuki’s house. He introduces his daughter and says he remembers all his father used to do for him in his early life, and he thanks him. Naoyuki is a little taken aback, but Tomoya reassures him: he did all he had to. Now it’s time to take it easy. Tomoya cleans up Naoyuki and the house, packs a suitcase for him, and sends him off to his mother’s home. As Naoyuki leaves on friendly terms, with the father-son relationship repaired, a light appears and enters into Tomoya’s chest.





Naoyuki is not seen again until the last episode, where he is shown during a quick flashback to his and Tomoya’s trip to that fateful sunflower field, those many years ago.

Effect on the Main Plot

Though Naoyuki’s screen time may not be majorly impressive, his importance is. While obviously his effect on Tomoya’s development is the key thing, he also affects Nagisa and Tomoya’s relationship in some critical ways as well. One of the first big drama moments of the show (Nagisa’s collapse in the rain at the basketball court) is, at least in part, brought about by Tomoya’s shoulder injury from a fight with Naoyuki (if anything, this is an important part of the scene). More importantly, though, is what happens later on in the first season: when the school official goes to Naoyuki’s house, Nagisa and Tomoya join him, and Nagisa gets to see Naoyuki’s fathering skills first-hand. After seeing what Tomoya has to go through at home, Nagisa invites Tomoya to stay at her home, and Tomoya accepts. Besides offering more time for Nagisa and Tomoya to spend with each other and get to know each other, it also integrates Tomoya more closely into the Furukawa family: staying with them lets him grow closer to Akio and Sanae. The other big event for Nagisa and Tomoya’s relationship is when Naoyuki is sent to prison. Not only does this occasion a discussion about the importance of the town, but the visit to see him in prison is what finally pushes Tomoya to ask Nagisa to marry him.



Besides these effects on the relationship, Naoyuki is dominant in terms of affecting Tomoya’s character and development. A good part of why Tomoya is so surly at the beginning of the series is his crappy home life with a drunkard father, and the injury caused all those years ago didn’t help either. Throughout the series, Naoyuki’s presence haunts Tomoya, who considers him an absolutely atrocious father. Even when he’s yelled at by his son, he merely sits, stone-faced. Tomoya’s view of him is basically as a man who fell apart in the face of tragedy and, in turn, became a horrible father. The truly sad thing is that this is exactly what happens to Tomoya when Nagisa dies. There are obvious similarities between Tomoya and his father: both have the last name of Okazaki, both lost their wives early in marriage (Shino described it as occurring during “the happiest time of his life”), and both were left to care for young children on their own. When we learn Naoyuki’s true backstory, though, we realize there’s some differences: Naoyuki started off as a good father, or at least the best he could be, and slowly fell into becoming a complete drunkard. Tomoya just skipped the first stage and went straight to drinking and gambling. After this, though, he’s able to recover himself and become a good father for Ushio. That’s where the stories differ: the ordering of the stages of “good father” and “bad father.” And after learning all this, Tomoya is able to offer forgiveness to his father, and in turn he receives a light orb (which I think is one of the most important moments in the show: I’ll explain in my post on the ending).

One way to summarize these effects on Tomoya is to say that Tomoya ended up reflecting whichever part of his father he was accustomed to. When he only knew his father as an irresponsible drunkard, that’s what he basically became once Nagisa died. But when he learned of his father’s past kindnesses to him, he became a caring father to Ushio. It just goes to show that parents have a pronounced effect on their children.

Themes

Once again, the biggest theme is family. This is the main character’s father, after all. Naoyuki is probably the biggest example of how families are not all perfect. Of course, we saw some of that with Sunohara and Mei’s relationship and others, but Naoyuki and Tomoya’s relationship is the key one. I don’t believe there is a single moment in the first season when the two have anywhere near a cordial moment (most definitely not when Tomoya moves out). They don’t actually have any truly amiable relations until Episode 19 of After Story, the 4th-to-last episode of the series. The amazing thing is, though, that even with all this negativity in the past and throughout the series, Tomoya is still able to forgive his father and even thank him for all he’s done. It took only one conversation with Shino for Tomoya to recognize his father’s worth. That’s the great thing about family: even with all the hatred, tension, and disgust layered on top, there’s still a connection between family members that persists through everything, a connection that can be revived at a moment’s notice. Naoyuki and Tomoya showcase this perfectly.


On another family-related note, we see the effect an apathetic parent can have on a child. I discussed in Kotomi’s post how the lack of a parent can stall development of a child, and I think an apathetic parent can be almost the same as the death of a parent in this context. In some ways, it might be even worse, because it’s not a lack of parenting due to outside circumstances (a.k.a. death): it’s a lack of parenting chosen by the parent. Would Tomoya be so pessimistic, so surly, so (at times) critical, so lacking in hope if his father was actually a parent to him his entire life? Would Tomoya have ever become a delinquent without the apathy of his father? We know that Naoyuki was a better father in Tomoya’s early childhood, but the effects on Tomoya go to show that the later parts of life can have just as deep (or maybe even deeper?) an effect on a person’s development as the earliest stages. It seems almost as if Clannad is supporting the psychological view that development is affected by experience throughout life, not just in the earliest years (because if only the earliest years were effective, possibly Tomoya wouldn’t have become such a delinquent). Again, this is all the effect of the past on the present, as I’ve discussed before.

There’s also the idea of breaking out of conventions. For almost the entire series, Naoyuki is seen as merely a drunkard and an apathetic father. He doesn’t care to intervene in his son’s life except to screw it up, like by dealing drugs (I’m guessing that’s what the “something illegal” he was arrested for was). But then, in Shino’s story, we see that he really used to be a caring, loving father. There’s still a couple glimmers of that hidden throughout his personality, but it’s mostly overshadowed by the image of the apathetic drunk. We see, though, that this latter is not his entire personality: there is a caring side as well, even if it’s been obfuscated over the years.


Reflection

Naoyuki’s story is one of the most powerful in Clannad, I think. It’s a story of forgiveness and redemption. There’s a bit of a parallel here to Kotomi’s story: she had some negative feelings about her parents, mostly from her telling them she hated them right before they died. When she received the suitcase and the last letter from them, it seemed that she was able to let go of her guilt and allow herself to love them and be loved by them. I think this is somewhat what happens to Tomoya in his relationship with his father: he’s harboring negative feelings, but when he learns the truth, he’s able to let them go. Of course, it’s not a perfect parallel (what parallel is?), but it explains some of it.

Basically, I think the main idea here is of forgiveness and redemption. When we forgive those who do wrong to us, we are released from negative emotions, and we are filled with joy. It’s a message deeply embedded in Christianity: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you” (Lk 6:27-28). Of course, some of these phrases might be a little extreme in this context (I don’t think Naoyuki hated Tomoya or cursed him; of course, you could turn it around and say Tomoya was the one who needed forgiveness as well), but the overall message is clear: respond to evil with good. There’s also the whole idea of Christ dying for our sins: we offended God by our sin (according to St. Anselm, each sin is an infinite offense, because it’s against an infinite being), but God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us so that we could be forgiven. Overall, what I’m trying to get at here is that one of the biggest ideas in Christianity is forgiveness, and there is forgiveness present here.


Of course, this forgiveness isn’t easy. It must have been difficult for Tomoya to forgive someone who he’d considered as basically an enemy his entire life, and I think it was also difficult for Naoyuki to accept that love from someone who had been rejecting him for years and years. Yet both were able to forgive the other, and they were both able to give and accept love. It’s a powerful message. It’s definitely something many people need to hear, such as my family and I. Within my family, there are some rough relationships, particularly against one pair of grandparents. They can provide for others materially, but they at times seem almost emotionally deficient (I’m not trying to put them down, that’s just how it looks). Multiple family members have had falling-outs (some minor, some more major) with these two due to their seeming lack of love. The message in this story could work well for them: showing love is the way to forgiveness. Tomoya was able to show forgiveness because he learned of his father’s love for him, and Naoyuki was able to accept Tomoya’s love (which I find a forgiving action) because he showed it.

All in all, there’s really a lot I could talk about involving Naoyuki. His final reconciliation with his son is one of the most amazing scenes, I think: such a long-lasting bitterness is able to be dispersed so quickly. It’s truly beautiful. And it’s also something that most people (including me) could learn from: love (which is an action of the will, not just an emotion of infatuation) is the doorway to forgiveness. It’s possibly the most predominantly Christian message I’ve explored in Clannad so far, and it’s just another step in showing how Christianity really is present (albeit not nominally or explicitly) in Clannad. But for now, we end with the closing shot of Naoyuki, that father whose story taught us of forgiveness.


Thanks for reading. God Bless, and peace.

Nota Bene: All clips are from the Clannad Central YouTube channel run by the Clannad (クラナド/Kuranado) fan page on Facebook. All character themes and other music from the show can also be found on said fan page, in the music player. My gratitude to them and all the work they do.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Remembering 今敏 (Kon Satoshi)

今敏 -- 1963年10月12日 - 2010年8月24日
Satoshi Kon -- October 12, 1963 - August 24, 2010


Satoshi Kon, the famous anime director, died from pancreatic cancer this Tuesday, that is, August 24, 2010, at the age of 46. His work has always been some of my favorite, so I have decided to give a brief recount of his work in memory of him. I do not know much about his work as animator or other roles, so I will focus on his directorial work. To be even more specific, I will discuss his work which I have seen; this includes everything except the 2004 series Paranoia Agent.


Perfect Blue (1997)

Perfect Blue was Kon-sensei’s directorial debut. Based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, this film is a psychological thriller that can cause quite a shock. This film is not for the weak-hearted. There are some pretty disturbing things in this movie: its story revolves around a pop star who decides to become an actress, but then she begins to be stalked by a dangerous person. Kon-sensei’s films often have a way of bending reality, and Perfect Blue does so by including the main character’s seeming second personality. The movie can be a bit confusing at times, and there are some fairly disturbing scenes in it, but it’s a well-made and fascinating film. I’d personally give it probably an 8/10.

An interesting fact about this film: it was a prime source of inspiration for the film Requiem for a Dream. In fact, it was so inspiring that the director of the previous-mentioned film, Darren Aronofsky, bought the rights for Perfect Blue so he could recreate one scene, shot-for-shot, where a character is sitting in a bathtub, sticks her head underwater, and screams silently, releasing a flow of bubbles.


Millennium Actress (2001)

Kon-sensei’s sophomoric directorial effort is, in my humble opinion, a brilliant film. Unlike the previous work, which was adapted from a novel, Millennium Actress is an original story created by Kon-sensei, who (as in many of his works) helped write the screenplay. It tells the story of a pair of reporters who get an exclusive interview with an old former actress as a memorial to the company she usually worked with, which was closing its doors for good. The actress explains her life story and her acting roles; the two mesh together so well that it can often be difficult to tell if you’re watching her life or one of her movies. That’s how Kon-sensei messes with reality in this film. It’s a beautifully-made and powerful film (which is sadly the only of Kon-sensei’s films with is out of print, even though I think it won the most awards). The animation is a large step up from Perfect Blue (a 4-year gap can allow that), and the music is wonderful. Susumu Hirasawa, a somewhat eccentric Japanese musician whose music is best described as electronic, was signed on to create the music for the film, and his style fits perfectly with Kon-sensei’s (which leads to his work on another of his films later on). This film also offers much food for thought on the topics of infatuation and love, along with some bits about fame (which is a more prominent theme in Perfect Blue). I need to watch it again, but I’d probably give Millennium Actress a 10/10. I have a feeling many will remember it as Kon-sensei’s best film.


Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

This, Kon-sensei’s third film, is my least favorite of his works, but it’s still a good film. Another original story, Tokyo Godfathers follows a trio of homeless people as they try to return a lost baby to its parents on Christmas Eve. It’s the only of Kon-sensei’s films to not involve some twisting of reality (which I think is what draws me into his work the most). The animation is a step up from his previous work (since animation technology grows more advanced each year), and the music was composed by the same man who composed the soundtrack to the classic Super Nintendo game Earthbound (I prefer Susumu Hirasawa’s music, though). I’m not really sure why this film did not connect with me as much as his other works (unless it was due to lack of reality-bending, as I mentioned earlier), but even so, it’s still a good film, one I’d give a 7/10.



Paprika (2006)

Paprika is my favorite of Kon-sensei’s films, hands down. It’s based on a 1993 novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, a novel including many real dreams of the author. The story revolves around a device called the DC Mini that enables one to enter someone’s dreams for the purpose of psychoanalysis. When one of these devices is stolen, havoc erupts (to summarize the rest of the film very vaguely). Much of the film takes place within dreams (to an extent), which means that the film lends itself to extreme surrealism. Sometimes the dream events can go to the point of being psychologically disturbing, at least to some of my friends who have I watched it. I found it more intriguing and fascinating than anything else. This film has some of the best animation I’ve seen, especially with its mixture of 2D and 3D animation to create some of the dream worlds. The music is absolutely phenomenal: Susumu Hirasawa returns again, and the combination of his unique sound and Kon-sensei’s surreal film create a one-of-a-kind experience. Though the plot can become incredibly obfuscated (I’m not sure if it’s actually possible to understand it all), the film is all in all an absolutely breathtaking and mind-blowing experience. I’d definitely give Paprika a 10/10.

There’s also lots of interesting trivia facts about this film. For instance, the novelist voices one of the characters in the film, one half of a pair of butlers. And guess who voices the other half? Kon-sensei himself! This is his only voice acting role, and it gives viewers a chance to hear the late director’s voice. Another thing about the film is that it was a big influence on the recent American film about dreams, Inception. Also, Wolfgang Petersen, director of such popular films as The NeverEnding Story, Air Force One, and Troy, is currently working on a live-action adaptation of Paprika (an adaptation of Kon-sensei’s film, not the original novel directly).

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

All in all, then, Kon-sensei was an astounding director. His films explored human psychology in depth, and they twisted reality in novel ways. His films are each one-of-a-kind, and he put his heart and soul into each one. They often took longer to make than originally predicted because Kon-sensei would spend so much time storyboarding each shot of each scene; he also worked on art direction for most of his films, besides just being a director (to top that, he often worked on the screenplay as well). His directing was much more than just telling people where to go: each film was a specific vision of his that he worked diligently to turn into reality. The world of anime has suffered a great loss with his passing. He left strong, though: in his last blog post, “さようなら” (Farewell), posted in his behalf today, he ended with these words:

With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen.
Well, I'll be leaving now.

Satoshi Kon


Rest in peace, Satoshi Kon. Blessed repose and eternal memory.


Nota Bene: All images are from Google Image Search. Thanks to Wikipedia for background information on these films.