So here’s the meat of this discussion – namely, what is KnK 1 trying to tell us and how?
Extracting the messages
I’ll go through them in no particular order. Also, the portions of the movie that I reference to support my points are underlined.
1. Don’t take your relationships and the people around you for granted
We have the whole “Mikiya is gone” dynamic with Shiki through the majority of the movie. Although we barely know her, it’s obvious that she is saddened by his absence. The movie also makes sure to emphasize the fact that she took him for granted by opening with all the flashbacks about his and her daily life. Her feelings for Mikiya and her realization of these facts is brought to a head in the ice cream scene, where, although she contends she doesn’t like strawberry, Shiki eats the ice cream Mikiya had bought for her before he went into his coma. And she does it painstakingly and slowly, to make sure the viewer clearly recognizes this. Furthermore, after he returns, she acts all adorable and tsundere, and even makes sure to let him know she ate the ice cream in his absence (d’awwwwwwwwwwwww). Her reactions throughout the show also seemed slightly tinged with anger and/or retribution. I especially feel that Shiki losing her arm in the beginning of the movie after her rash encounter with Kirie (at least, as implied by Touko) was partly a result of this. Although with her cold personality, this might just be me projecting what I think she should be feeling onto her. On a sidenote, maybe Shiki could be more accurately classified as a kuudere, in the vein of Nagato from the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya…
The take home message for Shiki is that you shouldn’t take something as important as a relationship/friendship/companionship (especially with someone close) for granted. Also that she cares about Mikiya – their relationship is also something that is explored going forward in the show. For us, the message is pretty much the same – treasure your relationships and don’t take them for granted. Nothing too special here.
2. Taoism +1 (naturalness, simplicity, and Yin/Yang)
A huge part of Taoist philosophy is the appreciation of “naturalness”. It describes the “primordial state” of all things (this concept is huge later on but doesn’t make an appearance here), and is usually associated with spontaneity and creativity (complexity arising from simplicity). To attain naturalness, one has to identify with the Tao (“the Way”), which involves freeing oneself from selfishness and desire, and appreciating simplicity. It is this that allows you to follow the natural flow of things, and leads to the idea of “effortless action”. These seem to represent wide swaths of Mikiya’s personality right from the get-go. And look at the set-up of Shiki’s room – only the bare essentials are present. Even her attire is simple, and her routine and habits also follow this type of philosophy. Her juxtaposition with normal citizens (her kimono vs. the crowds of suits) also serves to highlight these points. The setting even contributes to this – the deserted building, the deserted streets, the empty/quiet hospital, all of this contributes to this serene (and ultimately surreal and partly creepy) vibe. It’s actually this concept of appreciating simplicity that Thoreau (famously enamored with East Asian philosophy) tried to emulate in his “experiment” in Walden.
Taoism also says that living your life this way allows you to understand the naturalness and simplicity of life, and therefore to understand the root/nature behind everything. This trait is partially exemplified in Touko (with those Yin Yang cigarettes, I might also make a case for her to be a physical personification of Taoism and it’s antithesis) and Mikiya. And I mean, Shiki’s eyes allow her to see the true nature of things so that she can destroy them. Contrast all of this with the cops, who are shown to be somewhat confused most of the time, cluttered with other baggage that impedes their work.
There is also a lot of emphasis on paradoxes or contradictions leading to the truth behind things (in this case, the contradiction of facts about the suicides leading them to believe something supernatural was at work). This is also a central concept of Taosim (Yin and Yang comes from this). Also, a lot of emphasis on “emptiness” (mostly on Shiki, although I’m sure the empty eyes of many of the characters are not an accident), or being at the most “natural” state in tune with nature – an empty vessel receives and understands the world best, and Taoism is big on trying to eliminate all this “knowledge” in order to gain true “understanding”.
The bottom line? Following Taoist philosophy is good for you, and many people nowadays live cluttered lives and suffer for it.
3. The nature of death/life
I’ll quote here. “People don’t instantly turn into nothingness after they die, as long as people remember them. Just like how smoke doesn’t suddenly disappear when the fire goes out.” I actually think the fire analogy is one of the best ones I’ve heard to date. This mode of thinking isn’t anything mind-blowingly radical though, but it is a nice way to think about it.
The movie also emphasizes, especially with the suicides and their repercussions, the interconnected nature of life (another Taoist concept), and the concept of dying with grace (leaving the world with modesty, with modesty being another Taoist concept). The schoolgirls represent the former (dying without modesty), while Kirie represents the latter (dying with modesty, even though her method of choice parallels the ones of her victims). So more Taoism.
4. Understanding your place in the world
The movie isn’t titled “Overlooking View” for nothing – not only does it involve such a view from the Fujou building where the suicides are taking place, as well as that from a hospital, but the feelings such a view evokes is a central point of the movie. To use the movie’s argument, such a view is too large – it creates a boundary between you and the world, where you recognize the world as a large space you live in rather than the small space that surrounds you. It puts it in perspective. But understanding this feeling is impossible – we just can’t comprehend it. To quote Touko again, “Your reasoning, represented by your knowledge, and your experience, represented by your realization, will clash against each other. And eventually you will loose yourself and confusion will set in.” It’s understanding this phenomena (the contradiction, the Yin and Yang again) and living in this state of confusion, at the boundary between experience and reasoning, that one should strive for.
This perception of the world is further emphasized by Touko, who goes for the “vision is not what your eyes see, but an image that your brain comprehends” comparison (and doesn’t beat it to death like ChäoS;HEAd). But she goes further. “Our vision is protected by our common sense. Humans cannot live outside their box…under normal circumstances.” Besides being great foreshadowing of Kirie’s ability, this is also a fundamental statement: only by truly understanding your place in the world, the confusion that arises from knowing the box you live in as well as the size of the world you inhabit, can you hope to gain perception of what is happening outside the box, to see the true nature of things.
So again more Taoism here, as well a nice message about how small we really are. I tend to like the latter view, since our egos and ambitions by and far are much too large most of the time, and our futile struggle against the nature of our existence seems a bit of a waste sometimes (and is a central tenet of Taoism). You can also easily make the opposite argument, however (that it is this struggle that makes us who we are), which I am also partial too since I find it extremely romantic. Note: Although Kara no Kyoukai does go more into perception and the nature of reality, that isn’t really dealt with in great detail for a few movies and so I’m not going into it here.
5. Living your life – existentialism?
So here we see what “The Garden of Sinners” subtitle meant. Allow me to directly quote from the movie here. “There are two ways to escape. Escape without purpose, and escape with a purpose. The former is called floating, and the latter, flight. You’re the one who decides which one your overlooking view was. But it’s a mistake to choose your path based on the sins you carry. We don’t choose our path depending on the sins we carry, but instead must carry our sins on the path that we choose.”
The latter part of the quote speaks for itself, and is absolutely huge – under that line of thought, such concepts like “repentance” and “atonement” and “making up for wrongs” are just plain wrong – you make mistakes, but ultimately they don’t determine your future – you do. That strikes me as pretty existentialist. Second is this idea of living with/without a purpose. Unlike in most cases, it is the second one which is in fact somewhat looked down upon (haha, couldn’t resist). Living without a purpose, content just being part of the world, is seen as superior (at least, when it comes to longevity) than living with a purpose. Being able to “float” vs. “fly” is seen as the much tougher option here. Because only in the former case are you not opposing your fundamental nature, but going with the natural flow of things – being borne on the winds of fate, one might say, instead of trying to fly against the gusts and into a storm. This is the principal of “effortless action” again, or going with the flow. So again, the answer is partially rooted in Taoist philosophy.
Compare/Contrast (and some Overlooking View stuff)
Also, while not strictly necessary (it really helps for understanding the 5th movie though), it’s interesting to compare and contrast Shiki and Kirie. They obviously are both similar in being an empty vessel (indeed, Kirie is even blind), but we see Kirie does not harbor Shiki’s “killing intent” per say. Hers is born out of spite, while Shiki’s seems more…primal, natural. Kirie further illustrates the result of the “Overlooking View” phenomenon in reverse. While “normal” people per say stick to their little box and refuse to recognize the world, making themselves mentally blind, Kirie suffers from the opposite problem – she becomes physically blind because the view is all she sees. And when she finally realizes this, it’s too late – she is unable to interact with people anymore because she has lost herself – the world becomes her nature. It’s opposing this phenomenon (opposing her nature) – trying to express herself, to show to the world that she was here – that causes all her bitterness and rage and instigates the events in the movie (well, not quite, but that comes later). And it’s actually Mikiya that instigates this! And her death is the ultimate realization of this conflict. She implies that when she died she felt the rush of all life and death, and so commits suicide to once again gain that understanding because she isn’t able to do it while alive.
This I think is the heart of the dichotomy represented here – a need for balance. Although they were both “empty” vessels in a sense, Shiki seemed to understand this, while Kirie didn’t. So, ultimately, the two (Shiki and Kirie) are somewhat alike, but not truly the same.
So, to summarize, the crux of the post essentially is to point out that lots of features of the movie are inspired by Taoist philosophy and make sense when interpreted in that context (besides being pretty cool). This was an intense post to write, and I probably won’t be back to write about the second movie until I get home after exams. The Garden of Sinners is quite the place (as is Rin’s Fear Garden), and sometimes it’s hard to find your way out…