Monday, May 27, 2013

Thematic Wanderings: Garden Of Guilt

Upon taking the much-neglected time to digest Zexcs's singularly unique TV adaptation of Shuzo Oshimi's Aku No Hana, it occurred to me that there are bizarre parallels to be made with a personal favorite Kurosawa film, which yields enough space for consideration of a certain societal focus. In the Flowers narrative, we have a bookish, socially withdrawn young man, Takao, who finds himself at the center of a gut-twisting after-school triangle as a sociopathic classmate threatens to out him for an indiscretion regarding his classroom crush, Saeki. Having been unable to resist the temptation to take her gym clothes home with him, the plaguing within his already troubled mind is exacerbated by the meeting of one Nakamura, a girl clearly overflowing with dangerous impulses, and even greater unpredictability, lets him into her lurid world under threat of exposure. All based on a single act, the three are eventually bound together in a cycle of ever intensifying psychosexuality, carrying implications not only for these characters, but perhaps all around them. But what really captured me about this lurid tale of young love gone horribly wrong, was how oddly it carries faint echoes of one of Japan's most enduring crime dramas, Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog(1949).

As much a tale of the sprawling chaos of post WWII Japan as it is the tense drama of one young homicide detective's desperate search for his stolen firearm. As the harried former soldier, and greenhorn detective, Murakami, Toshiro Mifune portrays a man consumed by his own increasing sense of guilt over the loss of his Colt, carrying seven live rounds, now possibly in the hands of someone very dangerous. When he is offered the opportunity to join up with veteran detective, Sato (Takashi Shimura) to track down what could lead to a bust in the city's illegal gun trade racket, Murakami continues to lament and panic over what he feels if his own accidental complicity. While the more world weary Sato maintains belief that criminals are themselves far too gone, and therefore naturally evil, it is Murakami who finds himself empathizing with the explosion of criminality post war Japan has engendered. Endlessly worrying about his gun, and what has likely been done with it clouds his many decisions, and he eventually must grow to understand that his folly is something much smaller an element. As each lead and dead end takes the two cops toward their better understanding of the desperation inherent in Japanese society, the more it is made clear that Kurosawa is commenting that all of us are capable of moral equilibrium, and that noone is a moustache-twirling evil-doer, but often good people cornered into making bad decisions. This is no more better encompassed in the film than by way of  who is discovered to be the film's central antagonist, the little seen, but often regarded Yusa(Isao Kimura). A young man who's crush on a local dancer has led him down darker, more troublesome paths due to the intervention of our leads. Each choice becoming more spastic than the last, even though we hardly see this character, we are clearly understanding of his feelings as economic disparity and Murakami's own concerns are reflective of his own internal  struggles. Both Murakami and Yusa eventually represent the younger eyes of a Japan that has seen its pride stripped, and choices narrowed, often to the point of being unable to reconcile with a growing lean on artifice and commercialism, as opposed to united community. At the end of the film, we see a balance between the live of this characters, and what it means for the overall future of Japan, something Kurosawa was clearly concerned about as the 1950s was approaching. 

Flash forward to Flowers' Takao, and his own troubles where he is for a mere moment, vulnerable to his own inner darkness, and must contend with this action endlessly as it is now a shared secret. Initially grabbing the gym clothes and bringing them home was bad enough, but to have the most volatile of classmates know of this, can only trip him up further on any voyage toward redemption, quiet or not. The clearly unstable, and often puzzling Nakamura contends that he must do as she says in order to maintain the secret. Matters are then put to frightening task when it turns out that the object of his affection (and requisite guilt), the beautiful Saeki, seeks his honest attentions, thereby increasing danger levels tenfold. And while Takao cannot believe his good fortune, it is constantly marred by Nakamura's endlessly disturbing demands. (even to the point of forcing him to wear the aforementioned gym clothes under his own during a first date) Even as he intends to do right by his sudden luck, the moment of weakness from before has now become a soul stain that has no intention of going away. And even as he continues to come home late due to staying out with the insistent Nakamura, tension is mounting as the three have now found themselves in a bind that seems destined to combust at any moment.

This is where I can somewhat see a connection between both works, even if the gulf spans between so many things that it could quite easily be dismissed. Forgiving the fact that we're making parallels between an anime circa 2013, and a 1949 feature film, there is an emphasis on characters finding themselves forced into a corner by way of the procurement/loss of an object, which is then intensified by the intervention of an outside quantity. As the objects in question could not be more divergent, it could be said that they intersect in meaning by way of them representing a means of escape, a means of sloughing off a feeling of general unease about the outside world and the pressure it imbues on all who live in it. In the case of Stray Dog, it is more directly a means of getting something in order to hopefully gain the affections of another, while in Flowers, it is a subterranean, morally broken means of getting closer to another. Both objects representing a desperate need to connect, and yet capable of breaking such potential to both their intended and those around. Where the gun is made to destroy life, the gym clothes are more of a social poison, re-purposed and capable of almost psychically harming more than a few mental images. And as both Takao and Yusa do their best to rectify their mistakes, it is clearer and clearer that perhaps they themselves have gone too far, and that redemption can only come through nothing less than violence, anguish, and shame.

For the future, or what little remains.

And after all this, acknowledging the contrasts ultimately highlights something far more challenging; the overall focus and concerns inherent in the lives of these characters, and what it means to a culture as a whole. Stray Dog's Tokyo, is a sprawling, overburdened, burnt out husk of a city teeming with the disadvantaged and discarded. It is a borderline document of a time when a nation was in most need of identity and solidarity, where those who would fall through the cracks would find themselves in terrible places, often seeing no way out. The tale of Murakami and Yusa is one of seeing deep into the abyss, and realizing that choice remains eternal. That our better selves is always an option, especially as the young continue to enter the picture. This is almost diametrically opposed in Flowers, a vision that represents a small city growing isolated under its once vibrant opulence, a shell of its former self. Takao questions why the city is buried in rust, and sees himself equally soiled by its inherent brokenness. Even as the town offers up a diversity of people and ideas, and even before the gym clothing episode, he clearly has had no real connection to others, possibly even to his family. The skulking relationship between he and Nakamura is akin to acknowledging that within the sixty-plus years in between these works, that something has failed massively, and that the abyss has indeed enveloped everyone. Even as the show's presentation shares with it the tenets of anime, the aim of the rotoscoping animation is clearly intended to work in opposition to what the medium has become. It is ready to point out the reality, instead of the fantasy so many otaku seem confined to as their surrogate school days. Flowers is a mirror to the now, a gaze into the future - and it is far from promising.

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