A strong reoccurring theme that frequently appears in Japanese film, music, and art is sadness that's wrapped in beauty. Recently as I was watching a Japanese film about a group of men following out a suicide pact, I realized that every single one of the previous Japanese films that I watched earlier in the week had ended in loss, tragedy, or an ambiguous sense of melancholy.
But yet, not a single one of these films left me depressed and cold. The thing is, despite the longing and sadness on the screen, these films were absolutely beautiful, and the beauty of those films is what resonated strongest within me, and so I fell for the strange power of Japan's most personal examples of film making.
From the early arts of the Edo-Period, and through the difficult post-war years, the Japanese mastered expressing what they call "mono no aware", a transcendental understanding of our lives being impermanent and the world ever-changing.
This zen-like acceptance greets tragic events with a bittersweet awareness that they cannot altered, much like the lazy flow of a river that occasionally floods over violently. I find this cultural philosophy fascinating and inspiring.
With this understanding, Japanese films which deal with heavy-hearted emotions often contain a positive undercurrent that helps the viewer see the ending in a affirmative way. I've found over the years that I simply adore a good sad Japanese film, and likewise I savior sitting in the dark listening to a wistful enka song.
To some people, the Japanese passion for the melancholy must seem somewhat odd. But you see, the yearning and the despair never bring me down, rather they help me embrace life and this gorgeous world we're born to, and as weird as that may seem, that makes me very happy.
And with that, I leave you with a lovely enka song performed by Fuyumi Sakamoto. Enjoy!
This post is also my entry in the July 2009 Japan Blog Matsuri....
About the films in the images above...
Tokyo. Sora is a fascinating study of loneliness in modern Toyko by minimalist filmmaker Hiroshi Ishikawa. Trailer here.
Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story is considered by many to be his masterpiece, an amazing film about generational differences in post-war Japan.
Ikiru is Akira Kurosawa's highly personal film about a man reflecting on his own mortality.
5 Centimeters Per Second is a gorgeously animated film made up of 3 short stories. A beautifully sad small-scale epic with a glimmer of hope within. Music video for the film's theme song here.
If you have your favorite films that explore these themes, please share in the comments, I'd appreciate your suggestions!