Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mono No Aware: A Sensitivity To Things

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!


David said...

Very cool post. I need to watch more Japanese cinema. I find when I hold find raku pottery, tea cups mostly, I'll get the same sense of this melancholic mortality. Same with some of the older buildings and neighborhoods which I photograph.

The Envoy said...

Such Japanese tastes do mirror my own in life. Indeed, the only constant in existence is change itself. Informative post!

JapanZone said...

The NHK New Year show Kohaku Uta Gassen has become increasingly irrelevant over the years. But that video is an example of a good Kohaku performance...nice song, the subtle stage changes and appearance of the backing dancers. And you do realize that Saotome Taichi is actually a teenage boy?

supreme nothing said...

JapanZone: Thanks for enlightening me about Saotome Taichi. I didn't read the description of the video close enough to catch that detail. He follows in the tradition of the classic kabuki actors, it seems. Very fascinating indeed!

Yuuji?! said...

i had watched the Byousoku 5cm, and that's what i like the most, the "...sadness that's wrapped in beauty." and also i'm agree with you - "...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."
Somehow, it gives the audience a kind of mystery feeling - such a strong will.