If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? If we are forget someone, is that person dead to us? Is Chihiro’s novel really an epitaph, a eulogy, and a suicide note?
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
–TS Eliot, “Little Gidding”
The thing that continues to impress me so much about this show is how, even in the darkest and saddest moments, it is still ravishingly beautiful: beautiful shots, beautiful music, especially in the evening on the school rooftop. This is an episode filled to the brim with a funereal mood, even amidst the motions of the “first and last date” that includes movies, kisses, and lovemaking. One immediately senses that this is somehow The End for Chihiro, from the very first seconds of the episode to the strange way Chihiro talks about the novel she just completed. And, when the End comes, it comes with a glorious shot of all the ripped pages of her diary flung into the air, sailing into the sea and off the rooftop and into oblivion. It is a monumentally romantic way to go, at that.
I was expecting suicide, or at least an attempt, especially since the last time we saw Chihiro and Renji, they were standing in a graveyard. I also sensed that the completion of the novel was in some sense the completion of her life as well, and one of the signs to look for in a suicidal person is if he or she after years of despondency suddenly feels happy, which is what she is during their date. But in a way, what happens is worse than regular suicide, especially if one is Renji. She is deliberately erasing the part of herself that knows who he is, something like the forgetfulness treatments in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in an effort to spare Renji pain–even though that doesn’t make any sense. She may forget who he is, but he won’t. He is right to insist that everything she says is untrue; what she is doing is actually going to cause him more, not less, pain. No, what is going on is the actually told in the ending of her novel: she is setting fire to all her “paintings” and as god of her world, cleansing and clearing everything. It’s not that she’s insincere or not heartfelt in her desire to spare Renji; I think she truly believes it. But this is also an assertion of self-will and control for a person who has so little of it because of her condition. It’s quite different than the situation with Fuko in Clannad, where the forgetting is involuntary, and is experienced as a sad kind of death.
Why do I sense, though, that this is not quite the end for the two of them? What we see does not quite feel like an ending, unlike the previous episode which resolved the Kei/Hirono/Miyako triangle. It feels more like a climax, even though there is but one more episode left until the end. I wonder if they are going to go the route of exploring how even if Chihiro may forget, Renji will not, nor will her guardian or that angelic girl who keeps showing up–and that will make all the difference, kind of like at the end of Serial Experiments Lain. I see a Kyosuke-made movie that somehow ties all these lives together into a narrative or a visual poem. My word, what an artistic triumph that would be if they pull it off right.
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The awkwardness–the “first time”ness–of both Renji and Chihiro is so sweet and believable. They have to ask each other to hold hands, to kiss; they have to tell each other that that is what lovers do; they have to practice kissing before they get it right. Walking along the beach and probably going to movies are ideas they picked up from books, not experience. It is simultaneously dream-like (which characterizes much of the show in general) and down-to-earth, in an idealized way to be sure but for eroge adaptations, it’ll do. Now I’m worried about what will happen to Renji, whom we’ve seen is rather emotionally fragile deep down (inexplicably thus far).
Remaining questions: did Chihiro’s guardian know exactly what would happen here, and hence give him the key? Was the “angel” girl in fact the last person he took care of that had something similar going on? What happens to Chihiro now? I’d hate for her, even with her annoying voice, to remain stuck in the circular cage for the rest of her unhappy life. I remember the way though that Charlie Kaufman managed to find a redemptive ending of sorts at the end of Eternal Sunshine, that forgetting need not be final nor bad memories be irreparably harmful. Maybe, and this is my hopeful side speaking and my literary pretentious side begging to use TS Eliot’s “Little Gidding” again, they will somehow discover that even when memory fails, that something new might come out of even something so horrible. That it might give them a chance to start over, maybe with more wisdom on Renji’s part. That at
the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning[.]
Next episode review will also be the series review. This is definitely a very strong contender for the “emotional satisfaction” award this year.