Subtlety in anime and media: True Tears of Lust, Caution

In NovaJinx’s post regarding True Tears and its perception by many, he stated that quite a number of people have failed to appreciate the subtlety of True Tears. He continues that people dislike ‘nothing happening’ throughout the episodes. I cannot corroborate True Tears‘s subtlety just as I will not condemn those people who dislike the series because nothing happens: for one, I have not seen True Tears yet, and I have no plans to in the near future (of course, whims can change that in an instant). However, I have recently watched something only tangentially related to True Tears (in the fact that both are panned). This something, however, deserves more discussion.

This is the movie Lust, Caution.

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Lust, Caution

Even without having seen True Tears I would wager that the subtlety in this film towers over anything the anime series could offer. Lust, Caution‘s subtlety, after all, was what led a lot of non-Asian critics to pan the film because a lot of them believed that the film was vapid and languid. (Asian critics have almost unanimously praised the film for its perfection.) Personally, I would admit to the fact that it will be boring if one only viewed the film for the purpose of seeing sensual sex scenes in action; likewise, it also would be boring to the viewer accustomed to a movie driven by plot and action. The simmering, the revelation, and the culmination on the film is centrifugal: there is even more to the unseen than to the seen. The source of meaning is within the characters, and the viewer must unravel it and solve it like a jigsaw puzzle. It is when the viewer arrives at an epiphany can only the true tragedy be shown. When I saw the film, I was reminded of Yasunari Kawabata: there was a scene in Thousand Cranes where the lipstick left on the cup meant more than merely a picturesque scene: it was the whole history of the characters: the lipstick was an insidious venom found only in what cannot be observed directly. The film reflects Kawabata’s concision: it is not in the noise of the mahjong games, or in the idle chitchat of the ladies that possesses meaning: it is in their glances, quick and evanescent they may be, that the women reveal themselves and their contempt, hatred, anger, or envy towards one another. In fact, there was even a scene which was an atavism to the Kawabata scene mentioned earlier: for a short amount of time, the lipstick on a wine-glass was focused signifying the man’s fall to the woman’s seduction.

The movie is a behemoth. It clocks in at more than two hours and a half. It possess a languorous mood: to many unaccustomed to films driven by character, again, this movie will seem a bore. To those, however, like NovaJinx who seek for media that is intricate and pervaded with subtlety, one must not look anymore: Lust, Caution is the movie.

In the modern times of consumerism and urgency, pastiched thought and suggestive nuances are an attitude both anti-modern and backward: they go against the compartmentalization of progress, to borrow Ricoeurian terms. Convenience is the shibboleth of the zeitgeist. However, one must seek a subtlety that illuminates rather than obfuscates: a subtlety of an epiphany, not a subtlety of eschaton.

14 Responses to “Subtlety in anime and media: True Tears of Lust, Caution

  1. Ronin Says:

    Insightful words coming from an intellectual critic such as yourself. I can’t help but applaud your clarity on NovaJinx’s post to series to which is ascribed as “nothing happens” (read:static).

    True, there are people who have high anticipations on works that focus on drama and interpersonal relationship. Yet there are some segments of that particular demographic that can’t seem to see the fact that relationships do not fall and rise within a short instant of time. They require signs as subtle as the one you stated in your opinion on Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (I really want to see that movie, and see what all the fuss is about the “sex scenes”).

    Relationship development can be an art. That much I can say.

  2. hashihime Says:

    I’ve seen and liked both, and you are making a big mistake not to watch True Tears. Can this be anti-anime prejudice in an anime blog?

    “The source of meaning is within the characters, and the viewer must unravel it and solve it like a jigsaw puzzle. ” That could easily have been written about True Tears. The motivations and feelings of the characters are only gradually coming clear, revealed in a sweater, a scarf, a lunchbox, a sudden angry word.

    And as far as length is concerned, the TV series will end up with over four hours of drama, almost twice the length of the “behemoth” of a film. Hardly an illustration of “convenience.”

    But no sex scenes so far, and none of the majestic self-sacrifice shown in the film.

  3. korosora Says:

    One thing I have learned from the internet:

    One cannot account for taste.

    (But I ignore this lesson and call people narutards all the same. :P)

  4. Michael Says:


    I wasn’t talking about True Tears. As I have not seen it, I cannot say much about the series. I have, however, wagered that the movie will still contain more nuance even after the anime series has completed. It’s not that I’m against anime, lol. It’s just that the movie was, quite frankly, more affecting than any anime I have seen in the past year and a half.

    You know, I loved that majestic self-sacrifice. The movie was like liquor swilling in my mouth: at first there’s simply a numbness; it is only later one realizes one is getting drunk. I kept on thinking about the film, and the post may seem cryptic: this is because I do not want to spoil anything about the film. Anyway, meaning dawned on me piecemeal. However, when I discovered it, it was quite an epiphany. (I ran out of my room and discussed it with my dormmates who watched the film with me, only to be disappointed they were not able to obtain meaning from the nuances of the film.)

    Take for example the pill with Wang Jiazhi at the very end of the movie. It was not only self-sacrifice for the one she loved; it was also a sacrifice to be there even when she was used merely as an instrument and disregarded as a person. She did not back down: she did not run away. I really wanted to cry during those scenes. I haven’t felt reverberations of watching series after Honey and Clover; it has only been recently where even after three days of watching the movie I still keep on thinking about it, trying to figure out more about the characters in the tragic farce they acted in.


    I would say that. I wonder why some people still like Naruto, but that is not within my powers to tell. Hey, I like Ichigo 100% and DearS, but those are merely exceptions to the rule. :3

    I guess my taste sucks when it comes to manga. I think, however, that I have better taste when it comes to anime, film, and literature. But that’s for others to tell, not me.


    It is not the sex scenes or the ‘pornography’ that is the core of the movie, although it is among the foremost scenes in giving meaning to the actions of the characters. The sex scenes pave the way to the actions of the characters, and such is its sad construction that tragedy ultimately lurks at the end. Relationship development, when perfected, pervade most classic works of literature and film.

    I highly would agree: relationships don’t form and break in a single instant. They take time, and they aren’t obvious most of the time. Even just a suggestive smile, or the glance, from the girl (or boy) one likes can be enough to power one to act upon that. It’s not steeped in violent or coruscating action: on the contrary, it lies in subtlety.

    Thanks for the compliments.

  5. Ryan A Says:

    nothing happening

    But… it’s so Zen. I recall the scene in American Beauty, where Ricky is showing Lester “the most beautiful thing” he had filmed.

    There is an eternity where moments stand still. That is my feeling. It is not a simple gesture to express (anything) within that eternity, and thus a media loses members of the audience, but may gain lovers.

    Michael, enjoyable read 🙂

    I will be looking forward to this film, and reminded of the untouched copy of Thousand Cranes that has been sitting on my computer desk for over a month. Slowly, I am toward putting True Tears on a watch-list of some sort, possibly 2008 marathon. I have not decided, so yes, who knows.

  6. Michael Says:

    Hi Ryan!

    I’m sorry I haven’t been able to visit your blog more often. I have had school, and the like. I’m actually posting simply to remind people that I’m still here.

    Your post reminds me of Zeno’s Paradox, if I remember correctly. Isn’t a fired arrow merely an object in an infinite series of presents (eternity of moments standing still?). Subtlety drives away quite a few people – a lot want to be entertained, but most of those do not want to think. 🙂

    Thanks for still keeping up with me. I hope to form a post that will be even better, and more in touch with anime. 🙂

  7. Smashingtofu Says:

    Anyone who loves Goth gets cred from a manga connoisseur like me : d

    With regards to ‘good taste,’ its just a matter of your willingness to try new stuff out there.

  8. Michael Says:


    Thanks, haha. Goth is an awesome manga, and it still remains to be among the best with what I’ve read. 🙂

  9. The Otakusphere: Vote Anime, a little cultural jet-lag and a big happy love fest « In Search of Number Nine Says:

    […] can make anything relate to anime, or rather anime relate to anything. This time he’s got a post on subtlety and the movie Lust, […]

  10. Ryan A Says:

    Zeno’s eh? Bongos! There is something like that. At this moment, I feel it is a revert backwards in nature… we were all single-celled at one point in time, hence we were very very small (no evolution required, egg+sperm, that’s small).

    On one of the smallest scales, electrons have a non-zero probability of being “anywhere”, as we go up in mass and components of base particles that probability decreases greatly. That moment of “one point” can be considered more infinite than another point further along in the transcendence of increasing mass (living=growing). Before we realize, we cannot, physically, be everywhere all at one, though we did come from this natural state, or were closer to.

    That being the case, I feel notions of “slow time” within a delivery can be very soothing and almost implicitly comprehended (it’s only natural for time to feel infinite-or the compliment). The raw, we get more raw emotions of flow. If I could relate this, I would have to bring up the idea of surfing… complete stream of thoughtlessness into action (when done properly).

    In the medium of storytelling, that infinite time attempts to stream a form of thoughtlessness from one to another, the story to the one experiencing. Of course this also happens very quickly, but in a slower form there is more “painful” influx of the stream. How could I relate this to anime?

    Well, say a character dies, one route could run so quickly that it seems insignificant (Dragonaut), while another can be intense enough for tears (Terra e..). It isn’t necessarily time from A to B, but time propagated by the story. When the time is slower, it can be more careful at laying out key building blocks to emotion ahead. I don’t know where to go from here.

    I like the pondering. 🙂

  11. Michael Says:


    We now have to deal with time’s fickle nature. Time has been discussed and dissected by many philosophers; each and everyone of them has different takes on its nature. From Heidegger to Ricoeur, no one of them has the same insights and analysis. I have, however, tried to relate the absolute relativity of time to Marcel’s thoughts regarding it. If I remember correctly (philosophy is such a variegated subject populated by so many intellectuals with so many thoughts that it is hard to refer correctly to the right person), Marcel tangentially discusses time (with what I have read of him) in that it is a mystery: one cannot disjoint the self from it; it is not merely a problem because it is a problem that transcends itself. How can we disjoint ourselves or place time as an object in front of us when we ourselves are immersed in it? The answer is, we cannot – and therefore it becomes a mystery.

    It’s like playing around and having fun compared to being in a boring class. 30 minutes will probably differ so much in the qualitative conclusion, but remains the same quantitatively. I like action movies, but I also like languorous films (of course, with as much depth and content as Lust, Caution).

    The flow of time solely depends on the story, if that’s what you’re pondering. I mean, it would be very exhausting to watch a supposed ‘action’ film with only one action scene, right? I guess it simply depends (and this is not a cop out, it just does).

  12. Ryan A Says:

    I remember in high school, when I’d try to get that extra 5 minutes of sleep before breakfast… it ended up being 25, but seemed like 3.

    Ooo, for some reason I’m reminded of this RadioLab I heard last year. Time. If it is the one I remember, there is a segment on people whose time varies greatly in their perspective.

  13. * About Me. True Tears / Honey & Clover? Says:

    […] Mike, I hope you have enjoyed this post. […]

  14. Ileen Underkoffler Says:

    nice stuff hopefully i learned from it.

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