Yojo-han Shinwa Taikei – 10: The Tatami Galaxy
This episode was the cumulation, culmination, and fulmination of Watashi’s cowardice: while the previous episodes featured important circumstances that Watashi shied away from because of his indecision and fear, this was the apotheosis of his cowardice: upon the recognition of the reality that a rose-colored life can never be in this world, he refrained from selecting a group altogether and was instead content with secluding himself from the rest of the world. As a recluse, he argued upon the merits and the perfection of the 4.5 tatami room compared to rooms with a lesser or greater number of tatamis. He first describes the existence of certain rooms made up of one, two, and three tatamis, although this was done with apathy and even subtle derogation: the one who resided in the three-tatami room could be assumed to be another hikkikomori, and those who resided in the one tatami room disappeared mysteriously.
These rooms are contrasted with the perfection of the 4.5 tatami room: it was a beautiful square and it was spacious; however, it was not as spacious as the seven, eight, or ten tatami rooms, but Watashi questions man’s ability to rule over these spaces. He believes that humanity only has the ability to rule 4.5 tatami rooms and smaller spaces. I personally believe it was just his cowardice taking over him once more: sour graping was but a mask to dissimulate the reality of the situation, as the intricacies of his excuses could not hide his present discontent. At the end of this introductory montage, after all, Watashi asks: ‘where is the one responsible?’
It must be noted that there was none of the uppity music playing at the start of Watashi’s stay in university; there was even none of the pink and colorful backgrounds that predated this episode. In contrast to the blooming cherry blossoms, there was an autumn leaf fall: in contrast to the music, there was silence. I suspect that this was due to Higuchi’s revelatory exhortation in the previous episode, and while a somber thought Watashi finally sees the truth of the matter: a rose-colored campus life, is, after all, nothing more than an illusory dream. Instead of emulating Higuchi’s example to seize the day, however, Watashi opted for austerity and quietude: he chose to close himself shut rather than open himself up to the world. He selected the tranquility and loneliness of solitude.
Teruyama Shuji was an avant-garde film director, probably one of Masaaki Yuasa’s idols, and he directed a film entitled ‘Throw Away Your Books, Go Out Into the Streets!’ probably as a commentary of the exceedingly academic and scholastic attitude of Japanese towards school. Japan has a relatively high amount of suicides as a consequence of this system of meritocracy, and perhaps he made the film as a commentary against the exploration of the world merely through books. By this point, one is no longer uncertain of Watashi’s bitterness.
Vendredi noted upon the similarities between Captain Nemo and Watashi in this post of his. From the looks of things, I am bound to agree, especially because Watashi was Captain Nemo in his head, and like Nemo he eschews the world outside his 4.5 tatami room. This episode was Watashi’s escape to his final bastion, just as the Nautilus was Nemo’s: he escaped into himself, and he exhibited the autism I talked about in the previous episodes. His rejection of the Other’s existence and his escape is, I believe, the nadir of his cowardice.
He knew little else because of his isolation, and as a consequence his hermetic life was placid with little happening. One day, however, upon his waking up, he slowly discovered that his room was connected to another 4.5 tatami room similar to his. Initially thinking it was just a dream, he tried to go back to sleep. After waking up, however, it was still the same as before: the window was connected to another room like his; the door was similarly connected; even the ceiling was, too. He alludes to Kafka’s Metamorphosis occurring to him, although he relents and says that it wasn’t as bad. Watashi believed that it was better to wait and see before even panicking, and this he did: he read books, and it was alluded in the passage of time that he also jacked off. Beside the quickly-moving clock the tissue papers seemed to accumulate.
This was an episode of absences: among other characters, the fortune teller was nowhere to be found. Watashi only explained that he had a conversation with her, and while the gist of what she says appeared, she was also warning him of the misstep he had made in life. This, he believed, was the cause of his current problem. The presence of the tissue paper was confirmed with the appearance of Johnny and his hamster-wheel: it was the euphemism for masturbation in the previous episodes, and that continued with this one. Despite the words of the fortune teller, however, Watashi denied reaching out to the opportunity as the answer: instead, he looked for ways to escape the tatami galaxy (and this illustrates the aptness of the English title) he found himself in.
First, he tried following the path of water as the path of his escape, but he eventually ran out of food. He was even thinking of eating the moths as a solution to his imminent problem; he was, however, lucky, because he found fish burgers and Castella cake in the next room. It was hardly proper food, but it kept him alive and in fact made him reluctant to do anything to improve his current status.
Mention must be made on the absence of Ozu pervading this episode and Watashi’s existence: Ozu had already cut the black string of fate that connected them together, and this is evident with Watashi’s description of him. Instead of anger and bitterness, Ozu was described with apathy: he came to the dormitory to visit Higuchi as well as tested the cockroach box bomb of his (detonated in the second episode against Jougasaki). The abundance of the cockroaches was due to his experimentation, but there was no vilification from Watashi in contrast to the previous episodes where he would describe Ozu as the bane of his existence. Without the previous lens of hatred, it could be seen that Ozu was also just another human being: he presents Watashi with a Castella cake to compensate for his experimental malfunction. Because Watashi no longer had problems with food, he was thinking that it was actually a gift to live in the tatami galaxy: he was going to be alone, after all, and he was afforded an infinity of freedom, even if only of the imagination. But while it is true that ‘within the world of imagination there are no boundaries,’ it cannot be denied that he was still ultimately turning his back on reality in these actions of his.
I found the fact that Watashi desired to solve the Schrodinger’s equation very telling. Schrodinger was a highly intelligent physicist who once posited a thought experiment (Schrodinger’s cat)that led to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.In this interpretation of many worlds (somewhat subverted in this episode), there are different existences of Watashi, but none of them essentially interrupt or mingle with one another.
He nevertheless wanted to escape despite his purported happiness from freedom in the tatami galaxy: it was only because he always had a choice of escape that he sealed himself in his room. He never really wanted to escape the world: he just wanted to hide because he was afraid, and this was the supreme manifestation of it. This eventually led him to explore the rest of the maze. While it never led anywhere, he discovered that there was money stashed between a heap of stuff in a room, and he kept looking for this amount (1000 yen) in each of the rooms he passed through. It was with the failure to find a certain book he was looking for in a room that he perceived of the subtle differences among the different rooms.
He kept on plodding on and he kept on despairing until he thought about destroying the wall, only to find out that it was another 4.5 tatami room of his. It had been an interminable time when he broke through one of the rooms and recognized something that was unfamiliar to him: this was the room of the Watashi from the ninth episode. He discovered that it was the rooms of different Watashis from even just a different choice made from the current Watashi. He plowed through the rooms in reverse order from the episodes: he started with the Neko Hanten incarnation, then with the three lover incarnations of himself.
The reasoning behind Hanuki’s actions in the previous episodes coalesced with the information from this one: she was the only character that appeared to Watashi in this incarnation of him, and it revealed a human person troubled with love. She was drunk because she wanted to forget something, and thus meaning comes to us upon the recollection of her desperate screaming atop the Mikage Bridge: it was perhaps due to Higuchi’s imminent flight, as he already resolved to explore the world. I’ve already said that Higuchi serves as Watashi’s foil especially with the ninth episode: this only serves to corroborate my argument that Watashi would do good to emulate Higuchi. Despite hurting Hanuki, he did not shy away or turn his back from his dreams and the things that he wanted to accomplish.
The flashbacks continued in the reverse order of airing (with the exception of the Softball Circle’s incarnation, as we shall see later), and the current Watashi saw the depraved lifestyle of his incarnation as Disciple. The funds that Watashi found in his incarnation as a disciple was actually from his current incarnation. His persistent, dogged self as a cyclist was visited, and then his angry one as a movie club member. In these different permutations of himself, the current Watashi realized that they seemed to have enjoyable excursions in their respective choices despite failing to achieve the rose-colored life in the first place. Looking detachedly at his other incarnations he reflects that they’ve made better choices despite failing than the current him who was even too scared to make one. This is the little epiphany that will most probably drive the final episode.
He even desired a companion even if that companion was evil, because he would at least be a companion. After a montage of the rooms of the different incarnations, he meets up with the Honwaka one, as the Honwaka one saw him in the fifth episode. The moths have once again gained importance, not only as Akashi’s feared creatures, but as even those with companions: even they are not alone.
People have noted that this episode was Masaaki Yuasa’s art house entry: I myself saw the prevalence of live-action images and montages especially in comparison to the previous episodes, but I personally think that it served to illustrate the alienation of Watashi from the world. One must notice that the colors used primarily in the episode were drab, while color was used to illustrate irony. This was the autism that I was talking about in the previous episodes: this was the final escape and his final bastion. Upon the disintegration of his rose-colored campus life ideal, he regressed instead of pushed forward. As I have said, this was the ultimate act of cowardice.
I must comment on the similarity of impressions left to me by the episode and the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious. As I understand it (I may be wrong), there is a central bank of inchoate information that every one of us share. It is never realized or recognized in reality because it lies beneath our conscious selves. Likewise, Watashi never fully realizes what his parallel incarnations really did, but he recognizes an outline of what they have done: they are linked together below the threshold of consciousness, but they are nevertheless interminably linked.
It is just saddening to note, however, that despite the recognition of his faults and of reality, Watashi still fails to reach towards the opportunty that hangs in front of him. Even if subconsciously, Watashi still revels in his solitude: Ozu had already cut the connection of their black string, and that was made evident in this episode. It’s up to him to fix himself up.