Shiki: what ambiguity?

I’m not someone one would consider a film-lover, although I try my best to be abreast of critically-acclaimed films. I can’t say I love independent films more than big-budget blockbusters, but I try to watch as many good films as I can (although I haven’t watched Paprika yet).

I haven’t watched Oldboy, but I have watched two films of Park Chan-wook’s, and I am in agreement with many as regards his ability and talent in directing. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance was pretty good, but Thirst was beautiful.

One would probably wonder why I’m talking about films when this is an anime blog, but Thirst is thematically similar to an anime series I recently finished: there are shared elements between it and Shiki. I know I haven’t been around to keep pace when it was airing, so I’m trying to make amends.

The most obvious motif is the supernatural existence of vampires. This is what arguably pervades the majority of philosophical problems that both film and series possess. In Thirst, a priest who sought meaning in his life decided to be a test subject for a fictional disease with no cure. Because he was transfused with vampire blood, however, he was the only one who was able to escape death from the disease. In exchange for his ‘cured’ state, however, was a severe desire for blood.

Unlike most stock vampires, however, the priest tried to procure blood through relatively benign means: he would steal from blood banks and seek out people who desired to die, and magically give them anemia, of course, which would hasten their death. He did not actively try to feed on people, and if he did it was never to the extent of murdering them. His transformation, however, awakened his desires of the flesh, and this was reciprocated by a woman who felt trapped in the mundane existence of her family.

I guess the prior viewing of Thirst didn’t really allow me to view Shiki as an ambiguous affair: I thought the family of vampires were enemies because they invaded a peaceful place and didn’t practice moderation, which they could have done. What happened to them near the end of the series was merely their recompense: what goes around, comes around. Was it utterly necessary for Sunako and the Kirishiki’s to create a palace in the middle of nowhere so that they can feed on the Sotoba village?

It was not. If they had the resources to create a castle as grand as their residence, they would have had the resources to purchase blood from banks, or even steal from those places. They could have made photodermatosis as an excuse for their inability to go out during the day, and then drink from bought blood when they felt hunger. Instead, they felt it was better to terrorize a whole village because they needed to feed.

Hemophilia, for example, is a genetic disorder. They could create that as an excuse and if that didn’t pass through they could just steal from the city’s blood banks. Instead, they wanted a village all their own.

I laughed when they were dying. It served them right.

Thirst for me was a great film because it didn’t make things as clear as other vampire movies did. The priest was a vampire one could definitely empathize with, because even if he was accidentally made into a vampire he tried his best to not kill others. His only weakness, in the end, was that he loved too much that he created another monster like himself. Even then, he tried to make up for his misdeeds by suicide: because he couldn’t stop her, he made sure that they both died. I can’t help but remember the final, haunting line he uttered to the lady he transformed:

‘I wanted to live with you forever and ever. Together again in hell then.’

I didn’t empathize or sympathize with most of the vampires in Shiki because of this. For me, they didn’t deserve any. They blindly obeyed the commands of Tatsumi; some even murdered their own family because they were merely hungry and wanted to have some companionship as vampires. There was no one other than Natsuno who thought of fighting against the spreading plague. The only other shiki I empathize with are Ritsuko and Tohru. Both still retained their consciences even as shiki, although Tohru fed on Natsuno out of necessity. I think that despite everything it was a good move by him, because it prevented Megumi from hypnotizing Natsuno, allowing Natsuno to warn Akira and Kaori. In the end, he also helped Yasuyo escape due to the prodding of Ritsuko, and faced his death together with her.

Self-control reminiscent of Father Sergius

I empathize most with Ritsuko and Natsuno, however, because they did not let their beastliness obscure their humanity. Ritsuko fought against her hunger and upheld her basic human duty to be responsible for others. Natsuno and her are probably the apotheosis of the Kantian deontological philosophy: treat each and every person not merely as a means, but always as an end. She translates this responsibility beautifully in her dialogue with Tohru:

I don’t want to die either, but I don’t want you [Tohru] or Yasuyo to die. […] For me to live on, someone else has to die.

Tohru thanked Ritsuko after his release of Yasuyo: although he was a well-meaning guy, he needed see the decisiveness of Ritsuko to know that he finally did the right thing. Both would die in each other’s arms.

What Natsuno has done to deserve sympathy is more obvious, however, because even as a Shiki he helped destroy the other Shiki as well as helped Dr. Ozaki battle the vampires. In the end, even if he could have lived (as a werewolf he did not have any fear of the dark and could very well survive on human food), he decided to die with Tatsumi, the devilish werewolf who was actually the enforcer among the Shiki. He protected Akira and Kaori and placed Kaori in a hospital; he also smartly bit Dr. Ozaki because he knew the other shiki were targetting Ozaki’s life.

There are three other characters I’d like to share my thoughts on. They are Seishin, Sunako, and Dr. Toshio Ozaki. I won’t be very long with the former two.

I am not atheist. I am pretty much a Catholic. I honestly don’t have much of a desire to go to Church, however, because I have lost faith in a good amount of priests in our country. As a medical student, and being familiar with the reproductive health bill, I believe in the power of contraception especially in a state where the poorest families have the most amount of children. I would rather have the prevention of the creation of children rather than children who couldn’t even eat and probably will be those who will become the next generation of breeders. The Philippines cannot withstand another population explosion, especially because it has a small area.

I guess this negativity has rubbed off on my perception on Seishin, especially because he did everything a monk should not have done: he sided with evil, and condoned the perpetuation of the Shiki. He also killed someone who only desired to cleanse his village of the Shiki, Tomio. He never helped Ozaki when the deaths started to escalate and instead turned to Sunako to be with her. I hate hypocrisy, and he was one of the biggest in this series. It’s just like the priests here in the Philippines: unable to see the pragmatism on the Reproductive Health bill, they desire to uphold natural family planning in a country that’s for the most part a confederacy of dunces.

Together again in death, then

I have little to say about Sunako. Her logic and reasoning to me were weak, and she should have died. I’m glad Ozaki and Natsuno outsmarted her. There were other less violent ways and she didn’t think of it, but she thought on spending on a castle and eradicating the Sotoba village? She was an imbecile.

Finally, we have Dr. Ozaki. I don’t despise what he did to his dead wife, and I certainly don’t despise what he did to the Shiki. There wasn’t really any difficulty for me to tell the good from the bad, and he was the good party for the most part. I like him a lot because he reminded me of Dr. Bernard Rieux, the protagonist of Camus’s Plague.

Although he thought of the occurrences in Sotoba to be unreal, once he discovered the reality with Natsuno’s help he did not hesitate to do everything in his power to stop the deaths from consuming the entire village. He tried to pragmatically deal with his supernatural enemies, and was successful because he used reason more than emotions. Did I like what he did to his wife? No. Could there have been something else? It would have taken much longer and the village would have been outrun by the Shiki by then. He did not exactly have the benefit of choosing his specimen and while he could have controlled and aided his wife it wouldn’t have saved the village from them. It was because of this decision that the secret to the Shiki’s weakness was thoroughly discovered and it was because of this assiduity that the villagers were able to destroy the lair of the Shikis with such precision. He tries to battle the shiki in the village because it is his job as doctor to protect human lives.

He is just as pragmatic as Dr. Rieux and that is why I admired what he had done in the series.

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9 Responses to “Shiki: what ambiguity?”

  1. Taka Says:

    Do you think you would have had a different opinion if you hadn’t seen Thirst? The problem with the Shiki’s is that they were controlled by someone who for all intents and purposes has the mind of a 14 year old or so. Despite the fact that Sunako was hundreds of years old she never matured much beyond her human age. I don’t know if it ever struck her to procure blood from other means. Perhaps she did try it once but it didn’t work out. The way she was treated by humans in the initial stages of her vampirehood resonated throughout the years into a killed or be killed mentality.

    On the flipside you have the humans who relentlessly choose to ignore what is going on in their village. I always hated the initial way Ozaki handled the story when he still thought it was some outbreak of a disease. No quarantine, no background checks, no procedure. He just let it kill people one after another till he finally put 2 and 2 together. I don’t hate that he cut up his wife though I think it was a gruesome scene but for me it showed a unhinging of Ozaki. Frankly being able to cut up his wife like that is near sociopathic. He’d already written the Shiki off the same way as Sunako wrote humans off.

    If we start from there neither side can easily resolve the matter. It’s like Capulets and Montague’s fighting. Us vs. Them mentality. The Shiki’s started out with that mentality and the humans adopted it. Neither side really made any attempts to do otherwise.

    I’ve made that point but I also want to elaborate a little more on Ozaki. I hated how he killed Chizuru. Not because she was a Shiki. I hated what he used. In the same way I hated how sometimes the Shiki would use family members against each other, I hated how Ozaki used Chizuru’s humanity against her. She was generally excited about going out and doing mundane things such pretending she’d cut her finger while slicing potatoes. She’d spent her Shiki life doing outrageous things because she knew there was no consequence. Yet, in that moment when Ozaki invited her out, she actually yearned for those mundane moments, the normalcy of a human life. Perhaps in that moment she yearned for mortality. Therefore it was tough for me to watch Ozaki lead her to her death. For me it was like declaring a truce so you can get someone to come out of hiding, only to shoot them as soon as they reveal themselves. To me if you use someone else’s humanity against them, you’ve lost your own.

    Seishin’s biggest hypocrisy that he was even a priest in the first place. I don’t see him as turning from his faith and betraying humanity. He attempted suicide before, he shouldn’t be alive in the first place. I see him as a man without much faith, thrust into the position by his family. When he was given a way out, he took it.

    As for Tomio. He murders people who may not even be Shiki. If you wanted to forgive him for all the little kid Shiki he probably murdered, you shouldn’t be able to forgive him for the humans. For the humans, things spiral out of control. Ozaki loses his hold on the people and they are taken over with mob mentality. Tomio arises as the leader but he lacks the careful calculation of Ozaki. Whereas Ozaki worked on pragmatism and necessity, Tomio replaces that with hot-blooded rage and bloodlust. Tomio doesn’t care if they are still human, they were with the Shiki, they must be working with the Shiki, right? The Us vs. Them mentality is reinforced. Eventually the town becomes desensitized to violence…and the town pays.

    The Shiki got their recompense by being wiped out. The humans got theirs by the town being wiped out. No one wins, both share responsibility.

  2. Michael Says:

    Taka:

    I never recall her being mistreated by humans. It was her who killed people for the sake of feeding on them, and even with all the books she’s read she never learned to think beyond that. She was the one who never took the time to think about control. She was the one who synthesized the kill or be killed mentality. She was the one who started it all – I’m glad it all came back to her. Kismet.

    As for Ozaki, he chose to ignore what seemed to be unbelievable. I think most doctors, including me, would do it. In most of our cases there is always a logical basis in reality, and it took him some time to think about the possibility of an epidemic. My only problem with him was that he was quite slow with the uptake, but for all intents and purposes he was trying to do what he could. It is a rule in epidemiology that one never magnifies what one is not yet established to be an epidemic. One has to study first the possibility of the entity truly being an epidemic. I think that while he was pretty slow to put 2 and 2 together due to his bias on rationalism he was pretty quick when he established it to be caused by the Kirishiki’s.

    You have to remember that Chizuru meant to play around with Ozaki before she was going to kill him. She deserved every bit of that death, for me. Ozaki was just smarter by letting Natsuno bite him so that he wouldn’t be hypnotized by Chizuru. It wasn’t using her humanity against her; for me, it was using her profligacy against herself.

    As for Tomio, I thought he was responsible, although out for blood. I do see your point regarding the Us vs. Them mentality, but I thought about how he set an example for the other villagers that the entities they were faced with were no longer human. He let his son pay for what he did. I thought that was a supreme example of responsibility. If Tomio didn’t take care of those hypnotized by the Shiki more people would have died. Simply put, for me, the end justifies the means.

    I do recognize your wonderful points; it’s just that I don’t see the Shiki to have thought for themselves, and that is why they nearly all died. Sunako won’t likely pull off a stunt like that in the future, and I’m glad she saw the carnage – maybe she will think a bit more. That is why I highlight Ritsuko and Natsuno – it seems they’re the only ones who retained that ability to think clearly despite their transformation. Do I think she would drink blood from the blood banks? Fuck yeah, but she will not harm another living person.

    Thank you for the comments. I’m glad you keep visiting my blog! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Taka Says:

    Without going into too much detail, both people who began the Kill or Be Killed (or Us vs. Them) mentality lived on. Sunako started everything with the Shiki, (I vaguely recall her being locked away when it became apparent she was a vampire but I could be getting my vampire shows mixed up.) and hopefully she learned from it. Ozaki did the same for the humans, and Ozaki lived on. I honestly believe the show was trying to portray both groups as having incorrect thinking.

    If you don’t mind I’m going to drop a link to ADayWithoutMe’s Shiki tag on her blog: http://gargarstegosaurus.wordpress.com/tag/shiki/

    She followed the show episodically, did several retrospectives on the series, blogged the manga afterwords, and generally was very involved in the show.

    If you haven’t read her posts they are worth a read. I admit they follow similar lines of thought but they were making their post immediately after the show ended. I’m trying to defend a few months later ๐Ÿ˜›
    All in all I think it’s a pretty balanced posts.

  4. Michael Says:

    I have strong emotions with regard to the show, but it’s not really as ambiguous as Caraniel’s or ADayWithoutMe’s write-ups. You start shit up, you deal with it. I guess it’s reading too much absurdist literature and demanding philosophy that got to me and my beliefs regarding the show. Thanks for the comments, once again. I haven’t really had time to keep up with my anime because of my pressing responsibilities. I think Shiki was great, although it’s not a masterpiece for me.

    I love Noitamina shows, however.

    I really, really like Ritsuko. She and Natsuno were truly the only shiki who acted against dissolution and in the end succeeded where most of the others failed. I love the Lelouch-like cunning that Natsuno exhibited in the later episodes, although it can be argued as a plot-device. Having read Father Sergius (of Tolstoy) I just melt when faced with such a beautiful self-sacrifice. She knew she wasn’t human, and faced death head-on. The other shiki and humans should have learned lessons from both of them.

  5. Angelus Says:

    Perhaps it’s because I come from a (nominally) Protestant country that I have a little more sympathy with the priesthood. Also, in the particular case of Japanese Buddhism, Taka’s point about Seishin is highly pertinent in that his position was a hereditary one, rather than one sought by vocation (by the way, it always amuses me when we see Christian churches in anime being run the same way as Japanese temples and shrines – Michiko to Hatchin springs to mind immediately).

    “She knew she wasnรขโ‚ฌโ„ขt human, and faced death head-on”

    You really should watch Madoka, you know ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Michael Says:

    ANGELUS:

    I will. Seriously. I’m just paring down my back-log. I have Madoka waiting for me … :3

  7. Anime Says:

    Angelus….i agree…..i thought this was very interesting….

  8. Justin U. Huffman Says:

    The subsequent time I learn a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I mean, I do know it was my option to learn, however I truly thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you might repair if you happen to werent too busy searching for attention.

  9. Kise Ryouta Says:

    Ano… I know you feel that what those vampires did was wrong but if I were one I would do the same. It’s means of survival. But I’m not so sure if they get the blood (from blood banks) from people or they produce it. Gomen but I’m stupid when it comes to these things. Ahh… Gomen, I guess it became harder to understand but it is hard to understand my point. I hope you could get a portion of it….

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