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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.