every day that goes up in flames is a star that falls too early, a star that shines too late; poetry is a metaphor for reality, but they don’t tell you what to do when old metaphors become new truths, when ‘the earth is on fire’ becomes fact, and you’re faced with something – something so expected, so comprehendible, you can’t even begin to shed a tear. every day that goes up in flames is a sliver shaved off of the end of my life, another wood sliver hammered into your coffin; we used to dance to the rhythm of the earth, to the rising, falling tides and the migration patterns of the birds, and now we can’t even hold each other’s hands, we’re so torn apart by these borderlands, and this choking smoke births only bitterness in our mouths, hatred in the place of our hearts. every day that goes up in flames is another soul being lost to our shame, another soul surrendering to meaningless pain; you think you’re so smart but you don’t understand, it was never about evolution or power or race, it was about time and space, a home to heal in without leaving a trace – but the trace you’ve left is a full-body burn scar and the healing ice and cold water have melted away. look into my eyes, and hear my voice on these nights, because it doesn’t have to be this way. every day we walk to save our children from the firelight, to turn reality back into metaphoric poetry, is a day of meaning, an offer of hope and healing, because we can dance to the rhythm again – and it wouldn’t be a miracle. it would be nothing more, nothing less than a simple act of love.
“The earth is on fire” used to be a metaphor.
Something to dramatize, to clarify, something to make things real in the way we understand realness. Now, it’s just truth. Now, the forests burn, the fields burn, the books burn, the waters boil and the plants die and the heat chokes up our perfect, invincible, powerful bodies and there’s no going back.
There’s no going back.
There’s slowing, and there’s adapting, if we care enough to do that. But the fire is here to stay.
“Metaphorically speaking,” you prompt hesitantly. And my first response is to laugh.
“You’re a writer,” I say. “So you tell me.”
You want to tell your grandchildren that you did your best one day – well, have you? “It’s not about you, it’s about us…” This isn’t a relationship. It’s abuse.
You try, I know. But it’s hard for you to understand that simple fact, the simple state of things, because you’re the one in power. You get to choose what you see and don’t see, what you do and don’t do. You get to decide who lives and who dies. And we don’t. With one flick of a brush you unknowingly consign hundreds, thousands, to their deaths before they even lived, before they even got to view this insane, beautiful world with their own eyes, and meanwhile you can’t stop talking about how much you value human life as if the two questions are not the same, as if the answer is not the same. The courts of the world to come will lock you up for child abuse and murder, and you’ll still be as confused as ever. That’s not me, you say before your ancestors. I didn’t abuse my children. I didn’t kill anyone. But you already have.
We are all perpetrators. If I repeat myself ten years from now, will you then understand?
If the words spill out of the mouth of your beloved grandchild, will you then understand?
I know what you’re doing.
I know what you’re doing, and I need you to stop. We need you to stop. I see you scripting your self-fulfilling prophecies and pasting them on the wall, both of us watching as they burn slowly and fill your room with ash. I see you waking up every morning to your own new version of prison, of hell, and you’re like a writer resigned to death row, asking for the pages upon which you sign not your admission of guilt, not your embarrassed apology, not even your suicide note – you just ask to sign your last goodbye. I want to speak to you, to show you that this works, to show you that it can be done and that even if it can’t we have to try, but you won’t see me. You have the right, you say. To not see me.
Well, fine. You have the right to not see me. And you have the right to die. But you don’t have the right to drag me down with you.
Open your eyes and start trying. I still believe in you – even if you don’t.
I don’t know how to talk to you.
I don’t know how but I know that I need to. There is no other way. But when we face each other I can’t figure out how to speak without hurting, how to listen without hurting. I’m afraid – for you, and for me. Listen, you whisper, and I stop listening because I don’t want to hurt, I start speaking because I don’t want to hurt, and you gaze at me with dull, empty eyes. Waiting. Watching.
You listen to me, I say, what’s wrong with you? After all these years you still can’t get it through your thick skull that the sun does not rise for you, that the stars do not shine for you, that this world you live in was never yours. You didn’t create it yet you’re arrogant enough to end it – how stuck-up and entitled can you be? You can’t understand that we are all one, that borders are our failure and our lasting legacy is shame, that hatred is a construct you embraced just to make the story more exciting because all you want is action, all you ever cared for is entertainment, you hold onto your power and pleasure with your dying hands and even the screams of your children won’t convince you to let go.
Maybe I’m the arrogant one. Thinking that I can succeed where your children have failed is absurd. I stop abruptly and you still stare at me in silence, unmoving, unreadable. And behind you the wildfires rage and the books burn and I wish, I just wish you would just turn around to see it but you don’t.
Well go on then, I say. Your turn. Write the next page – pick up your pen and write.
I dare you.
As the human story is being scrawled on the wall by empty, desperate hands I reach for you. Because it’s not too late but it’s also not forever. We write until our hands bleed, until our pencils and pens and paint run out, until our wasted ink pools at our feet like blood. This is it, you say. And I can’t help but laugh.
We’re fools if we think we won’t be stopped. In the realm of eternal life, there is no room for writers.
Still, you keep turning the pages like a reader enraptured by the book, lapping up every word, excited for the next chapter that isn’t there. You shoulder the sky and write your own, urging the story forward precisely when it doesn’t want to, and before you know it you’re writing your own epilogue. Our epilogue. You look back at what you’ve created and only now do you realize: this isn’t a drama. It’s not a fantasy, it’s not a thriller, it’s not even a crime novel. It’s just an utterly predictable tragedy.
“I didn’t mean to,” you say. Well, you wrote it. And you of all people know that stories can’t be taken back.
creatures who believe that they are gods are worse than demons.
creatures who don’t realize that they are demons are worse than gods.
open your eyes and watch the music playing before you,
and tell me what you see…
dripping from the hilt, your tears
as the world lights up in color;
reaching for a power more explosive than dynamite,
you scream out your willingness to live.
but therein lies the problem, stranger,
it was never for you to decide;
these billions of gods and the spirits who possess them –
can’t you see? you’re powerless!
you’d better stop dreaming or it’ll turn into a nightmare –
so take my words to heart now
put your back to the sun and shatter every mirror,
every single mirror in that wretched house you live.
floating from day to day, you embrace unease
unaware of the shadows moving behind you;
you just want to live, live how you want to live –
ignoring the “one-way” and “no thru traffic” signs.
but didn’t you see the other day,
that beautiful pool in your backyard?
coming for a drink, it was the birds who saw the first ripple
drowning in chlorine-rinse as it turned into waves;
stare into the water and you can’t even see yourself anymore!
and don’t even think about swimming in it –
this artificial world you’ve made is toxic even to you,
you who keeps repeating that “the show must go on”.
don’t fool yourself with all your “expertise,”
even musicians don’t always realize when the music has stopped.
lying on your deathbed, you still believe you can save yourself,
blinded by the ash-driven sunset outside your window.
you take solace in the year-long symbols of your ignorance,
your beliefs as steady as the rising ocean waves –
and you repeat the lies to your children,
who have never seen the color “green,”
who will never know a school of “peace”.
what’s wrong with you?
drawn in by the trap of luxury and ease,
you can’t even see you’ve been caged.
you can’t even see you’ve been caged,
yet you’re perfectly content staring into the mirror
and believing that all life is happy…
I won’t call you a fool.
After all, who among you would listen to me?
It’s not about it being easy – though I understand your feelings when you say that. Solutions to this devastation we have wrought will not be easy. Solutions to our new brand of tragedy will not be easy. “Fixing” this is not supposed to be easy – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Every day we go about our lives searching for the familiar, simple routes taking the paths that will require the least energy and the least work… Even when we try the other paths, we stop when we are “satisfied” whatever that means and why? When it comes to many things, this way of life is fine… But when it comes to this? Is it acceptable? Is anything short of everything acceptable? We bear it on our shoulders, after all. It was born out of our own selfish pursuit of “easy” – wasn’t it?
dragging my feet through the sand, I
can think only of you
consumed by all the world’s pain
as I search for our gravestones now swallowed by the sea,
wanting our love to make a difference
trying to save all the world’s children and our own
I walk into the sea without feeling the chill
the swirling pull about my legs, meaningless
the same way our lives were meaningless
you cannot drown a living spirit, after all
and the spirit of humanity is still nothing but alive, I tried
to find you but even now I’m lost
and haunted, I resume my eternal wanderings without a thought
without a word to describe the thought
forever searching, watching, losing,
to this world in which I live.
Hi! Kohaku here. I hope everyone had a great week.
Recently I have been rewatching the works of Hayao Miyazaki. If you haven’t heard of him before, Miyazaki is a very famous Japanese animator, screenwriter, and director usually associated with Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, etc.). I’ve said this before, but I basically grew up on Studio Ghibli and not Disney. I like to revisit Ghibli films now and then, and every time I do this I always end up thinking about the power of Miyazaki’s work and their continued (and perhaps increasing) relevance to modern day. I thought I’d use this week’s journal entry to talk about that.
Here are some reasons why I respect and admire the stories Miyazaki has chosen to tell, and why even the older ones are still important today.
Some minor spoilers below for the following films:
- Princess Mononoke / もののけ姫
- Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind / 風の谷のナウシカ
- Ponyo / 崖の上のポニョ
- Spirited Away / 千と千尋の神隠し
- Castle in the Sky / 天空の城ラピュタ
- The Wind Rises / 風立ちぬ
- Grave of the Fireflies / 火垂るの墓
- Tales from Earthsea / ゲド戦記
– He uses recurring themes of human greed, arrogance, and ignorance causing devastating environmental consequences, and environmentalist messages can be seen in almost all of his work.
These themes are pretty obvious in some Ghibli films. Princess Mononoke, for instance, focuses strongly on how humans wage war on and exploit the environment, and reinforces a moral of living in balance with nature instead. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind essentially imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which many humans still continue to destroy the planet, even though it’s so painfully obvious that they’re killing themselves along with it.
In other films, environmentalism isn’t so obvious or important, but it’s still there – in Ponyo, for example. It’s very heavily directed towards children, and the theme of the film isn’t necessarily the relationship between humans and the environment… but it kind of is. Scenes in the movie show tons of trash floating on the ocean and on the beach, and Ponyo’s father consistently reiterates that nature is out of balance. Now, part of the imbalance has to do with Ponyo trying to become human and having too much power, but it also has to do with how humans are flooding the ocean with things that aren’t supposed to be there.
I think films with messages like these are so important, and are getting increasingly important as we learn to face the realities of climate change and own up to our mistakes with how we’ve dealt with nature in the past. Moving forward, we have to clean up after ourselves and learn how to live sustainably, in balance, without any of the greed and arrogance that has historically consumed us. Miyazaki uses incredible animation and storytelling to convey these important lessons to people of all ages and especially children, the younger generations who will have to bear the double burden of the consequences of environmental destruction and the necessitated responsibility of fighting it.
– Many of his films have a strong pacifist sentiment.
Most of Miyazaki’s protagonists spend much of their movies pleading for peace and trying to show others that war isn’t the answer. Sometimes, that’s about war against the environment; other times, it’s about humans fighting wars against each other.
The Wind Rises follows Jiro Horikoshi, who laments that while all he wants to do is design beautiful airplanes, people take his planes and use them to kill each other in war. In Castle in the Sky, Sheeta tries to teach a crazed man that the world needs love, not war, and prevents him from launching Laputa’s equivalent of a WMD. And don’t get me started on Grave of the Fireflies…
Some Ghibli films tackle human-human wars as well as human-environment wars. Take Princess Mononoke. Most of the film is centered on the protagonist, Ashitaka, struggling to make peace between the people of Iron Town and the spirits of the forest. But Ashitaka is also trying to make peace between the people of Iron Town and the samurai who attack them. In Nausicaa, the title character tries to make peace between humans everywhere and the giant insects in the expanding toxic jungle… but she’s also trying to make peace between the various people who come from Tolmekia, Pejite, and the Valley of the Wind.
At the end of the day, almost all of Miyazaki’s films are pleading for peace in all its forms, and I think this is incredibly important. As we continue to develop more terrible weapons, as we continue to start wars, as we continue to see a rise in acts of mass violence… the lessons taught by Studio Ghibli serve as very powerful reminders that we need to learn how to be at peace, or soon we won’t exist.
– In his films, people/spirits/etc. generally aren’t bad or evil “by nature.” They become evil as a result of greed, arrogance, and ignorance – other’s, or their own.
In Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka’s journey begins when he gets cursed by the demon Nago. Although Nago appears to be incredibly destructive and terrible, we soon learn that he was originally a boar god, and he became corrupted when a human shot him with a rifle and the bullet lodged in his body. In Spirited Away, the spirit No-Face is originally quiet and calm, but he turns into a hungry, destructive, rampaging monster after being corrupted by the greedy atmosphere of the bathhouse in which he stays.
Miyazaki’s works always underline the fact that the problem isn’t some distant, vague evil – it’s greed and arrogance, usually on the part of humans, and it needs to end.
– On a similar note, protagonists and antagonists in his films tend to be complex. They aren’t always purely good or purely evil, and there isn’t always a strong “good vs. bad” mentality. Sometimes antagonists aren’t even present or are hard to name.
In Princess Mononoke, the leader of Iron Town, Lady Eboshi, commits a lot of the environmental destruction in the film. However, she also empowers women and provides a refuge for lepers, who are rejected by society, and she gives them work and food and a place to stay. In Tales from Earthsea, directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, the protagonist Arren essentially starts off by murdering his dad, and spends the rest of the film fighting a side of himself that thirsts for violence.
Rather than painting a picture of the world as black-and-white, Ghibli films emphasize that reality is complex, that people can be both good and bad, and that “good” and “bad” are actually extremely ambiguous. I think this is also a very important lesson for people to learn.
– He often tells stories of strong female protagonists that are intelligent, complex, human, and aren’t limited to their relationships with men.
This has always amazed me about Miyazaki’s work. Strong female protagonists (and antagonists) that are portrayed well are relatively rare. Most female main characters are written into the story simply by linking them to male characters, and their whole lives apparently revolve around guys (their boyfriends, their dads, etc.). Appearances and relationships are usually over-emphasized. Sometimes, female main characters are too perfect, so much so that they’re totally unrealistic. Other times, they’re portrayed as utterly stupid or lacking, so much so that they’re also totally unrealistic.
But Studio Ghibli conveys its female characters in a much more accurate way. They’re human. They’re self-possessed, capable of critical thinking and decision making. They have big things to say about the environment and war and inhumanity. They’re rational and emotional. They make mistakes sometimes, and other times they save the world. Their lives don’t revolve around guys, and even though many Ghibli films have or hint at a love interest, that’s not the point of the film.
I think accurate, human portrayal of female main characters is another important aspect of Miyazaki’s work, and I’m really grateful for it.
Having said all that, I’m not going to force you to go watch a Ghibli film if you don’t want to. But this week, maybe think about the movies you like to watch and the movies you grew up on. Why do you like them? What lessons do they teach, and do you think those lessons are important for people to learn today? I’m always going on about art as a tool for activism. If you like movies that are good just for the sake of being good, that’s okay, but I prefer movies that use their goodness to encourage or advocate for something larger – like environmentalism or peace or empowering minorities. Movies that can do that while still being incredibly enjoyable, despite or perhaps because of the lessons they teach, are insanely amazing to me.
Anyway, please think about it, and as always, take care of yourself.