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Tony Chiu Wai Leung,
I wonder whether it is really so or whether it only seems to me, but the way I see TK’s Chiba prompts me the following interpretation: On the one hand, shinigamis are immortal themselves (at least there was nothing in the film to suggest the opposite), but this is a doubtful blessing – just remember the limbo where TK’s character and his dog have to spend their time in between ‘missions’. It’s a dreary grey space where nothing happens, where nothing diverts the eye, where the time stands still. I wonder whether shinigamis find this space restful, or boring, or maybe just treat it with no emotion – but (once again, it is very subjective) it seems to me that TK’s character finds it a lonely place, or at least grows to find it a lonely place, and not a very ‘justified’ place for him to be in, to that. What I mean is he played a shinigami that evolves, changes, becomes more and more human (just look at his mimics, listen to his intonation when he’s speaking). What I see is his silent revolt against this limbo, and a sad reconciliation to the facts – to each his own, a human being gets a shortish earthly life full of emotion, mistakes, discoveries, and a shinigami gets his sad uneventful immortality. It looks as if somebody has robbed the shinigamis of something very important that Chiba begins to feel and to look for. At the same time he knows he’ll never be able to break through this fabric of his destiny.
Actually I see the film not as a chain of interconnected episodes, and not as the life story of the girl who rises from an ordinary girl of the crowd to a celebrity and then sinks into oblivion again, gaining maturity and understanding of things. I see the film as two major stories (the girl’s and the shinigami’s) that, though they develop along different lines, lead the viewer to the same conclusion. What really matters is the ability to understand, to love, to forgive, to look at the world with one’s eyes and mind open, to care, to be thankful to life for all the challenges it presented, to hope. Just remember the scene where she and Chiba are standing and looking at the peaceful sunlit landscape – it needs no words, it’s like an awakening (satori?). I think it is not by chance that at this particular moment Chiba finally sees the sun he longed for, for him it’s like a short but a very meaningful breakthrough, moment of freedom.
There’s one thing more I’d like to mention. I wonder, why the dog? What I mean is Chiba gets his orders through a dog, the dog is like an intercom channel connecting Chiba and some other higher being (beings?). Does the dog symbolize the fact that gods are beyond all things human? Or does it symbolize the fact that THERE ARE NO GODS but just a blind law of life, blind to its purpose as all the world of nature (what a sad mockery!)? Or is the dog a symbol of loneliness? What also prompts itself to me is an unexpected and maybe far-fetched analogy between Chiba and Faust (Chiba is more or less like Faust who’s through to his goals – immortality, power, knowledge that would make him godlike; though Faust was craving for these gifts, and Chiba is shown as already possessing them, and not of his own free will). If you remember, when Faust first asks for all these, a black dog comes to his side. In the Christian tradition a black dog stands for the devil. It’s very unlikely that the scriptwriter did it on purpose, but for me the allusion is there, and very striking. By the way, the final episode that I’ve already mentioned, their standing together and looking at the world, brings to mind the words of Faust when he asks the time to stop at that most perfect moment, recovering the living soul with these words (and no dog by his side any more!). By the way, it’s not by chance that it’s a woman who makes Chiba see through to all this, like Faust’s Margaret. It seems to me that Chiba is a kind of Faust ideal reversed, working to getting back to being human.
By the way, in the European folk archtypes rain stands for death. If one dreams of those who passed away, they are often seen wet through in the dreams; so the dead in our psyche come from the rain. Remember that when Chiba comes to earth it’s always raining? And mind that it finally stops raining. A coincidence? Hardly ever.
I certainly won’t claim that the makers of this film use these ideas consciously. The film is also very Japanese at that (the categories of wabi, sabi, shibumi, karumi and fueki ryuko are there all right). But in my opinion a good film touches some strings of heart and draws analogies visible for people with different backgrounds, of different cultures, be it done consciously or not. A good film is rich in meanings, tints and hues. I believe “Shinigami-no Seido” has it and is one of such films.
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