Thursday, September 20, 2018

Tears Running Dry

As I type this entry, my nose is still blocked and my eyes are sore from what tantamount to 2 hour and change of weeping.

Thanks to Nagasaki: Memories of My Son (N:MMS).

It has been ages since I wept through out a film. The first film that ever made me cry was Story of a Mad Woman, a Taiwanese film that glorified insane sacrifices for love and filial piety. I was eight years old and it was the first time that a tale moved me to tears. Not easy for someone with 'hati kering' like me.

The Japanese are no slackers at crafting tearjerker melodrama and below is my reaction to this insanely evocative and sentimental post WW2 film.

Beware! Spoilers ahead!

N:MMS opened with black-and-white scene of Koji bidding his Mum farewell and reminding her to take her blood pressure medicine. The young man was a student at the Nagasaki Medical University and he died at 9:10 am, the morning Nagasaki was hit by Fat Man, the only other nuclear bomb deployed during war time.

The atomic explosion was stylised by the melting of the ink bottle on Koji's desk and the deafening silence that accompanied it. The tale then unfolded about the life of Koji's Mum, Nobuko, three years after his death.

If ever there was a character designed to illustrate the effect of war on civilians, it was Nobuko. Widowed early when her husband succumbed to tuberculosis, she lost her children directly from the war. Her elder son died in Burma while serving in the Japanese Army and her younger son died in the bombing, leaving her to continue her life as a midwife in their small village.

Her solitary existence was broken up by visits from Machiko, Koji's girlfriend, who shared her grief over his loss, and her neighbours: the Man from Shanghai, and Mrs. Tomie. Although a Christian, she has an altar dedicated to her sons and husband. She kept a running conversation with Koji, until one day, his ghost appeared and spoke back to her.

They reminisced about their life together, examining the impact of Koji's death on Nobuko, Machiko and Koji himself. Although there were many sweet and humorous moments in their conversation, but a darker overtone was never far away.

Koji's recollection of the teenage love he had for Machiko and the unresolved sexual tension between them underscored the unfulfilled potential of his life. For all his grins and laughter, there was a tinge of darkness and anger in his reactions. He physically disappeared whenever he was overcome with sorrow; for himself, his mother and Machiko.

Machiko had matured and moved on to become a school teacher, but she was caught up in an emotional stasis as well. Her longing for her life with Koji kept her apart and alone, devoting herself to her work. She recounted, off-handedly, of a colleague who cried when listening to Mendelssohn, the song that he last heard before leaving for his deployment. Nobuko detected unexpressed attraction in her undertones, and although she ended up encouraging Machiko to explore the relationship, she bitterly resented the fact that Machiko was moving on without Koji.

Koji observed with some jealousy of the banter between her mother and the Man from Shanghai. Like most male children, he did not like the idea of his mother developing any attachment to any men other than his father. He discouraged her from buying black market goods from the man, even though she needed some of the items in her job as a midwife. He willfully ignored that with his death, his mother had los companionship and grandchildren to continue their family line. 

I had naively thought that the fall of the Berlin Wall marked a new era of peace for the world. Perhaps what those beauty contestants' collective wishes had come true.

Well, that was what comes when you were fed a steady diet of bull crap by Hollywood and Pinewood Studios.

The reality is that war will never go away. So long as there is money to be made from instability and conflict, war will be our constant companion till the Sun blows up into a supernova a few billion years from now.

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