Just rented the anime movie “The Sky Crawlers” last night. I found it to be quite indecipherable at first – but talk about an interesting trip when I started reading about what people thought was the messages of the movie. It led to a discussion of stagnating anime content/culture, a widely spreading Japanese social/psychological disorder called hikikomori, and the general ‘checking out of society’ by a whole generation of young people happy to float along in a society that they don’t think will be around to support them as they get older. But more on that…
First off, the movie is about young pilots in pseudo-WWII era fighters. The children were the results of genetic experiments that accidentally left them locked as youth forever – unable to die by biological/age/normal means. Instead, they live what are portrayed as endlessly repetitive lives – thrown into a seemingly ‘staged’ war (that seems to only serve the purpose of being to show ‘normal’ people why their freedom is valuable) with daily battles, moving from base to base to fight in different places, and so on. This repetition goes even so far as they being genetically ‘resurrected’ when killed in combat – and while they don’t remember their past life – everyone else around them remembers them. The movie drags on to oblivion, and endlessly repetitive series of lives re-lived the same way each time. The manga (book) form even goes so far as to actually have been released in the wrong chronological order – and yet it doesn’t matter as the cycles rotate endlessly. Lovers die and are reunited, one remembers the other doesn’t, etc.
Watching the movie, however, is a lesson in near boredom. The repetition and unknowing at times becoming very tiresome and I even found myself being bored – but that’s the point of the director. The message gets lost a bit on US audiences especially, because the idea he’s trying to talk about is a very recent Japanese phenomenon.
In the Anime News Network forums discussing this movie was an interesting comment about the recent Japanese phenomenon/psychological disorder – and those that exhibit it are called hikikomori. Here’s the jist from Wikipedia about hikikomori:
lit. “pulling away, being confined”, i.e., “acute social withdrawal” is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive individuals who have chosen to withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement because of various personal and social factors in their lives.
Though acute social withdrawal in Japan appears to affect both genders equally, because of differing social expectations for maturing boys and girls, the most widely reported cases of hikikomori are from middle and upper middle class families whose sons, typically their eldest, refuse to leave the home, often after experiencing one or more traumatic episodes of social or academic failure.
Japanese commentators have also offered analysis of the hikikomori phenomenon, and find distinct causal relationships with the modern Japanese social conditions of anomie, amae and atrophying paternal influence in nuclear family child pedagogy. Sometimes referred to as a social problem in Japanese discourse, hikikomori has a number of possible contributing factors. Young adults may feel overwhelmed by modern Japanese society, or be unable to fulfill their expected social roles as they have not yet formulated a sense of personal honne and tatemae – one’s “true self” and one’s “public facade” – necessary to cope with the paradoxes of adulthood.
A decade of flat economic indicators and a shaky job market in Japan makes the pre-existing system requiring years of competitive schooling for elite jobs appear like a pointless effort to many. While Japanese fathers of the current generation of youth still enjoy lifetime employment at multinational corporations, incoming employees in Japan enjoy no such guarantees in today’s job market. Some younger Japanese people begin to suspect that the system put in place for their grandfathers and fathers no longer works, and for some, the lack of a clear life goal makes them susceptible to social withdrawal as a hikikomori. It should be noted that hikikomori is similar to the social withdrawal exhibited by certain adults with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs) in Western cultures, a group of disorders that include autism, PDD-NOS and Asperger syndrome
This was haunting echoed by a Japanese person on the forums itself:
I know it took some years to make this film, but the message couldn’t have come out in a worse time, especially with the recession.
I am currently working at the best job I could have, and it’s still shitty compared to others. I still keep it because if I leave I might not find another job, and I also have time for myself and anime of course.
My brother who’s become hikikimori became that way because he realized he can save more money by staying indoors as opposed to having a very active social life.
As the breadwinner I would want to tell him to get off his ass and find a job so I wouldn’t be the only one slaving away, then again I do envy the copious amount of time my brother has, think of all the videogames I could play.
Ideally we would go out and get higher paying jobs so we could get married to women who demand 6-figure incomes and so we can beget children who will be the future taxpayers. But you know what, I honestly don’t think there will be any social security left by the time I’m ready to retire. So I live as if there won’t be any retirement at all — that’s the reality I have come to belive in. And right now I sure as heck dislike the fact that I am helping shoulder the costs of the older generation who messed up society to begin with.
Give me an environment with stable family relationships and I will gladly slave away to support them.
But with ridiculous divorce rates and the threat of child support payments, and a lifetime of heavy taxation in the new socialist world, I have come to the conclusion that this society is not worth supporting, and if I can totally withdraw, I would.
And finally, the director himself echo’s a parallel message:
In our peaceful country, there is no more starvation, revolution, or war. We have a society where we can live out our allotted spans of lives without ever having to feel deprived of food, clothing, or shelter. Ironically, I am unsure as to whether this is a good thing. Once I read the story of a man who climbed the skies and reached Heaven, but got bored after a few days.
Isn’t this comfortable life that we have achieved, a monotonous purgatory that doesn’t end until we die?
So, is having actually worse than wanting/striving and not getting? While nowhere near the levels/severety of Japan (and argueably very different causes/effects), Portland has its own population of youth (many call them trust-fund kids) that live bohemian lives of not working while living off trust funds left them by more wealthy parents. Maybe Aldous Huxley is right and we’re becoming an aimless generation that will be easily controlled via our blind following of distraction? Or the recent book by Robert Putnam called “Bowling Alone” that has tracked the huge movement of the current generations away from organized social activities in favor of markedly isolated ones. I think these things are circling a common point – perhaps I might put some brain power to this one…