Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Case for Koi Kaze

So a few years ago, I watched a Johnny Depp movie called "The Secret Window." Really there wasn't a whole lot special about the movie. It was just another, "Guy on the rocks, has something strange start going on with his life, has to figure it out" type of movie. Even the twist wasn't really all that spectacular, I caught it early on, but mostly I kept watching the movie because a) I bought it at Blockbuster and b) to see if I was right.

Okay I'm going to spoil the movie. But throughout the show, the audience is fed that Johnny Depp's character is largely the victim of everything that's happening to him. He's struggling back, struggling to write, struggling to get his wife back, etc, etc. For the most part we're painted a sympathetic picture of his character. So when he kills his ex and her new beau, I found myself cheering.

And then I stopped, paused the movie and thought, "Shit, am I cheering for the psychopath to kill a couple of innocent people who just want to help?" The entire movie had lulled me up till that moment when someone did something that I should have been disgusted by, but it did it so well and subtly that I didn't realize I was cheering him on until after the fact.

And that's why I like Koi Kaze.

On the characters and expectations

What has always struck me about Koi Kaze is that both characters in isolation from each other are likable. Koshiro is a corporate drone, who loves his father, contributes to society and in general is a pretty nice guy. Nanoka is a bright, energetic girl, who has her own mind and is, much like most people her age, trying to figure out her place in the world. She loves her mother and is nice to her friends and in a lot of ways is a pretty admirable character.

That's why I want them to be happy.

Just not with each other.

The thing about this entire story is that there are places that it just made my skin crawl. I honestly had to skip over at least one scene because I couldn't watch it. And it wasn't that it glorified the relationship between these two characters. Far from it. The infamous bra sniffing scene comes to mind here. The lighting is kind of dingy and Koshiro pauses and even admits disgust with himself after it. All of this added to my own cognitive dissonance. I mean the characters are set up so that I want to like them, but I don't like what they're doing, but I want them to be happy, but they're only going to be happy if they're with each other. And I keep asking myself, why is this bothering me so much?

And then I figured it out. It's because this is supposed to be a romance. Everything about the show screams romance from the pastel artwork, to the laconic pacing, to the two lonely people finding each other, to the monologue Koshiro gives at the beginning of the show. In fact, this couldn't scream romance any more if it had Fabio half naked on the cover. And if there's one rule to a romance show, it's love conquers all.

Amor vincit omnia

The expectation of any audience when they sit down to watch a romance is that the hero and the heroine will get together at the end. And that if they really love each other, then nothing (including anterograde amnesia or death) will keep them apart. Really this idea has crept into our popular conscience like a plague. It's got songs written about it (I got you babe), it's got books written about it and arguably every American romantic comedy has this concept at its core. That no matter how hard life might be, no matter how much society might step in, that love will save you.

What Koi Kaze does is challenge whether we really believe that concept. Much like "Secret Window" we have an expectation for these characters. We want to cheer them on. But I can't.

And much like "Secret Window" leaves me asking, "Is there something wrong with me that I'm cheering on the crazy guy?" Koi Kaze leaves me asking, "Is there some fault in me that I can't let these two people be happy?" And even more than that it leaves me wondering, "Does love really conquer all?" And do I really think two people who love each other really should be together.

And that's why I like this show. Not because it excited me, but because it disgusted me. And by disgusting me, it forced me to question my own morals and beliefs. And sometimes that can be a good thing.

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