I’m going to choose a creepy Sawa face to lead off every post, aren’t I? Sawa Sawa.
There’s a lot of stock put into being special, unique. We’ll chase it by any means necessary, even if those means result in terrible pain. That’s what Takao’s actions scream out to me. It’s easy to forget with these actors and visual techniques, but we’re dealing with middle schoolers here. I can still faintly recall what it was like to be one; it wasn’t particularly fun. It wasn’t quite the emotional extreme displayed in Flowers of Evil, to say the least, but I can feel faint echoes of the experience. Shit, even now I occasionally remember dumb things I did at that age and cringe. Imagine being even a little contemplative and reflective back then? Yeesh. Then again, if I were reflective, maybe I wouldn’t have been such an idiot. (Yeah, right.)
Takao is what happens when you give a middle schooler self-awareness. He has the self-awareness to realize that what he’s doing is wrong and to feel shame about it, but he lacks the experience and resolve to make it right. Precious few are those who have the strength to stand up to a mob of mocking middle schoolers. He has the self-awareness to realize his town is a decaying dump, but he doesn’t have the knowledge needed to go beyond that himself yet. Takao holds himself to a higher standard, but the only way he can express that is by eating away at himself and lashing helplessly at others in his mind.
He wants to be different, but the only way he can find to achieve that is by hurting himself.
That’s not a great mindset to be in every day. It’s why I can feel empathy for him even though 1) He’s done something stupid and bad, 2) He’s wishy-washy and 3) He’s a pretentious doof. (To be fair, what well-read person at that age isn’t a pretentious doof? If you actually, legitimately get some of the greater works of literature at that age, then you’re either crazy or you’ve lived a hard ass life.) When Takao walks around saying that he’ll seek redemption even when he’s old and frail? It’s definitely extreme and silly (I doubt Saeki will remember this event nearly as long as Takao will), but it cuts a bit deep, too. For small crimes like this (as terrible and dumb as it is), the guilty party often clings to it far longer than the victim, in my experience.
Maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t think most people enjoy doing bad things. They feel scummy afterward. When they don’t know how to make it right, they balloon those events to ridiculous proportions and gnaw away at themselves. People can be pretty damn forgiving, but it’s easy to forget that in the fear of being judged, especially when that judgment extends beyond a single person. It’s quite fitting that in his desperation to be different — to separate himself from his peers — Takao has shown himself to be just like most people, which makes him all the more empathetic to me.
Obviously I’m not excusing what he does, because it’s super dumb. Takao even knows it’s dumb as he’s doing it, but he does it anyway, because human’s can be real dumb shits. I felt pretty awful for Saeki; the embarrassment of going in front of the class is probably far worse than actually having her gym clothes stolen.
I’ve barely brought up Sawa in this post, because I’m honestly not sure what to make of her yet. Unlike Takao, her behavior strikes me as distinctively, purposefully unreal. It’s almost as if she’s the spiritual tormentor the world gives Takao as the punishment he thinks he deserves. “You really want to feel the guilt for doing this? Fine. Here you are.” Kids can be pretty cruel bullies, but Sawa’s bullying feels different than that to me so far.