Thursday, April 5, 2012

Be Aware Of ‘Mono No Aware’

Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees. © Geiensha Company, Toho Co., Ltd

The speed at which cherry blossom petals fall is five centimeters per second, according to the titular anime. The time to enjoy the seasonal explosion of pink and white flora from above certainly feels just as short. With an ultra-finite blooming spam, the life cycle of sakura (cherry blossoms) provides a perfect metaphor for the Japanese aesthetic concept of mono no aware.

In a similar vein of the more straightforward Latin saying memento mori, mono no aware is a wistful reminder to appreciate the ephemeral beauty that all things—blossoms, the seasons, our lives—come to pass. This awareness of the transience in everyday life originates from Motoori Norinaga, an Edo period scholar, and his literary criticism of The Tale of Genji and the venerable collection of Japanese poetry known as the Man’yoshu.

While the depiction of the profoundness and beauty of mono no aware stems from classic literature and art, it can be seen in recent media such as manga, anime and cinema. (It has caught on outside of Japan as well: Irish artist Doreen Kennedy’s 2010 photographic installation pays homage to sakura by propping up prints around a field and also attaching some of them to a growing tree.)

Japan Society’s As Cherry Blossoms Fall: Films & Scenes of Sakura film series, which starts up again this weekend after a week’s hiatus, projects mono no aware through epic, often bloodless samurai action tales, and stories of courageous, lovelorn courtesans.

Several spins on samurai lore include Hirokazu Koreeda’s Hana: The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai (April 6), a darkly humorous questioning of the role of the samurai and their bushido code of honor in the face of honorable revenge; Chushingura (April 7), one of the most famous cinematic retellings of a historical event The 47 Loyal Ronin, in which a group of samurai avenge their master’s death; Kenji Mizumi’s action-packed epic Shinsengumi Chronicles: I Want to Die a Samurai (April 7); and a nod to the Japanese salaryman, or office worker, Abacus and Sword (April 8), which eschews bloodshed for a samurai’s arithmetic skills to defend both lord and family.

Based on the popular manga, Sakuran (April 7—see the trailer below) is a lavish and vibrant period piece with gorgeous costumes and candy-colored sets. The story follows a spunky Edo-period girl, who climbs to the position of oiran (head courtesan) after failing to escape a brothel. In the bewitching horror fantasy Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (April 8), an Edo period man takes drastic measures to prove his love for a woman he meets in an enchanted forest.

The series concludes at the April 14 j-CATION all-day culture festival with the genre favorite Killing in Yoshiwara A.K.A. Heroes of the Red-Light District. Tickets are $12/$9 Japan Society members, seniors & students, except Abacus and Sword, which is free courtesy of The Japan Foundation, and Killing in Yoshiwara, included in the $10 j-CATION admission price.

--Sean Tomizawa

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