Written by Lubin Park
Edited by Jaime Mah
There is no doubt in my mind that Japanese anime has always had a foothold on international markets, but it was only until recently that there has been a boom of full length Japanese animated films sparking excitement markedly similar to the initial release of Hayao Miyazaki’s work. Non-anime enthusiasts have most likely heard of the titles, A Silent Voice (映画 聲の形) and Your Name. (君の名は.), but have not yet been introduced to the more obscure gems within the mix. This article serves as a shameless recommendation for one of my absolute favorites, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (君の膵臓をたべたい).
If you’ve never heard of it, I empathize with your confusion for the title name. It seems like the original writer did so as well, given that the film explains the phrase in the first 10 minutes with a female character clarifying “… in the past, if you had any liver problems you would eat liver… doing so would heal the part of the body ailing you”. With this, we begin a story driven by the interaction of two characters that couldn’t be any more different and a secret that can only be shared between the pair.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
What does it mean to live? This is the question the film presents. From the get go, Sakura Yamauchi is introduced as someone “living while dying” as she fights a pancreatic disease. She seems to be at piece with her life circumstances, even recording her thoughts, dreams, and experiences in her diary. It is near the mid-act when the audience hears her honest thoughts about her illness. Sakura admittedly fears death and yearns for “life”. Most of this is learned through her interactions with Haruki, an acquaintance made through unorthodox means. Conversation begins from the pair and we begin to unravel just how Sakura intends to “live”.
The phrase ignorance is bliss is a perfect allegory for Sakura Yamauchi. There is a scene where Haruki questions how Sakura spends her time with her “limited time”. He suggests she should go about “…hitchhiking in foreign countries, finding a place where [she] wants to die”. Sakura responds that “…each day has just as much worth as the one before it…doing normal stuff…is almost as fun as doing anything else”. The keyword in this conversation is “normal”. Sakura strives to find normalcy and stability in life, even if that means rejecting the reality of her life circumstances. This new perspective allows a different interpretation of her diary entries. The book does not represent her acceptance of death, but a coping mechanism for it.
On paper, Haruki Shiga is the complete opposite of Sakura. He spends most of his time alone, void of human interactions and equally uninterested in them. It would seem that fate allowed him to discover Sakura’s secret and continue a complicated relationship with her. It is through these interactions that we are able to understand the similarities the characters have beyond face value.
Like Sakura, Haruki lies to his parents that he has a bounty of friendships (while Sakura lies to her friends about her illness). This is to fit a role of normalcy… to live a normal life. These lies are constructed to avoid a common enemy, fear. Haruki fears interactions and relationships as much as Sakura dying prematurely. They are both thoroughly aware of their situations and believe that there will “be another day”. Another day to face their fears and face the facade that they built within themselves.
Sakura calls Haruki a “coward” for failing to build relationships with others, but she soon finds his independence and self-security inspiring. It is not too surprising to uncover that Haruki feels the exact same for the opposite reason. Sakura lives with the philosophy that “…[our] relationship with others is what makes us who we are” and depending on people is fundamental in living a whole life. The Haruki-Sakura relationship is a balance between these core ideologies and serves as the foundation for their relationship.
It should be noted that the movie did not point to which way of living leads to a “fuller life”. Ιn fact, the truth is… there is no answer. Life is a culmination of experiences that result in the growth of one’s character. Haruki can be seen as a perfect example of how a collection of moments cultivate growth.
Haruki, like Sakura, craved stability in his life. He chose isolation as a way for him to control the outcomes of his daily living. It was only until his engagement with Sakura that he began to experience feelings that contrasted his previous philosophy. Haruki to limit his exposure to new things as he believed there was a risk associated with them. For example, introducing himself to a possible friend may result in an awkward conversation and embarrassment. His relationship with Sakura led to him deviating from this path (in fact, doing a complete 180). New experiences like making his first friend to going on trips to new places were exciting and exhilarating, while finding out the severity of your friend’s illness leaves you overwhelmed. In a way, Haruki was right. Limiting experiences does filter out “bad moments”, but it also does the same for the good ones. Life is a rollercoaster of emotions. There are the ups-and-downs that we all navigate through, and with each round we learn new things about ourselves and the world we are surrounded by. The film’s final scene shows a slightly different Haruki. It shows a character that chose to take in those experiences and to embrace the ones to come and in the end Haruki found a new way to “live” in the best way he knows how.