Three Principles gleaned from “Arcadia of my Youth”
These are three interesting philosophical contributions that the Arcadia of my Youth movie has given to the world, imho. Spoilers ahead…
I. Suicide is a Solution
First, read this quote from an asianbeat interview with Arcadia’s creator Leiji Matsumoto: “…never think of suicide or dying, even if you feel miserable and cry.” So Matsumoto is against suicide, right?
Well, there are two instances of suicide in the two-hour Arcadia of my Youth film. First, a group of Tokargans leave the Arcadia to be engulfed by the flames surrounding the ship, on purpose. Soon after, Supreme Commander of the Illumidas Occupation (SCAP, oops, I mean SCIO) Zeda rams his severely battered ship into the Arcadia and is smashed to smithereens.
Both suicides have (ostensibly) goals other than dying. The Tokargans are sacrificing themselves to the entity in the fire, which demands living beings, so that with this suicide the Arcadia can succesfully course out of the area. As for Commander Zeda, by blowing up his ship he intends to warp the space around it and thus protect it from the surrounding Illumidas Forces, which are about to gang up on Harlock in a dishonorable manner.
But if you really look closely, these goals start to look more like excuses. The proud Tokargan race has been almost totally obliterated, and the last remaining Tokargans already consider the destruction complete. Saving the Arcadia is just a way for them to go out with style. Commander Zeda commits suicide right after losing a duel with Harlock, a loss after which it’s difficult to imagine he would want to live on. Saving the Arcadia, again, was a nice way to go out. The decision to go out, we get the sense, was determined before.
So it seems suicide out of honor/pride (or even sadness, as with Tokarga) is a solution. One simply has to find the proper way to go about it.
II. Honor is best served by a Pirate
One of the key scenes in the movie is the meeting between Tochiro’s and Harlock’s ancestor, in a battlefield toward the end of World War II. Both men agree that they’re fighting a stupid war, and Tochiro questions Phantom F. Harlock II (a Luftwaffe pilot) as to why he is fighting. Phantom answers that it’s something along the lines of paying rent.
I have heard of speculation that maybe the Nazis seized the Harlock estate and coerced Phantom into fighting for the Axis. I’ve also read others argue that rent refers to feudal obligations and so forth. But there’s really no need to go so deep into it: Phantom F. Harlock II is German, he loves his country, and thus he is bound to defend it, even if he disagrees with his government and its reasons for waging war. That’s what he intends to convey to Tochiro, and Tochiro understands it.
Now, throughout the course of the film the descendants of the two men, Captain Harlock and Tochiro, solve this dilemma of loyalty to the homeland via service to less than perfect superiors: Piracy. By becoming a pirate, Harlock tells the world he will fight under his own individual flag and wage war however and with whomever he pleases. He is free to help his homeworld’s government or not, always on his own terms.
As a pirate, he is his own standard for action from now on. Harlock flies the Jolly Roger flag, but not to abandon Earth to its occupiers and go ransacking outer space. Quite the contrary, the space pirate continues to defend his homeworld with more concentration and more effectiveness than before.
Through Piracy, Harlock improves on his ancestor’s position during World War II. We know that Matsumoto’s father was a pilot during the war so this is a pressing issue for the creator of Harlock. Moreover, 30 years after the original Harlock series, I think you could argue several people around the world have taken up similar resolutions (just substituting Cyberspace for outer space).
III. There is no Need for Reincarnation
The ancient bond between Harlock and Tochiro is revealed by Illumidas technology, namely, an “ancestral memory reader”. This machinery doesn’t stop at reading your memories and displaying them for everyone to enjoy, it can go back and read your ancestors’ memories for hundreds of years.
The memories are embedded in the genetic code. The Illumidas notice that there are similarities in Tochiro’s and Harlock’s genes and this leads to their discovery of common ancestral experiences.
Japanese culture, through its adoption of Buddhism, is pervaded by the notion that a soul often acquires an affinity with another soul it has been related to in a given lifetime, and that this affinity grows deeper and deeper through constant reincarnations. It could happen that my father, mother, sister and I were all family relations a few lives ago, but in a totally different configuration: I was my mother’s mother, etc… The Tale of Genji is full of this sort of speculation: any chance encounter may and often does provoke the participants to wonder if 1) they have met before and that’s why they’re meeting again or 2) if the present encounter has created a new connection so that the two are bound to meet in the future.
What Matsumoto does is replace these affinity of souls through reincarnation. There is instead an affinity of genealogical lines, through some sort of physico-genetic process whereby: an encounter produces a common memory, common memories alter the respective genetic codes in the same way, which produces a genetic affinity, then the genetic affinity produces more encounters in the descendants and so forth.
Granted, this concept is almost as mystical as out and out reincarnation but well, it sounds more scientific…