Kokoro, at its heart (no pun intended), is Soseki’s attempt to capture the loneliness of man, the isolation of our hearts from others. In this respect, I think the anime adaptation is somewhat successful despite being a wild departure from the original text. There are significant sections of the novel deliberately left out of the adaptation–whether this is due to having only two episodes to tell the story or for artistic liberties, I’ll leave that up to you. In other words, I won’t compare the anime to the novel as I had done with No Longer Human. I think the anime here is interesting in many respects and I would rather devote my effort to its deconstruction. In order to understand Kokoro, we must ask ourselves what makes man lonely? Drawing from the post’s title, I suggest that the answer to this question is modernism (by this, I mean the movement that preceded postmodernism).
Like Rashomon, Kokoro repeats itself: we are given the same story twice, but each time from the perspective of either Sensei or K. What truly happened in those fateful days isn’t entirely clear, the implication being that the truth lies somewhere in between and its up to the viewers to decode the events. At first, however, Kokoro can be a bit perplexing. Why, or instance, does Sensei’s and K’s viewpoints take place in entirely different seasons? If the first story is from Sensei’s perspective, why do we even see a conversation between K and Okusan? Why is there an apparent lack of music in Sensei’s story except for a few subtle tracks but an overabundance of (almost entirely inappropriate) music in K’s? Why does K look so otherworldly?–tall and dark but also elfish. All these questions nagged me until I saw one particular scene:
Up until this point, K was silently walking. All we really hear is the ambiance of the rainfall quietly pattering away at the world:
Music suddenly swells up out of nowhere and, likewise, Ojosan appears out of nowhere to clasp K’s hand. Her appearance, resembling a sun(flower), literally halts the rainfall. The world around them even takes on an entirely different palette: warm tones of orange and brown replace subdued hues. K’s cheeks even blush. This moment is fleeting, however, and the music soon cuts abruptly, leaving us with only ambiance again. Why? We soon see that when Sensei steps into the picture, the music halts. The feelings halt and, I suggest, even fantasies halt.
This same scene was in Sensei’s story as well and their comparison is what makes Kokoro so interesting. Sensei’s scene is in complete ambiance until K steps into the picture, in which the music suddenly starts. Recall that Sensei’s appearance is what ends the music in K’s story. The tense music continues to play in Sensei’s story until K pauses and mutters to Sensei, “Sorry:”
This is the only moment in either scene that is completely similar. Of course, both men take drastically different interpretations from just one moment. A few ideas to take away from how one scene unfolded from both stories.
I suggest that feelings accompany music. When K’s heart swelled with Ojosan’s appearance, the music swelled accordingly. When Sensei’s paranoia and suspicions preyed upon his mind, the music was fittingly ominous. As a result, the music in Kokoro signifies when the two men’s hearts are filled with emotions, good or bad. We can also derive from this the idea that scenes unaccompanied by music reflect the logical viewpoints of both Sensei and K. This, however, does not suggest that these music-less scenes are inherently true. While they are not influenced by the emotions of the two men, their context-less, disjointed nature instead captures the cold distance between humanity and the pure facts of the matter (more on this later).
K’s fantasy is a woman on a pedestal who can bring sunlight to his ascetic life of muted senses (literally portrayed as the cold winter season):
He sees Ojosan with the unrealistic expectation that she completes him–she is his music. Being in love is a direct contrast to everything K was before he met Ojosan. Recall that K is often found studying or reading. His appearance, as this otherworldly being (e.g. his ears) with blatantly over-masculine features (e.g. towering physique and rock hard abs to name just a couple), defies expectations. We expect a beast (of perhaps sexual energy) and Sensei’s point of view seemingly reinforces this assumption. K is, however, a rationalist at the start of the story just like Sensei. This can be seen in K’s initial dismissal of Ojosan and her mother:
This conversation, however, is accompanied by music, i.e. it is in part tinged with K’s emotions. He wants to come across as this ascetic immersed in his studies, but this is merely a facade. He really does not value ambition as much as he says he does. Otherwise, why would he intend to run off with Ojosan? There is no ambition in love. There is nothing to achieve in love but one or two people’s personal (perhaps selfish) goals. K’s story is thus a de-emphasis of rationality. After years of pretending to find meaning in knowledge, his whole world collapses due to subjectivity–because of a woman (often coded in society to represent mankind’s subjectivity) and the feelings she draws out of K.
Shortly before this, K literally crushes rationality:
His worldview is shattering around him. Recall K’s initial objective at the start of the story. It was to study religion. This, in itself, is an oxymoron in ways. After all, spirituality should come from self-reflection and personal faith. We cannot simply “study” religion–it isn’t something we can objectively approach like the sciences.
In a lot of ways, Kokoro reminds me of The Sorrows of Young Werther. Its indictment of modernism and its rationalistic worldview extends itself into Sensei’s story. Sensei’s traditional bookworm looks cannot be ignored and, if K’s winter aesthetic resembles the Sturm und Drang movement, I will suggest that Sensei’s “summer” palette, complete with bright, full colors, is really just a mockery of objectivity. The literary movement of rationalism was the idea that God could be found in truth. Furthermore, truth lies in the objective world. Well, here is Sensei’s objective world:
It’s a world with transcendent blue skies, rays of sunlight reflecting rays of godly judgment. The irony here, however, is that Sensei’s world of rationality contains only a limited range of truths. Our objectivity can only see things at the surface as they appear to our five senses and rational interpretation. For instance, Sensei was completely unable to see the changes occurring in his friend. Sensei was unable to understand K’s despair. I said at the start of this article that Kokoro is about the loneliness of the man. If a man is like Sensei, all wrapped up in the logical order of things, he is necessarily alone. This is evidenced constantly throughout Sensei’s story. Likewise, K was initially cold and brusque in demeanor until he immersed himself in a world of subjectivity through his relationships with Ojosan. In a short time, he was able to connect to her in ways (no dirty thoughts) that Sensei never could.
That isn’t to say that Sensei is without feelings. He has feelings but he mistakes them for rationality and thus cannot reflect upon them. This inability prevents him from understanding not only K and Ojosan but his own true feelings as well. Perhaps he does truly love Ojosan, but what comes across in Sensei’s actions are not true love but simply possessiveness. Since he does not understand his feelings of paranoia, Sensei thus could not understand the destructiveness of his own actions when he proposed for Ojosan’s hand in marriage.
Sensei often found Ojosan and K together. He, however, sees these moments as isolated events in his objective world. Since these events are removed from context, Sensei does not–in fact, cannot understand the relationship blossoming between K and Ojosan.
Sensei attempted to deduce a logical conclusion from the encounters, but his assumptions are flawed because rationalism is flawed. Our interpretations are inherently biased due to our varied upbringings, culture, etc. We should thus remind ourselves of the assumptions of modernism, i.e. the ideas of binaries, particularly between men and women. Sensei naturally assumed that Ojosan needed to be protected. Similarly, he naturally assumed K, a male with otherworldly features, was the transgressor and a traitor. This robs Ojosan of her agency as a willing participant in her relationship with K and this robs K of his innocence, the implication that men can never be the weaker of the two sexes in a male-female relationship.
Such assumptions resemble the flawed logic behind the concept of binaries: it is the idea that mankind can be categorized and deconstructed into objective components. The loneliness of man becomes apparent–in using his flawed logic to solve the mystery, Sensei fails to understand the two humans who were once his close friends. Ojosan becomes not so much an equal person with her own desires and prerogative but a misrepresented ideal: Japanese femininity that needed protection. K, on the other hand, turns from a vulnerable friend into the encroaching threat of the foreigner, the exotic and uncontrollable other that has not been properly refined by modernism:
It should be interesting to note that Soseki wrote Kokoro in 1914, during Japan’s widespread attempt to modernize and catch up with the Western world. Mondernism brought to Japan sweeping social changes. In the late 1800s, school health examinations became mandatory, suggesting an increased awareness and concern paid to the development of the nation’s youth. Gender roles, in particular, were being defined in order to maximize the potential of Japan’s future. The binary of the patriotic hero and the “good wife, wise mother” became further emphasized as the proper roles to ensure a healthy nation. As a result, what makes Kokoro so interesting is how it subtly plays with these gender expectations. Ojosan, on the surface, is the Japanese feminine ideal. She’s often very quiet and diminutive, but what we see behind closed doors is a woman yearning for liberation. She begs K to take her away from her repressive life where she is nothing more than a prize to be handed down from one patriarch to another (Okusan’s short-cropped hair is no coincidence…). Furthermore, she seeks sexual liberation–she’s the one that seduced K. K, on the other hand, is this tall manly beast with unkempt hair and dark, forbidden skin, but he’s like a virgin teen boy when confronted by Ojosan.
I wondered earlier in the post how Sensei’s story could contain a scene between K and Okusan, something Sensei could not have observed. Music accompanies the scene and thus I conclude that this moment was nothing more than Sensei’s guilt trying to connect the dots. K’s suicide soon after suggests that Sensei was striving to understand what led up to such a tragic ending. If I am right that music accompanies feelings, then Sensei’s ending is interesting in many ways. K’s death heralds into Sensei a new sense of the subjectivity, one that defies the objective world surrounding him:
In a moment that should be sublimely happy, Sensei and Ojosan both wear grim expressions. We should be careful, however, not to assume K has reached some new level of understanding far and beyond Sensei. Recall too that in K’s ending, the revelation of his death is unaccompanied by music. If Sensei gained a new sense of subjectivity through K’s death as suggested by Sensei’s ending, the contrast in K’s ending suggests that he hardly understood his friend. K never suspected nor considered how his relationship with Ojosan would affect Sensei. As a result, the utter silence in K’s ending reflects the gulf between the two friends–if anything, he thought his death would only benefit Sensei. If one reads the novel, however, this is patently absurd.