“You’ll always haunt me so, won’t you?”
“That’s the way I show my love.”
A lot has already been written on The Tatami Galaxy. 2DT entertains the notion that we’re looking at a reality unfolding in a multitude of ways. Although this is an interesting angle, I want to examine another aspect of the anime and why things always go wrong for our unnamed hero. I propose that Ozu and the unnamed hero are actually one and the same.
First, I want to examine Ozu and his character. Ozu makes his appearance in each episode always roughly the same time and situation: when things have turned sour for our unnamed hero.
“It was then that an ominous man stood beside me with a face of ill portent.”
Ozu’s sudden appearance in so many forms resembles that of a shape-shifting yokai, ready to prey upon the unnamed hero whenever he is at his lowest point. There are demons in Japanese folklore who aren’t quite evil, but they do play tricks and pranks upon man and this is indeed what Ozu does throughout the anime. From maraudering about as the black cupid to making worthless movies, Ozu resembles a mischievous, trouble-making oni. It’s probably no coincidence that he has a rather strange look about him, i.e. the pointed ears, the bushy tail, the mouth lined with fangs.
But how is it that the unnamed hero and Ozu are one and the same person? There are a couple of possibilities:
1. Ozu is a physical incarnation of the unnamed hero’s depression, frustrations, anger, etc. He comes to life when the unnamed hero is at his lowest point.
2. They are one and the same. People usually see only one of them at any given time — they usually interact with only one of them at any given time — with perhaps a few exceptions but we’ll get to that later.
Ozu always enters the unnamed hero’s life with rarely a protest, going to and fro with little resistance. Ozu always locates his friend, capable of finding him whenever it is convenient. Most of all, the pranks Ozu brainstorms never come to fruition unless both he and the unnamed hero are complicit. In the second episode, the unnamed hero loses his resolve to complete a damaging exposé on Jougasaki until he encounters Jougasaki on the streets. Interestingly, Jougasaki enters the scene carried on a throne like a god.
In the very same scene, however, we see that Jougasaki is merely drunk and being held up by a few people.
As Jougasaki leaves, he is once again carried away on the throne. I think this scene clearly illustrates that the unnamed hero is an unreliable narrator at best. With his head down, once again in despair, I would say that Ozu is “summoned” to his side:
The mere presence of Ozu ignites the despair into anger, literally reflected in the unnamed hero’s eyes. It is here that he regains his resolve to complete the exposé on Jougasaki.
Why is it important to point out that the unnamed hero is an unreliable narrator? The unnamed hero laments at the end of every episode that his life would be so much better had he joined a different club, but we know that this is patently untrue. No matter what club the narrator joins, his life falls into despair and Ozu is soon to follow. What becomes clear is that the unnamed hero is in denial. He blames his fate on his choice of clubs and Ozu, but the one constant in each story is the unnamed hero himself. As such, the blame for all the unnamed hero’s troubles should fall upon the unnamed hero himself and not Ozu. Ozu only appears after the unnamed hero has failed. Ozu seems more like a manifestation of the unnamed hero’s dark desires — an aspect of the unnamed hero’s dream-like reality — than a distinct entity.
At first, I was thrown for a bit of a loop when Jougasaki introduced Ozu onstage.
But then I recalled that the unnamed hero was hidden backstage in the shadows. The unnamed hero tellingly remarks that Ozu is playing both sides. In the first episode, recall the restaurant scene. As Ozu leaves, Akashi immediately enters. In the third episode, the unnamed hero makes an interesting observation: “Ozu never showed his face in the circle, but he’d frequently show up in my room.” Ozu constantly reminds the unnamed hero that they are both connected by the black thread of fate and therefore inseparable, yet the only person who seems to acknowledge the existence of both the unnamed hero and Ozu at any given time is the god of matchmaking.
Furthermore, if the unnamed hero is unreliable, then who is Akashi? Is she really the girl that she’s described to be? Who is the god of matchmaking? Could they all be an aspect of the unnamed hero? Maybe. Perhaps he is dreaming, waking up at the end of each episode, and starting his dream all over again at the start of each episode.
In this case, might Akashi represent a purer aspect of the unnamed hero — the unrealized, romantic potential?
Akashi’s appearance in each episode always seems to serve as a catalyst for a flashback or a flurry of words from the unnamed hero describing who she is. We rarely get to see Akashi describe her own character. What she seems to invoke in the unnamed hero are memories of purer and happier times. Perhaps if he continues to give in to his dark desires (Ozu), he may lose his uncorrupted self (Akashi) for good. The promise in each episode seems to hint that the unnamed is losing his way, perhaps losing sight of his goals.
Then what of the god of matchmaking? He seems to omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, entering and leaving the unnamed hero’s life just like Ozu. He seems to have only one purpose so far: to warn the unnamed hero that he may lose Akashi to Ozu. Despite his seemingly benevolent modus operandi, the unnamed hero often finds himself frustrated with the strange man.
I theorize that he may represent the unnamed hero’s conscience, thus explaining his all-knowing nature of both the unnamed hero’s feelings and actions but Ozu’s as well.
Returning to the unreliable narrator concept, what scenes are then real? What scenes are not? I wonder, for example, whether or not the unnamed hero truly lost his valuable bike to a bunch of criminals or did he simply create a lie to rationalize his own failure? He may fear success and the responsibility it entails. Many people have sabotage their own efforts so we can’t rule this out for the unnamed hero. Plus, the criminals who stole his bike are actually gorilla-like oafs; who would believe that they truly exist? This suggests we can’t take these scenes literally.
Within the same episode, I wonder if he really saw the god of matchmaking win the race on TV or not. This leads us to the most crucial question: how much of the unnamed hero’s predicament can be blamed to fate and how much is utterly his own doing? I wonder if the key to unlocking his perpetual despair might simply be accepting responsibility for his own fate. Ozu may very well be a defense mechanism carried out to the extreme, a target for the unnamed hero to funnel blame away from himself.
Other theories are fun to consider, but the application of quantum mechanics is a dubious one. Quantum mechanics are fun to imagine, but I don’t think the observer effect is supposed to be applied on such a macroscopic scale. On the other hand, I mentioned earlier that the multiple galaxy theory is interesting, but I don’t fully buy into it. The unnamed hero seems to arrive at a generally bad fate no matter what, suggesting that there aren’t infinite possibilities typically entailed by the idea of multiple galaxies and infinite causal relationships. In Groundhog Day, Phil’s days are all over the place. He has happy days, sad days, successful days, days full of failure — infinite possibilities really are infinite possibilities. For our unnamed hero, on the other hand, he continually finds himself in the same problems no matter how much the physical world changes around him. I think his problems are thus more internal than external.
It has only been three episodes, so anything in the following episodes may very well destroy my ideas regarding The Tatami Galaxy. Even so, it has been an enjoyable viewing experience and plenty of food for thought.