Andy: That there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s… there’s somethin’ inside that they can’t get to; that they can’t touch. It’s yours.
Red: What are you talkin’ about?
Red: Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.
Search around the web a bit for impressions of RAINBOW Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin and you’ll soon find a few comparisons of the anime to The Shawshank Redemption.
For the former, a group of young delinquents find hope amongst each other in a reform school. For the latter, a man never loses hope in prison no matter the circumstances. What I find so fascinating, however, is how these stories share common traits across time and culture.
In Shawshank, prisoners are taken to the penitentiary by bus.
Similarly, the delinquents are taken to their new home in RNRS on a bus.
In the anime, it is raining heavily and the palette is mostly gray. Although it isn’t raining in Shawshank, the weather appears to be overcast. Gray also dominates the scene. The arrival scenes for both Shawshank and RNRS sets the mood for the rest of the story.
Captain Byron Hadley is the first to greet the new prisoners.
Notice Hadley’s likeness to Ishihara, the evil guard for the reform school to which the delinquents are sent.
Red remarks early in Shawshank that “they march you in as naked as the day you were born.”
For the young boys in RNRS, they are not quite naked, but the same message is being sent.
Why is it necessary to strip the new prisoners? In our nakedness, we are often the most vulnerable. In our nakedness, we often lack dignity. Without dignity, we lose “the belief that we can be oneself in relations to others.” Essentially, both the prison in Shawshank and the reform school in RNRS wants to make it painfully clear to its new inhabitants that they have no autonomy.
In both stories, the abuses are similar regardless of the setting and subject. In Shawshank, Hadley is often guilty of brutally beating the prisoners.
The picture is hard to make out because everything is so dark, but a “fresh fish” broke down crying from all the jeers and taunts, unable to cope with his harsh, new reality. Hadley solves the problem by beating the man to death.
In RNRS, Ishihara is a sadistic man who is always looking for an excuse to punish the delinquents, especially An-chan.
Isolation is a common punishment in both stories. Community builds strength and resolve so one common tactic against prisoners is to remove them from the rest of the population. Isolation makes it so that even sunlight hurts.
Andy Dufresne, the protagonist of Shawshank, frequently finds himself in isolation throughout Shawshank.
Likewise for An-chan.
Sexual abuse is also a common theme in both stories. The “sisters” prey upon Andy, brutally beating him with each sexual assault.
For the delinquents, abuse comes not at the hands of their own ranks, but from the shady medical examiner whose smile belies his perverted intentions.
In Shawshank, Brooks commits suicide shortly after his release. The outside world that had changed so much since his younger days; Brooks was a man displaced by time.
In the anime, An-chan once had a fellow cellmate commit suicide because he could no longer withstand Dr. Sakaki’s sexual abuses. Although Hagino and Brooks committed suicide for wholly different reasons, their demise demonstrated that sometimes suicide is the only answer.
Regardless of their difficulties, however, both groups find companionship and brotherhood. Many scenes in Shawshank feature the lunch period, where fellow prisoners can socialize and fraternize with one another.
For RNRS, it is no different.
Brotherhood, as previously mentioned, becomes a necessary theme in both stories. Only together can these prisoners and delinquents survive and retain their humanity. For Andy, the pivotal moment comes when he manages to secure cold bottles of beers for his fellow “co-workers.”
For the delinquents in RNRS, they bond early in the story over a shared cigarette.
Enjoying a few beers or a cigarette are some of the many things we take for granted in the free world, but for these guys, they must fully enjoy the brief moments of happiness that comes their way in case those moments never return.
One must do whatever it takes to escape from prison, either legitimately or not.
In Shawshank, Andy spent years digging his way out. Even just before his moment of triumph and freedom, he had to crawl through a river of sewage matter to earn his escape.
For An-chan, with release so near, he quietly takes his beating at the hands of the brutes in 1-8. When they humiliate him by pouring dinner onto his head, he quietly accepts the shame and eats the rice off the ground in order to survive.
Another common theme in both stories is pride in one’s own work, especially outdoor work. The prisoners of Shawshank always volunteer for outside duty.
In RNRS, An-chan relishes the exercise. For both groups, working outside offers a brief respite from the confining walls of their prison. The boundless blue sky and ocean in the following two screenshots are metaphors for the freedom just within their grasp.
The motif is echoed in Shawshank, which ends with Red walking along the beach toward his longtime friend Andy.
Just as Andy had made Red promise to find him, An-chan tells the others that they too better make it out of reform school. They all leave a memento by carving their dreams onto a tree.
When Red was granted release from prison, he quickly searched for a letter Andy had left him in a field by a rock wall.
A tree is also featured. The tree as a symbol, with its long life and rings, represents resiliency and memory respectively.
The similarities perhaps don’t end here, but I’ve only seen the subbed episodes (about seven at the moment) for RNRS. Still, I think what we’ve seen here confirms why so many were reminded of Shawshank even after watching only an episode of RNRS.
Although the two stories share many similarities, they do differ in many respects. The villains in Shawshank are far less one-dimensional in their evil although they are certainly wicked people.
RNRS emphasizes the togetherness of the fellow delinquents moreso than Shawshank, which, on the other hand, concentrates mostly on the friendship between Andy and Red.
But regardless of their differences, we can see how the effects of prison, the indignities that incarceration inflicts upon its victims, are the same across cultures. Redemption and hope, too, are universal concepts being expressed in both stories.
An American doesn’t need to understand Japanese to comprehend the essence of RNRS just by watching its moving images. Likewise, someone from Japan doesn’t need to know English to understand Shawshank.