Monday, October 19, 2009

Profound Sadness

The movie Reign Over Me (2007) is a black and blue therapeutic drama, but is a comedy as well, of friendship between two dentists Alan Johnson and Charlie Fineman, roommates at college. When they encounter each other at Washington Square in New York, Charlie is a wreck of a dentist, shabby looking, and Alan failed to recognize his old chum. Later we learn that Charlie lost his entire family in 9/11, three daughters, a wife and the family dog. He was well compensated for their wrongful deaths, but so wracked with grief that he lost touch with reality, escaping into movies, music and TV games such as "Shadow of the Colossus", and riding on a two-wheeled scooter which is a metaphor for the imbalance in which he lives. Inside his condo, Charlie is remodeling his dining room by himself, conscience-stricken with the last telephone conversation he had with his wife before boarding her ill-fated hijacked flight. Remodeling was the last thing his wife wanted him to do.

Charlie showed no will to live and actually attempted to kill himself, by tricking policemen to shoot him. Despite Alan's helpful arrangements, Charlie shut himself off from the therapist's questions about his loved ones, turning up the volume on his iPod, listening to "Love, Reign O'er Me." His post traumatic stress syndrome was bottomless in spite of Alan's self-sacrificing endeavors.

Recently, as I sat in my dentist's waiting room, I reflected on the dentist movie. While waiting, I read a "Bunshun" review of the book Yasuko's Diary during WWII (2009) written by Ryusho Kadota. I bought the book on my way home.

Yasuko Kuriya (1925-1945) was a daughter of Hiroshima City Mayor Senkichi Kuriya. Senkichi served as the chief of Osaka Prefectural Police but was transferred to Hiroshima as the city mayor in l943. Senkichi had a house in southern Tokyo, so he relocated only accompanied by his wife Sachiyo, leaving all the children in Tokyo. The eldest daughter, Motoko, was already married and lived in Kobe. However, with the Allied's air raids returning again and again and getting fiercer, the young ones were sent to the mountain and farming villages away from Tokyo. However, Shinobu, eldest son, chose to join his parents in Hiroshima. The second son, Tadashi, left for Yamanashi, second daughter, Yasuko, for Niigata and third daughter, Chikako, for Nagano, thus scattering the entire family.

Before leaving for Niigata, Yasuko had almost a year's worth of experience working at the Army Arsenal in Jyujo, northern Tokyo, in the student corps. She and her friends were paired to work with three prep students from Chuo University including Jotaro "Jo" Takagi and Jing Yi Liang, a Taiwanese, who finished 5 years in Setagawa Middle School. It was the time Confucian teaching prevailed and "boys did not sit with girls after reaching 7 years old", but Yasuko was a friendly girl, not shy, but naive. Being personally consulted, Yasuko dissuaded Liang from applying to become "Tokko" (Kamikaze pilot) saying "it is the pride of the nation but disgraceful to enforce as a nation."

Yasuko once invited Takagi and Liang to her house. Liang met Mother Sachiyo and brother Shinobu, and Liang was impressed with Yasuko's piano piece "A Maiden's Prayer" (by Tekla Badarzewska). Shinobu drew his favorite cartoon and gave it to Liang.

August 6, 1945, the A-bomb killed the Mayor, Yasuko's brother, Shinobu, instantly. Mother Sachiyo was severely burned but survived. Yasuko came to know what happened in Hiroshima, but Yasuko learned of the death of her father from the newspaper after Japan's unconditional surrender. She decided to go home to Tokyo, which survived the raids. Then Takagi and Liang visited Yasuko's home unexpectedly because two friends wanted to console her for the death of the family. Yasuko was, told by Motoko that her mother was hospitalized. Yasuko decided to go care for her mother. Yasuko asked Liang to buy her a ticket to Hiroshima since Liang could use his non-Japanese privilege making it easier to buy. He complied and got it quickly. Yasuko was in Hiroshima by the end of August. Yasuko did everything she could possibly do for her dying mother. She fed her mother medicine, water and air mouth to mouth. Her mother died 10 days afterwards despite Yasuko's dedicated nursing.

Motoko and Yasuko lit fire to the mother's remains by the river. Yasuko carried mother's ashes back to Tokyo after staying some weeks at Motoko's house. While in Kobe, Yasuko showed symptons of mastitis from the secondary radiation exposure or ionizing radiation. She went through a mastitis operation in Tokyo. Chikako, Yasuko's younger sister came home in mid-October from Nagano. What Chikako saw at home were three funeral tablets of both her parents and brother, and her bed-ridden sister Yasuko.

Yasuko's news spread to Chuo University students. Liang, staying at Jo's house, came again to see Yasuko in mid November, a few days before Yasuko's death. Liang was apologetic in getting Yasuko her ticket to Hiroshima so quickly. He could have saved her life by delaying his ticket purchase. On November 24, Yasuko passed away. What a sad story!

Two sisters Motoko and Chikako, as well as his brother Tadashi, wrote their respective bereavement memoirs of Yasuko based on Yasuko's diary after the war; but the publication was limited and was buried for almost 60 years.

I had to compare the grief of the sister and brother with that of the dentist Charlie. Profound and unbearable sorrow. I can say, however, Kuriya's brother and sisters did not have the luxury of escape as did Charlie. No therapeutic consultation was available.

Author Kadota found Jingyi Liang in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, through Jo Takagi's connection, and met Liang twice, first in Taiwan and again in Tokyo, Japan. The second meeting was to to visit Kuriya's family tomb in Tama Cemetary together. Liang seems to me to be a bit like Charlie. According to Kadota, Liang's Japanese is perfect, better than the ordinary Japanese. He admitted that he adored Yasuko and losing her made him a misanthropist. Liang continued at Jo Takagi's home in post-war days but in the summer of 1956, when they walked Hiratsuka Beach together, Liang suddenly shouted "I'm going home." Jo understood him without any comment. Jo saw him off on the S.S. Taipei Maru. Seeing Mt. Fuji disappearing in the distance, Liang vowed never to return to Japan.

In Jhongli, Taoyuan, Kadota was guided to the rose beds in Liang's home backyard, where he buried Yasuko's hair. Liang requested it when Yasuko left for Niigata as he was afraid he could not see her any more upon her departure. Also at the Tokyo arsenal, Liang was once presented with a bouquet of red roses from Yasuko. Liang said red roses grew and bred surprising well there. Liang took piano lessons to play "A Maiden's Prayer."

It was his grandfather who helped Liang to regain himself upon his homecoming and arranged a marriage with Gong. Liang fared well through all the years with Gong, surviving the "228 Incident" in particular, by hiding his association with Japan. He sent all his children to the U.S. for education and he let them stay. He considered immigrating to live with them but thought better of it.
Red roses traditionally signify love, passion, respect and courage

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