12 Days of Anime #4: Coping With Loss Through Summer Wars

Warning: spoilers

I grew up in a household full of love. I lived with both my parents, and my grandmother moved in when I was so young, she was practically there for as long as I could remember. I was told that she would always cook breakfast for everyone before we left for school or work.

When we moved into our first home in the suburbs of greater Toronto when I started attending elementary, she was a central member of our household, and every day I would come home from the bus seeing her watch cartoons such as Conan the Adventurer, and at times, I would even watch with her. She lived with us and was an irreplaceable part of my life for a long time until she got much older, and moved out to live with her other children and grandchildren.

She passed away a little bit more than a month ago, and it was the first time I’ve ever lost anyone so remarkably close to me.

At first, it was a difficult time for me because I had no idea how to feel regarding the situation. I knew that, in secret, my parents would be grieving, and having gone through such times before, they always did so when I was not around. I didn’t know how to go about the grieving process.

It was when I turned to anime, particularly Summer Wars, that I finally felt that uncontrollable flow of tears, and that emptiness that I now noticed in myself and in my life.

One of the big themes in Summer Wars was the importance of family, something that strongly resonated with me the first time I watched it earlier this year, something strong enough for me to consider it as one of my favourite anime films. I was already aware of how central the death of the Jinnouchi family’s matriarch, Sakae, was to that theme. When you lose someone who has directly affected so many people, it’s so easy to take for granted that impression such a person has left on your life.

So when I saw them go through the tragedy of Sakae’s passing away, I realized that the first time I watched it, I was viewing these events through the eyes of the main character, Kenji Koiso, who had no real attachment to the family yet due to not being related to them. Watching the movie again after my grandmother’s death was much different, since I was seeing those events through the eyes of Kenji’s love interest, Natsuki Shinohara, granddaughter of Sakae Jinnouchi. I deeply felt that moment between the two characters, when Natsuki was helpless in trying to stop the tears from flowing down her face, and when she cried uncontrollably. I finally managed let everything out, and I was crying along with her. I knew that feeling.

After that scene, the movie went on, and having gone through that particular moment, I tried to do so as well. I already knew that the Jinnouchi family would have to keep going and overcome that loss together as a family, so it was worth watching the rest of the way, especially to that particular scene where they read Sakae’s parting letter to her family.

“Never turn your back on family, even when they hurt you. Never let life get the better of you. And if you remember nothing else, remember to find time to eat together as a family. Even when times are rough; especially when times are rough. There’s no lack of painful things in this world, but hunger and loneliness must surely be two of the worst.Thanks to you, my precious family, I didn’t know a moment of either of those the last ninety years.”

My grandmother was ninety-five. At that time of her death, life was definitely hectic for me, being busy with work, and falling massively behind on my wordcount in NaNoWriMo. Sakae’s letter seemed like something my grandmother would have passed down to me, and I took every word to heart.

I ended up using parts of this particular speech on my eulogy for her on the day of her funeral, and even though they weren’t my words, I could feel the weight of each and every single syllable that rolled off my tongue as I spoke. What mattered most to me was that those words reached the people who I felt would have benefited from them. They did not need to watch Summer Wars, or even know of its existence. Just those words, and how true they were to real life. It’s an amazing thing.

The funeral had long passed, and I was left with a huge deficit in words, and a hole in my soul that I knew would require time to be filled again. It was a hole that could only be filled with words, because writing is my air. Sakae’s words were my grandmother’s, and eventually they would lead me to finding my own. On the final day of November, I was almost forteen thousand words behind my goal, and coming home from work, I decided to buckle down and write. I had dinner with my family and just typed away at my novel, and didn’t stop until I crossed the fifty-thousand mark with fifteen minutes left remaining until midnight. I would never have been able to do such a thing without keeping my grandmother in my thoughts as I wrote. I wrote from the heart. I wrote a lot. I wrote for her sake and my own.

I suppose that what I’m trying to say here is that of all things, it was anime that allowed me to move on the way I did. It is a common and effective practice for someone going through the grieving process to watch various movies that deal with themes of coping with death and loss of loved ones, but for me personally, being able to do so with anime validated my hobby and passion a million times over. My grandmother’s death made me appreciate Summer Wars even more than I already did, and now it’s definitively my second-favourite anime film of all time, right after Millennium Actress.

This weekend, regardless of how you are spending your holidays, take the effort to spend those holidays with those you love. Try to spend them with family, even if relations with them are rough. The last thing anyone wants is to feel alone. Thanks to my exerience living with my grandmother, I never had to feel loneliness for twenty years of my life. It’s not the ninety that Sakae has been blessed with, but I can truly appreciate the message, and will never forget it as long as I live.

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12 thoughts on “12 Days of Anime #4: Coping With Loss Through Summer Wars”

    1. Not gonna lie, I wrote this at work, and a few of my coworkers caught me teary-eyed at my computer looking at anime pictures.

    1. The entire Jinnouchi family was like a single character to me. A living, breathing unit, full of different sides and faces, and interconnected personalities. People with large families can relate.

      Thanks for the concern, Hana. I’m doing fine right now. Still chugging along, trying not to let life get the best of me 🙂

  1. Great post; really captured why I love anime the way I do with its ability to resonate w/personal experiences and emotions at exactly the right time. For me, 5cm/s filled that hole and I’m glad you found a movie that does the same. My condolences for your loss all the same and thanks for the teary read.

    1. Thanks. I know there are people out there with similar thoughts on anime, and I’m glad that they’re out there watching what they love. 5cm is a lovely movie, even beyond the scenery porn that it’s most applauded for.

  2. My Grammie died two days ago. This post… I feel as though it was written especially for me, even though I am aware that it isn’t. I can relate to this. Grammie didn’t live with me, but she did live only a block and a half away. I went to her house every day after school, all the way up until around grade 11.
    I bought this film around a week ago. I was planning to watch it this weekend with one of my housemates, at least until I got the news and had to come home. My aunt flew home from Vancouver, my uncle flew home from Manitoba, and there will be probably a half dozen family members from Nova Scotia who drive up for the visitation (Grammie hated funerals, so she didn’t want to have one).
    The day I get back to Fredericton, I will re-watch this film. If it helped you cope, then I have a feeling that it might, at the very least, help a little bit. This time, I’ll have Natsuki’s point of view.
    I would like to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for writing this. As I said previously, I feel as though it was aimed towards me. I know that may come off as rather ego-centric, but I mean well.

    1. Hi Mikey, I really appreciate you sharing your experiences on the blog. Let me be the first to say that I’ve obviously been there before, and I send my thoughts and prayers to your family during this difficult time.

      As for watching the film, it certainly brings a new perspective on the experience, and it makes the scene in the movie all the more real when you can identify with each and every aspect of it. I really hope that the movie helps with your coping process, though I can’t guarantee that it works for everyone. I would like to think that people who associate so closely with anime as a lifestyle would be able to use anime for therapeutic purposes. I pray that this is the case with you.

      Again, thank you so much for commenting. It really made my month as a blogger, knowing that I’m able to reach out to readers such as you. Good luck and God bless.

  3. “Try to spend them with family, even if relations with them are rough. The last thing anyone wants is to feel alone.”

    Please, I do understand your love for your grandmother and I don’t know much for your family, but going around giving advice to everyone of swallowing up all the pain others have caused him/her without knowing their circumstances, is a bit irresponsible. Would you say the same to a gay adult that his family doesn’t accept him for who he is? Have you been in a family that violence is an everyday phenomenon? I take the extreme cases. My case is of mainly psychological violence and of having been deprived a normal social and love life as a student and even now as an unemployed adult due to the old-fashioned morals of my parents. I want to leave here, not stay. Holidays are the most painful because that’s when I feel the loneliest. Being with people that are supposed to trust and understan you and yet feeling lonely is way worse than being on your own. After all, people can create their own ‘family’ that isn’t blood-related and they have a word in choosing it, namely friends and lovers.

    2 years ago I went to Germany for 2 months to further study the language. My family accompanied me there and when we parted after a week I didn’t shed a single tear. Nor when I got back could I say I missed them. On the contrary, when the time was approaching of me returning I got really sick coz I didn’t want to be with those people again. But when my boyfriend, whom I keep a secret, came to visit me for 10 days and then left, I couldn’t stop crying. I was so devastated. The empty place on the bed was such a bitter reminder. The person with whom I experienced life and true joy for the first time wasn’t someone of my family.

    I hope I didn’t sound hostile. I just wanted you to know that some things have slipped your attention and unwillingly became careless. I also want to express my condolences and to thank you for sharing with us your story 🙂

    1. I certainly understand what you mean here by my potential careless passing of such messages. While I am of the belief that nothing is truly absolutely hopeless with regards to potential for forgiveness, I agree with the need for some to be away due to the irreconcilability of a given situation. I appreciate the story that you shared here, and while I can imagine the ramifications of such an upbringing warranting your viewpoint regarding your biological family, I agree wholly that those individuals are not for you at this time. Perhaps later on in life when things work out for you, you can tie things up, but definitely not now.

      While I truly do believe in the concept of family, I am even a stronger believer in the family that one creates for him or herself. Blood does not entitle you to a relationship; it’s forged through time and trust. I feel that I bring that message out loud and clear especially when talking about particular groups of characters in anime. See my other 12 days entry on The iDOLM@STER for an example. I appreciate PreCure so much, as the cast is pretty much a family unit disguised as a team of hot-blooded magical girls. Family comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and individuals, and are defined by what they do, not by what commonly flows through their veins.

      I do apologize if a particular thing I wrote came off as anything but that, but I do hope you continue reading through my blog. I wholly appreciate your feedback, and I recognize and validate your point. Thank you so much for responding the way you did!

      1. Oh, dear krizzlybear, there are hopeless cases. You can forgive the other when he/she has recognized he/she’s at fault and apologizes. But in my case at least there’s no such sign neither now or in the future, since they kinda think that in a family such things happen and doesn’t mean a thing. My stepfather has also an aloof attitude of never being wrong or being the only clever one or being the sole reason I ‘succeeded’ in life… you get the picture, I don’t need to go into details and become emo.

        I’m happy to hear that blood isn’t the only thing that creates family for you. I’m going to read your other articles, don’t worry 🙂

        CU in another post!

      2. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree with regards to those cases. It’s definitely different for everyone based on their level of ideology and how rose-coloured their outlooks on life are. We’re definitely of different life experiences, so I’m not surprised in the least. But I do appreciate your being here right now, and that’s all I can say in the matter. I’m glad we still have our common ground in anime and other interesting parts of anime that make it so damn cool!

        Onwards to another response to your other comments!

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