Miura Shion is the original author of Fune wo Amu (2011) otherwise also known as The Great Passage. The anime adaptation started airing from October 16 on Fuji Television’s noitaminA block. The interview consists of eleven parts; this is the ninth part on using a motif in storytelling. Please go to part one “Encountering a Dictionary” to read the interview from the beginning.
The Power of a Motif – the Activity Known as Creating a Story
Everyone gradually retold the details in a way that would make it more amusing. The activity of stories, which have expanded and continued on, is connected to the novels and movies of these days.
Currently, the students study to get acquainted with the traditional cultures at schools. Miura-san, you like bunraku[ref]A form of traditional Japanese puppet theater.[/ref] and kabuki[ref]A Japanese traditional theater form with singing and dancing performed in a highly stylized manner.[/ref]. How did you get into touch with bunraku and kabuki, and what made you like them?
I believe both Bunraku and Kabuki appeared in my middle school textbooks. There was someone among my friends who liked Kabuki, so I went to see performances since my middle school. There are seats from which you are able to see the curtain for about 8000 yen. I wasn’t acquainted with the existence of bunraku though and watched my first performance after I entered university.
I was advised to see it during a class on a subject which covered the study of traditional performance arts. Until then I had no awareness of it, so I went to see it with the feeling of ‘let’s give it a try’. It suited my tastes. It was very much on my wavelength. When I saw kabuki for the first time, it was enjoyable to see the wonderful and dazzling costumes. When I watched bunraku for the first time, I was very impressed by the shamisen’s sounds, and I thought the music was cool.
There’s a motif to these traditional performance arts, right.
The motifs of performances and stories exist in kabuki as well as bunraku. For example, there are plenty of stories in which one’s own children are made into a substitute of the master’s children. Popularized works use a so-called short-cut pattern in a “Well then, how shall we arrange it the next time?” sort of manner. These become parodied one after another. I think that’s very interesting. I really like those kind of things. Movies about chivalry and the like have motifs as well. Something like: there’s a betrayer within the organization, and they continue to put up with the humiliation, and even so they launch an attack in the end after all. Apparently I’m drawn to those types of motifs.
Based on the motif, you can change the details finely. Or change the narration with a different interpretation. Even in romance novels, there’s a motif in which almost always a beautiful man and woman meet, but a misunderstanding arises and they’re about to separate. But in the conclusion they say ‘I love you’ and it’s a happy end. In my story, the partner would be a big landowner from somewhere, and here it would be something like an Arab multi-millionaire. I think the traditional performance arts are interesting in such points. It isn’t completely devoted to the original belief.
So it’s a retelling.
Aren’t all productions like that? No one knows what the original foundation was. That’s the interesting point about stories. What we call a story, is in a sense the simplification of everything. But, without concluding it on merely simplification, I wonder if it isn’t a bout of how to discipline the details with flavor in order to connect it towards universality. I wonder if it didn’t produce a motif of a story while mustering wisdom together with everyone, and changing the details?
Even in “Yotsuya Kaidan[ref]The most famous Japanese ghost story of all time; a tale of betrayal, murder and ghostly revenge.[/ref]”, the human relationships are rather complex, but if you pick out the structure of the story by itself, then it is simple.
The structure is a commonplace ghost story and vengeance, but it possesses the flavor which we call Chuushingura[ref]A performance or narrative based on the story of the Forty-seven Ronin (esp. the Kanadehon Chuushingura, an epic puppet play first performed in 1748).[/ref]. A critical mind is thrown in, and I think those are the amazing points. It is not created from zero, there are several motifs. Moreover you jump on it, and create while making use of it.
Perhaps the thought of “a story has to be original” is a mistake in itself.
I wonder if what we mean by originality isn’t an illusion? Long ago, from the time when humans gathered around the fire and said “A story like this seems to have happened”, everyone gradually retold the details in a way that would make it more amusing. The activity of stories, which have expanded and continued on, is connected to the novels and movies of these days. You could say that the expressions which carry the component known as a story, all hold a history of retelling.
Actually, I’ve been involved in creating an encyclopedia for Japanese films these ten-odd years. Miura-san, you probably like works from the Brutal Tales of Chivalry (Shouwa Zankyou Den) series, for example?
Yes, of course.
If you write summaries of about 30 characters, nearly all of them will be the same.
All of them, huh. Only the occupation of Takakura Ken differs (laughs). In that vicinity, all stories in a series are about the same. If it were the Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Jingi Naki Tatakai) series, there are different developments, and if you make summaries, they all change too.
Nevertheless, I wonder why a series like that is interesting to see as a movie?
You won’t get tired of watching them in succession, even though the actors, developments and structures are the same. I watched one by chance. There were various highlights, such as Ken-san having difficulty handling the kitchen knife even though he’s a cook (laughs).