A World of Darkness
Shakespeare once said that the world is a stage. So what happens when everything in your world goes dark? It’s a hassle to pinpoint the exact time-frame my depressive state manifested, but I believe it began around the age of 12. I can recount moments of sitting in a stupor, with no real thoughts racing through my brain besides a numb feeling of pointlessness. Depression sucks, and when you have it, learning how to deal with it is another problem altogether. Many people think depression is simply “feeling sad”, but this is far from the case. Neural imaging shows a stark contrast between a healthy brain and a depressed brain. This lack of understanding within the public sphere can make talking about depression difficult. The goto fix is psychiatric drugs, but the side effects of these drugs can make matters worse. Many depressed people who fore-go psychiatric treatment may begin self-medicating with drugs and alcohol instead.
In my quest for self-determination and self-medication, I found two endeavors that helped my mental state: reading engrossing works of literature and watching film. Surprisingly, I found watching extreme Japanese Horror highly effective. In particular, the films of Takashi Miike were quite helpful. Often Miike’s protagonists are unaware of the levels of high strangeness they live in. Eventually encountering it in the form of supernatural horrors, or in heights of human depravity. The journey from their “ordinary world” to their respective “adventure” possess Lovecraftian elements. Lovecraft’s protagonists are often driven mad by the hidden world they encounter. Miike’s protagonists, by comparison, often persevere despite the terror they meet.
In Miike’s 2010 film 13 Assassins, the director’s trademark cartoon violence is surprisingly toned down. I suspect due to the strength of the story itself. 13 Assassins follows its titular characters on a suicidal mission to stop a tyrannical daimyō. Scattered throughout the film are themes of finding meaning, and living for a cause greater than one’s life. Yet, despite being a traditional samurai flick, absurdity still manages to creep in. One character dies, only to reappear at the end of the film with no real explanation given. Interestingly enough, he is also the only character to express an intense longing for something after the battle. The ending of 13 Assassins is clear to me. Find something worth living for, and find something worth coming back to. The only dishonor in life is dying in vain. The only way out of depression is to pick at least one thing you love and do everything you can to return to it. In time the world may not seem so dark in the end, though it will remain absurd.
In Miike’s Crime Horror film Gozu, a Yakuza bodyguard is tasked with driving his boss (and friend) to the latter’s own execution due to their rampant insanity. After losing track of his boss, the protagonist faces absurd horrors. He himself reaches the point of madness, especially when his boss seemingly returns as a beautiful young woman. Even after witnessing a strange cow-headed being with a penchant for licking faces, as well as his boss, Ozaki, climb out of the girl’s unmentionables, the protagonist moves on with his life by the end of the film. Somehow he manages to accept the absurdity witnessed and continues to live his life. At least that’s what the ending of the movie implies. Gozu presents the possibility that when facing the absurd, you will ultimately be okay. It is this glimmer of hope the depressed person has to find. The idea that despite facing cruel realities, you can find the strength to persevere
Ichi the Killer
Miike’s 2001 Ichi the Killer was my introduction to his work. The film’s outlandish storytelling, ultra-violence, and stylish camera work left a lasting impression on me. The film follows a gang war between a sadomasochistic yakuza and the titular Ichi — a troubled young man brainwashed into being an efficient and sadistic killing machine. At the end of the film, the now adult son of a slain yakuza bodyguard is the last recognizable character shown. Previously, this character witnessed the brutal murder of their father at the hands of an inconsolable Ichi. Yet, as the ending shows, their story has only just begun. Even in a nihilistic spectacle like Ichi the Killer, one sees interpretations of hope and possibility. All one must do is consider the bigger picture. Violence is omnipresent within our media. This is perhaps why storytelling is one of our oldest forms of entertainment and learning. Takashi’s bloody works allow our brains to not only shut-off the outside world and become engrossed in a story, but also take part in a spectacle that resonates with the more primitive portions of our minds.
Facing the Absurd
Philosopher Albert Camus once considered suicide the only true Philosophical question. Camus did not give sway to such an act, instead, he devised a Philosophy rooted in embracing absurdity itself as a means of overcoming adversity. To illustrate this point he borrowed from the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Punished by the gods themselves, they force Sisyphus to push a boulder uphill for eternity. Zeus enchants the boulder so it rolls back down each time Sisyphus nears the top — forcing him to begin his impossible task all over again. Despite this, Camus notes one must imagine Sisyphus happy, regarding the character as an “absurd hero”. In a way, many of Miike’s characters represent their own versions of Sisyphus. Despite the violence, depravity, and plain dumb-luck they face, they continue on. They find something worth living for, and they simply live. At the end of the day, that’s all anyone can really ever hope for. There are actions worth taking, and there is a life worth living. One must simply find their passions, their calling, their absurd act, and live it out to the best of their abilities, despite the darkness that may loom over them.