You can’t be selfish or calculating towards someone who’s dead, or wish them ill. It seems that’s just the way we’re made. Look at the feelings you have for Aki. Sadness, regret, compassion…For you now, these are hard to bear. But they aren’t bad feelings, not a single one. Every one of them will nourish you as you grow older. Socrates in Love, by Kyoichi Katayama, translated by Akemi Wegmuller
Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl sickens and dies, boy grieves but goes on.
Simple plot, really. The complexity in this little gem of a novel is that it “took the Japanese publishing industry by storm, becoming the all-time best selling novel in Japan” in 2001, inspiring a “blockbuster” movie, a TV show, and a popular manga.
Remember the Love Story phenomenon that happened here back in 1970? That novel by Erich Segal had a very similar plot to Socrates in Love, and was made into a hugely popular tear jerker film starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal, complete with melodramatic title song, and a ubiquitous tag line that appeared on everything from bumper stickers to t-shirts…”Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Socrates in Love appears to have had the same effect on Japanese society, albeit some 35 years later. In an afterword to this edition, the author Kyoichi Katayama writes that the premise of his novel is based on a philosophical treatise which contends that “love is a form of violence that forces you to think.” Members of modern Japanese society, Katayama continues, are sated with the achievement of material possessions and the kinds of emotional freedoms unknown in the past. Yet they seem to lack a sense of “goodness,” the kind of viewpoint that lets you see through the eyes of another and think about the needs of someone else above your own.
My simple plot description of Socrates in Love at the beginning of this post omitted one important aspect. In the middle of that sequence of events, right after “girl sickens,” it should read “boy forgets about himself and tries to make her happy.” Sakutaro, our young protagonist, becomes consumed with thoughts of how to help Aki in her struggle with leukemia. By recognizing his ability to give this kind of selfless love, he understands the immortal gift Aki has given him, and gives one to her in return.
Perhaps occasionally every society, no matter how technically advanced or materially rich needs to be reminded of the power of love for others. It seems people hunger to know how important that can be.
~for the Japanese Literature Challenge 4