The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki o kakeru shōjo) Part 4: The Mother Connection
I started this article series with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and arrived at Final Fantasy in the last installment because that’s the chronological order the works were released in and could have influenced one another. But me personally of course I started by playing Final Fantasy and then discovering the older works that had influenced it. And The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was one of the last sources I discovered, thanks to the Famitsū interview with NOJIMA.
Glory of Heracles I had discovered earlier and even without KITASE saying so in interviews the parallels between GoH3 and FFVII were very obvious. Not just that, the common theme of saving the planet made another influence on these games also very obvious. Let’s take a look at Gaia from Glory of Heracles III:
She literally is the planet all the characters from the game live on and like a kind mother she forgives the injury humans caused her.
Now let’s compare Gaia to Aerith from FFVII. Aerith’s name closely resembles the word earth, even would be an anagram save for one letter. She can talk to the planet, kind of speaks for and represents it.
She is slightly older than Cloud, by Japanese custom of relating everyone in terms of family members she would be an older sister which by the same logic hierarchically puts her on a similar level as a mother. Cloud even accidentally calls her mother in the movie Advent Children, her and Zack appearing like his parents, the older generation. Cloud comes to Aerith asking for forgiveness.
Now let’s take a look at Aerith’s first appearance in the game’s opening:
A similar pose, standing and holding her hand(s) to her chest, looking at the screen. A similar backdrop, a starry sky surrounding Gaia, sparks surrounding Aerith. The color green, decorating Gaia’s head and neck and lighting Aerith’s face.
If you played Glory of Heracles III, and it had quite some fans among avid RPG players, magazine critics and staff at Square, you cannot fail to understand Aerith relates to Gaia from that game. And it links those games in terms of shared meanings and implications.
Of course there is a very famous scene between Aerith and the game’s villain Sephiroth. Sephiroth later also summons Meteor which repeats his action this time against the actual planet. It is so central to the game it is shown in the title screen already:
The planet as mother, this points to the common source I mentioned above:
Mother, ITOI Shigesato’s high literature reinterpretation of the original Japanese role playing game Dragon Quest. He brings the genre to a contemporary setting, using elements from Hollywood movies and youth novels. That makes a lot of sense, seeing how many of the Nintendo games that popularized games in Japan were also based on exactly these kind of sources, King Kong (Donkey Kong), Aliens (Metroid) and Alice in Wonderland (Super Mario Bros.).
Actually, when I tried to argue the plausibility of Final Fantasy X‘s narrative being based on The Wizard of Oz, the first ally to come to my rescue was Mother. The release of the game was accompanied by a player’s guide called Mother Encyclopedia, one of the first of its kind, made to resemble a tourist guide as if by playing the game you were actually traveling through America and used a guide book. It also contained many theoretical texts by acknowledged Japanese writers, ITOI’s caliber had brought attention to the medium and raised it to the level of a serious art form.
Interesting for our subject at hand are the numerous instances of the guide dealing with the influences of Hollywood and world classics of youth literature. Right at the beginning there is a fold out spoof newspaper reporting about events occuring in the game, in English to make it appear authentic:
On the left hand side there is an article about a missing girl (hello princess, I mean damsel in distress), called Pippi and wearing long stockings and her mother’s name is Lindgren. This is obviously a reference to Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. On the right hand side there is an article about hurricane Dorothy. The Wizard of Oz, it’s right there. And the game’s opening playable sequence is also based on this source. Let’s compare:
Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar–except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.
When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.
When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.
Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.
It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.
Today, however, they were not playing. Uncle Henry sat upon the doorstep and looked anxiously at the sky, which was even grayer than usual. Dorothy stood in the door with Toto in her arms, and looked at the sky too. Aunt Em was washing the dishes.
From the far north they heard a low wail of the wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see where the long grass bowed in waves before the coming storm. There now came a sharp whistling in the air from the south, and as they turned their eyes that way they saw ripples in the grass coming from that direction also.
Suddenly Uncle Henry stood up.
“There’s a cyclone coming, Em,” he called to his wife. “I’ll go look after the stock.” Then he ran toward the sheds where the cows and horses were kept.
Aunt Em dropped her work and came to the door. One glance told her of the danger close at hand.
“Quick, Dorothy!” she screamed. “Run for the cellar!”
Toto jumped out of Dorothy’s arms and hid under the bed, and the girl started to get him. Aunt Em, badly frightened, threw open the trap door in the floor and climbed down the ladder into the small, dark hole. Dorothy caught Toto at last and started to follow her aunt. When she was halfway across the room there came a great shriek from the wind, and the house shook so hard that she lost her footing and sat down suddenly upon the floor.
Then a strange thing happened.
The house whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air. Dorothy felt as if she were going up in a balloon.
The north and south winds met where the house stood, and made it the exact center of the cyclone. In the middle of a cyclone the air is generally still, but the great pressure of the wind on every side of the house raised it up higher and higher, until it was at the very top of the cyclone; and there it remained and was carried miles and miles away as easily as you could carry a feather.
It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around her, but Dorothy found she was riding quite easily. After the first few whirls around, and one other time when the house tipped badly, she felt as if she were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle.
Toto did not like it. He ran about the room, now here, now there, barking loudly; but Dorothy sat quite still on the floor and waited to see what would happen.
Once Toto got too near the open trap door, and fell in; and at first the little girl thought she had lost him. But soon she saw one of his ears sticking up through the hole, for the strong pressure of the air was keeping him up so that he could not fall. She crept to the hole, caught Toto by the ear, and dragged him into the room again, afterward closing the trap door so that no more accidents could happen.
Hour after hour passed away, and slowly Dorothy got over her fright; but she felt quite lonely, and the wind shrieked so loudly all about her that she nearly became deaf. At first she had wondered if she would be dashed to pieces when the house fell again; but as the hours passed and nothing terrible happened, she stopped worrying and resolved to wait calmly and see what the future would bring. At last she crawled over the swaying floor to her bed, and lay down upon it; and Toto followed and lay down beside her.
In spite of the swaying of the house and the wailing of the wind, Dorothy soon closed her eyes and fell fast asleep.
Dorothy is at her home, her family and dog with her. A cyclone causes the house to shake. Very similar scene in Mother:
Ninten is at his home, his sisters in the rooms next to his. A poltergeist causes the house to shake. He is assaulted by lamps and a doll.
There is no dog in this scene but Ninten has one, he was just outside. On the other hand there was no doll in Baum’s orginal work.
Now let’s look at the movie of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time:
Kazuko is in her room, her family also in the house. An earthquake causes the house to shake and makes dolls apparently move on their own, one seemingly assaulting Kazuko.
Three similar scenes, three different causes for the shaking. Both later works confirmed to be influenced by the first one. But, was ITOI aware of the earlier movie? We have no confirmation as in NOJIMA’s case but the movie being the hit that it was it is at least very much possible that ITOI was in fact aware of it.
I already mentioned that Mother Encyclopedia has a wealth of articles by Japanese intellectuals starting a serious discourse about games as art. Maybe it’s my own literature angle that makes me say this but one of the most interesting is this one1 Mother Encyclopedia pages 132-134 by writer TAKAHASHI Gen’ichirō I translated for this article:
Mother Literature MagazineAmerican Literature of the 80ies as seen in Mother
It’s interesting for children but even more so for adults
About the author: Born in 1951 in Hiroshima prefecture. After dropping out of Yokohama National University he drifted from job to job and traveled, working on construction sites for example. In 1981 he suddenly made his debut as a novelist with Sayōnara gyangu-tachi (Sayonara, Gangsters) and became one of the greatest authors in quite a while. First winner of the Mishima Literature Prize.2 In 1988.
The first RPG to be populated by characters from the present
Before I started playing Mother, I was a bit concerned. Originally RPGs were a type of game that was firmly rooted in the historical genre, in other words they were stories about the middle ages. Will it still be interesting if you turn it into a contemporary setting, will it be convincing, I worried myself with questions like these. But once I started playing I honestly felt it was a lot of fun.
The game starts with a manifestation of a poltergeist. RPGs up until now had very fixed tropes like searching for a missing princess or a treasure. In a modern setting, since there are no princesses or treasures, it’s hard to come up with a concrete reason for going on a journey.
However for a contemporary setting there is the fixed form of the adventure novel to fall back on, the pattern of a boy going on a journey to look for something.
When I saw this pattern fall into place as a game neatly from the beginning, that turned out to be quite enjoyable.
Usually in medieval fantasy the enemy characters take the concrete forms of demons and monsters and if you think about what would appear in a modern setting, it makes sense to have aliens, or people and animals that are being manipulated by something making them appear scary and even trucks and cars as enemy characters.
The notion of “not killing” is what makes a good adventure novel have a good aftertaste
And what I liked the most about it was that you didn’t kill the enemy characters. It’s common in games to cruelly kill enemies left and right, and as this serves to release our sadistic urges it was essential to games. Yet in Mother, the enemies return to their senses. This means the author’s way of thinking, his feelings toward the issue fill the game with life right to its core, and that made me feel extremely good about the game.
That is not to say that sadistically finishing off the enemy makes me feel bad in any way but you can’t help but have a bitter aftertaste after watching a splatter movie or reading a splatter novel.
Reading a good boys’ novel on the other hand leaves an extremely good aftertaste. That was it. As I played the game, I noticed the many concrete cases of the game being considerate about this issue. And that was convincing. This is one example how Mother brilliantly succeeds in putting the boy adventure novel formula into game form.
Horizontal movement through a vast space, the defining trait of American adventure novels
In current American literature, as if by a strange coincidence there are two novels similar to Mother. Stephen King’s Talisman and Greg Bear’s The Infinity Concerto. What is even more interesting is that in the afterword to The Infinity Concerto Bear says that after finishing writing his novel he read Talisman and was dumb struck by the similarities. The same kind of coincidence happened with Mother. The time was ripe for such a story to be written, and a capable writer couldn’t help but write it.
The setting is that of a boy, although living in present times, going on an adventure to the realm of demons.
A boy going on an adventure, growing up and returning, that is a staple theme in American literature. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or its modern version, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is the most American type of American novels. The genres bildungsroman and youth novel exist in every country, but I get the impression that the American works in these genres often feature a slightly younger boy wandering through the wilderness, growing up and returning. In the European examples a young man falls in love and is distressed by it, and changes as a person, arriving on a different plane. It touches you in a different way.
America has its wilderness. Originally America was a frontier, with an unknown world to the West, traveling there and a boy growing up, these two aspects conveniently happen to overlap. Love is also an element of that journey.
In Europe, everything turns into vertical movement. Descending into the realm of demons, and rising up to the heavens. It’s the vertical movement of life and death.
Compared to that America basically has horizontal movement. Even when going to the demon’s lair, although feeling somewhat European, the protagonist still moves along a map. This consistent sideway movement is exactly as in an RPG. Huckleberry Finn too follows the river Mississippi for several thousand miles upwards and downwards. For an American, this invites nostalgia.
The rebuilding of the family is the theme of 80ies’ America
Another special trait of current American literature is contained in Mother, the theme of rebuilding the family after it was ruined. Stories set in the aftermath of the ruin of a family are numerous in American novels of the 70ies. For an American, the 50ies were the golden age, the 60ies were an age of turbulence and commotion, with kids raising objections towards their fathers, and in the 70ies the scars of these eventful times remained.
Entering the 80ies marks a recovery from these scars, in other words there is a process of golden age – turbulence – scar – recovery. In concrete terms, the generation of the fathers or that of the older brothers went to the Vietnam war and returned from it. There was one generation of people who died or lost limbs, and the generation of their younger brothers and sisters are writing the American novels of today.
At the same time, the 60ies also were a time of drastic changes in the family structure. You had divorced mothers and unmarried mothers, in other words families without a father. Then there were also families which had lost their fathers in the war, in addition the sexual revolution occurred and it was a time when the traditional family broke apart in various senses.
The younger brothers and sisters faced another attack from a different direction with AIDS, or they had an actual injury in their family, making the wish to heal that injury so great that they began to review their family situation.
They didn’t want to break up the family structure but rather to return after having left. “Let’s not do this anymore”, “The 50ies were much better than this.”
So if we apply this to the story of the boy, he becomes the bond that keeps the family together. The boy going on a journey and returning becomes a metaphor for returning to the family itself, to what made the family good originally.
In King’s case also, the father who is depended on by the boy is glimpsed faintly in the background. This means the boy is not all alone, the concept of family offers warmth, and the feeling of wanting to return to that kind of family, the reliable family of the 50ies, overlaps with the image.
Back to the future of the golden 50ies
In Mother too, shades of the 50ies abound. The music is one aspect, the pompadour hair of the older party member another, these are indicators of the time when the family was still alright.
That RPGs chose the middle ages as the time of their setting has the same significance as current American literature seeing the 50ies as the age when there was a father, as the golden age.
There is a classic book by Huizinga called The Autumn of the Middle Ages in which the middle ages are rehabilitated. Huizinga points out the mistake in viewing that time as the dark middle ages, and writes that actually the sensitivities of the people during that time could be said to have been in full bloom, that in a way it was the age of a golden autumn.
Americans feel the same way about the 50ies. High school, first kiss, prom night, yes, the world of American Graffiti is made of exactly these things. There is a hard working mom and a surefooted dad that hasn’t lost his dignity. On an imaginary level The Goonies and American Graffiti are one and the same. A child growing up during the age of Kramer vs. Kramer doesn’t have time to go on a journey, with their family falling apart. However, as the boy grows up and enters the 80ies, he feels he should “do things more gently” by going “Back to the Future” into the 50ies as people personally remember them. Getting in a fight with a young man with pompadour hair, you can feel it in your heart, this is the 50ies. If one is to create the fixed form of a balanced contemporary setting, the result is America of the 50ies.
Paranormal powers are the weapon of the game that links past and present
Paranormal powers serve as an important new element to link the past and present. The 80ies are quite mechanical, aren’t they. Everything is firmly defined and we’re surrounded by things that make it hard for a time slip to occur. So there needs to be some supplement. If for an American the 50ies relate to the middle ages, there needs to be a weapon that makes the 50ies appear like the middle ages. For that paranormal powers fill in.
Paranormal powers are a metaphor for a past power that has become dormant inside oneself, a secret power which represents the act of going to somewhere not the present despite it being the present. King’s Carrie is an example for this. I think there are two sides to it: As something that connects to a lost age, giving the boy and girl supernatural powers also becomes a crucial element that serves as the key to make the RPG itself take form as a game.
At present, America is faced with the problem of running out of frontiers but the image of America is still that of a country that demands frontiers. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. are really frontiers for the American viewer. Americans never cease to expand their border into what is the outside for them and in that sense aliens from outer space are like a native population.
And in the present, as a way of communication with the unknown outside, supernatural powers become indispensable.
Mother has everything an adventure novel needs
Another important genre British and America literature has is fantasy. It is the same in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, but the important key that connects boys’ literature and fantasy literature is Magicant.
The present has a place that directly connects to the fantasy world. To travel that world of fantasy is yet another frontier. In both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wizard of Oz the secret passage to the world of fantasy is a door in one’s house.
In that sense Mother both has the elements of the 50ies boy’s adventure novel and that of the Narnia type fantasy novel, and everything needed for a boy’s story is covered. Reading such a story lifts the spirits of an American reader.
You could say there is not a single reason why Mother wouldn’t be a hit in America.
Let’s sum up his points: The settings of RPGs represent a wish to go back in time, to create a future based on the past. Changes in society also caused by traumatic injury, i.e. war, have ruined the family and now people seek to restore it and to bring back a dignified male father figure. The boy’s adventure is a metaphor for that process and the PSI powers a metaphor for a lost past that fuses with the present. It is also a way of communicating with the outside, needed in the unceasing exploration of frontiers, even in the realm of fantasy.
Obviously when he is talking about America and its culture his own perspective as a Japanese determines a lot of the points he stresses. He only concretely talks about the Vietnam war but his arguments also apply to Japan’s own trauma of WWII, which is implied when he talks about the nostalgia towards and defense of the middle ages. In Japan the middle ages continued up until the age of imperialism and the world wars, when Japan joined the Western nations in colonizing the Asian frontier.
There is also a lot of conservatism here that isn’t really challenged. American culture is like a chance to regain male dignity, yet the female examples of youth literature are only touched upon and do not deviate from the dwelling on the innocent boy’s adventure who doesn’t kill. This is in line with the game’s narrative. As the Mother Enyclopedia says on pages 22-23:
STAR CAST 1. Adults and children, men and women, on your adventure every one of you is an energetic young boy. Just like that Indy Jones. THIS IS YOU!
The emancipated girl Pippi on the other hand has gone missing. At least there is a girl with PSI powers joining the party, she is YOUR FRIEND OF MIND.
So the RPG is a promise of restoring the family to its original goodness. Or is it? Before Mother, in 1986 ITOI wrote the novel Kazoku Kaisan (The Disbanding of the Family), in a Japanese setting, with a Japanese family. Which at the end of the novel just decides to go different ways.
In 1999, female author MIYABE Miyuki proves TAKAHASHI’s statement, that a kid growing up in the age of Kramer vs. Kramer has no time to go on an adventure, wrong with her fantasy novel Brave Story. Divorce of his parents is exactly what makes the young Japanese boy Wataru go to the Vision, a world like the one in his video games. He wants to change his fate, bring his parents back together, yet at the end he decides to change himself instead and accepts his father’s decision to leave Wataru’s mother. When Wataru’s mother tried to kill herself and her son, that suicide is prevented. Suicide may have been a viable choice for the samurai and a conservative author like MISHIMA Yukio but not one MIYABE wishes for her protagonist.
And The Girl Who Leapt Through Time? TAKAHASHI’s explanation of supernatural powers seems like a perfect fit for this work, since there the power is actually used for exactly this, traveling in time. How about the family situation in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time?
In the novel, females and males are split up into two different households. The father is absent without explanation in Kazuko’s home. In the movie, Kazuko’s father is present but doesn’t mind that she doesn’t try to marry. The father is absent in Gorō’s household, two whole generations of the FUKAMACHI family are completely gone (the younger ones, leaving the grandparents to die alone) and Kazuko and Gorō likely won’t start a new family either. The only chance is the possible arrival of a man like the one from Kazuko’s time traveling fantasy, otherwise she herself will become the only male figure in her life.
|1884||The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn||Mark Twain||novel|
|1900||The Wizard of Oz||L. Frank Baum||novel|
|1919||The Autumn of the Middle Ages||Johan Huizinga||book|
|1939||The Chronicles of Narnia||C. S. Lewis||novel|
|1939||The Wizard of Oz||Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf||Victor Fleming||movie|
|1945||Pippi Longstocking||Astrid Lindgren||novel|
|1951||The Catcher in the Rye||J. D. Salinger||novel|
|1965||Toki o kakeru shōjo||TSUTSUI Yasutaka||novel|
|1973||American Graffiti||George Lucas, Gloria Katz, Willard Huyck||George Lucas||movie|
|1977||Close Encounters of the Third Kind||Steven Spielberg||Steven Spielberg||movie|
|1979||Kramer vs. Kramer||Robert Benton||Robert Benton||movie|
|1981||Sayonara Gangsters||TAKAHASHI Gen’ichirō||novel|
|1982||E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial||Melissa Mathison||Steven Spielberg||movie|
|1983||Toki o kakeru shōjo||KENMOCHI Wataru||ŌBAYASHI Nobuhiko||movie|
|1984||The Infinity Concerto||Greg Bear||novel|
|1984||Talisman||Stephen King, Peter Straub||novel|
|1985||The Goonies||Steven Spielberg (story), Chris Columbus||Richard Donner||movie|
|1985||Back to the Future||Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale||Robert Zemeckis||movie|
|1986||Kazoku Kaisan (Disbanding of the Family)||ITOI Shigesato||novel|
|1989||Mother||ITOI Shigesato||ITOI Shigesato||game|
|1992||Glory of Heracles III The Silence of the Gods||NOJIMA Kazushige, NONAKA I.||ISHII S.||game|
|1997||Final Fantasy VII||SAKAGUCHI Hironobu (story), NOMURA Tetsuya (story), KITASE Yoshinori, NOJIMA Kazushige||KITASE Yoshinori||game|
|1999||Brave Story||MIYABE Miyuki||novel|
Brave Story, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy VII, Glory of Heracles, ITOI Shigesato, L. Frank Baum, MIYABE Miyuki, Mother, NOJIMA Kazushige, ŌBAYASHI Nobuhiko, The Wizard of Oz, Toki o kakeru shōjo, TSUTSUI Yasutaka