Twelve Moments in Anime No. 8: Kaiji’s Drill in the Ear
Kaiji is an incredibly intense experience from start to finish, with a good plot, lots of twists and a fantastic protagonist. But what has consistently stuck with me about the series from the moment I completed it is this issue brought up by Baka-Raptor in this post by ghostlightning.
The comment: “It’s ok (and often preferable) to watch anime detached. Kaiji is a story about a guy who isn’t you, your mom, or the guy next door. It’s a story about people with problems being forced into crazy situations and doing crazy things. “That was awesome!” is a much more relevant reaction than “I totally relate to him!” If there’s anyone we should feel connections with, it’s the rich guys watching Kaiji’s struggles for their own amusement.“
(Emphasis added by me.)
I always find myself fascinated when fiction brings the voyeurism of the viewer, and the pleasure we derive from watching good characters struggle and come out on top, to the forefront. The gambles in Kaiji are done for the benefit of society’s elites, who pay to watch these lowlifes and do-nothings betray each other, fall to their deaths and even have drills enter oh so slowly into their ear canals. But the elites aren’t the only ones watching — we’re watching, too. We are cheering for Kaiji, of course, and in all likelihood are not as morally bankrupt as the organizers of these gambles, but we are watching nonetheless. We groan when Kaiji is betrayed, we feel sad when Kaiji’s comrades die off one by one and we cringe when we hear the sound of that drill creeping ever closer to Kaiji’s eardrum; and, yet, how many willingly stop watching, and how many keep going?
This reminds me of a movie I watched Wednesday: Ace in the Hole, starring Kirk Douglas as a cynical, manipulative journalist who takes advantage of a cave-in to create a story that becomes a media sensation. Douglas’ character, Charles Tatum, is a cold, cruel, calculating man, of course, but would he exist if people did not pay attention? Fellow journalists sneer at Tatum and deride his lack of integrity — but they seem to be angrier that he is not letting them have a piece of the story. People from around America gather around to cheer on the man trapped in the cave, but once the story is over, the only one left — in the movie’s most heartbreaking shot — is the man’s father, standing in a deserted daze outside the cave.
Their points go to different ends, but they meet in the same spot: People like to watch struggles. Even the best among us cannot avoid all of these stories. I’m running away as best I can from all the Tiger Woods talk, but it’s not because I hold some moral high ground above those paying attention to it — I just don’t care about the story. When Kobe Bryant was on trial for rape, I was as absorbed as anyone (though being both a Southern Californian and Laker fan, that may have held a bit more interest for me than other people). And when the story is done, I leave it and go back to my life just like anyone else.
I do not think it is bad to watch Kaiji like this — I just believe it gives us something to think about regarding how we relate to the content of what we watch. Kaiji is memorable enough as a great story, but it is these thoughts that will have me remembering it far beyond 2009.