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.

3 Responses to “Twelve Moments in Anime No. 8: Kaiji’s Drill in the Ear”

  1. Man when Kobe was just BRINGING THE PAIN on them Spurs straight after flying from Denver… yes I know what you mean. I love that particular Lakers team. The haters wanted everyone to believe that they’ve underachieved, that they’re overpowered with Payton and Malone… but I know better.

    They’ve overachieved.

    They’ve had to fight the best teams throughout the playoffs while trying to integrate new players who were not only incapable of learning their system (the triangle offense), but who were also physical ghosts of themselves: Payton couldn’t guard fucking anyone at that point, so Parker carved him up.

    But Karl Malone man, he was my hero too. He had to guard Duncan AND THEN the MVP Garnett and 2 grueling 7-game series. No wonder he had nothing left against Sheed ‘I look like an MVP when I’m posting up cripples and insignificants’ Wallace in the finals.

    Yeah that team had internal problems, but the notion that they SHOULD have won easily is absurd and hater propaganda just so they can piss on the Lakers, but more importantly piss on Kobe. I’ve never feared anime blogosphere haterade and trolling because I’ve been following Kobe and the Lakers since ’96 — and you’ll know as much as I do that mention Kobe in a forum or thread, you can’t get to three responses before the ‘discussion’ turns into shit. It’s STILL like that 13 years later… but NOTHING LIKE 2003-2004, when LeBron was shiny and new and there was a rape charge on my boy Kobe. Yeah I read Phil’s The Last Season, yeah I was watching when Kobe scored 81. I’ll be there when he can’t jump and shoot no more and hangs up his sneakers.

    I was a basketball fan before I was an NBA fan. Magic and Bird got me into the NBA, and Jordan cemented my love for it. But I was 19 when Kobe was a rook and he is the other player I supported from the beginning… (the other is Shaquille, who I will love forever). There’s no greater feeling than being a hardcore fan and seeing your boys win it after so many years, so the 2006 championship for Shaq was beautiful (for Pat’s sake too), and the 2009 win for Kobe was the best moment in entertainment for me all year (Manny Pacquiao’s legendary wins notwithstanding).


    People like to watch struggles, yes. My experience with Kaiji, however is rather different. I wanted to look away from all the ugliness — the character designs, the weakness of people, the evil in others… but I couldn’t. Maybe it is indeed because the struggle is gripping, and I wanted Kaiji to win.

    • Twelve Moments in Anime No. 7: Finding out ghostlightning is a hardcore Lakers fan. Rock on.

      With all the problems the 2004 Lakers had — Kobe’s trial; Kobe and Shaq’s feud coming to a head; Gary Payton essentially being a corpse; Karl Malone being just about dead by the Finals; and so on — it’s amazing they actually made it through the Western Conference, especially facing teams led by Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett when they were in their absolute primes. (And Garnett wasn’t even choking away playoff games that year.) Ah well.

      ’96 was my first year seriously following the league too. I was too young to remember much of Larry Bird’s Celtics and the Showtime Lakers (which kills me because the ’80s had such amazing basketball), but Jordan was SO huge when I was in elementary school and basically every boy was playing basketball. I watched enough of the Lakers to remember guys like Vlade Divac, Nick Van Exel, Cedric Ceballos and Eddie Jones, but the Shaq trade made me a fan for life.

      My dad and I went to a fair number of games over the years (one of my fondest memories was watching the Lakers whoop up on the Bulls during, I think, the ’97-’98 season), and we were always frustrated that the Lakers couldn’t quite get over the hump until that Blazers game in 2000. Either that game or Big Shot Rob’s 3-pointer against the Kings a couple of years later is my greatest memory as a Lakers fan (aside from the championships, of course). The Kobe-to-Shaq alley-oop was so insane to watch live on TV. I can only imagine what the atmosphere at the Great Western Forum was like after that.

      Kobe’s always going to have that cloud over him, but I think his legacy as a basketball player cannot be seriously contested, especially not after his recent run. NBA Finals + MVP –> Olympics –> NBA Championship + Finals MVP –> who knows what happens this season. If the Lakers get to the Finals again (or even win another title), then Kobe absolutely has to be looked at as a top 10 all-time player, at least. When he finally hangs it up, he could very well be a top 5 all-time player. I might be a bit biased, but is there a more complete player in the NBA right now? Lebron is the only player who is close, and while physically he certainly leaves Kobe in the dust at this point in his career, Kobe has the more complete game. He’s pulling out every inch of his talent, while Lebron still has places to go.

      (To be fair, though, he’s getting there REAL QUICK. He’s already improving his jump shooting and 3-point shooting. If he picks up a post-up game soon, then Lebron will be unstoppable. Who the hell would be able to guard him if he could post up? He’s strong enough to hang with power forwards and quick enough to leave small forwards and guards behind. When Lebron gets that post-up game, the NBA might as well hand the Cavs (or wherever Lebron ends up going) the title each year.)

      I love that a Kaiji post somehow inspired long ass NBA comments. That was awesome.

  2. NBA? What is this NBA you speak of? I know of no such sporting organization in the New York/New Jersey market.

    Anyone who likes Kaiji is a sadist. Sure, we want to see him win in the end, but until then, we want to see him struggle as much as humanly possible.

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