[From May Issue 2012]
Gazing at Love and Death (Directed by SAITO Buichi)
Released in 1964, this movie portrays the pure love between KOJIMA Michiko, who suffers from a terminal cancer called chondrosarcoma, and her contemporary, TAKANO Makoto. It is based on the true story of OSHIMA Michiko and KOUNO Makoto, whose collected correspondence was published as a book of the same title.
Michiko and Makoto get to know each other when they are both admitted to an Osaka hospital. Since they are both 18 years old and are both fans of the pro baseball team Hanshin Tigers, they soon become close. Before long they are discharged from hospital and are parted as they begin university life, with Michiko going to Kyoto and Makato to Tokyo. Despite this, they continue to write letters to each other. Unfortunately Michiko is readmitted to the hospital in Osaka as a tumor on her face reappears.
With the money he makes from part time jobs and by pawning his camera and watch, Makoto manages to visit Michiko in the hospital in Osaka many times. They make a pact to visit Makoto’s native Nagano Prefecture to go mountain climbing when Michiko recovers, but Michiko is forced to leave her university in order to fight her illness. Being unsure of her future and taking into account the future of her friend, Michiko bids farewell to Makoto in a letter. However, Makoto is unable to accept this.
The doctor in charge of Michiko’s case recommends that she undergoes an operation to remove tissue from half of her face. The operation is a success. With the left side of her face covered with gauze, Michiko maintains a cheerful disposition, becomes close with the other patients and soon becomes popular. While waiting for cosmetic surgery, she begins studying to become a medical welfare activist. Just then, Michiko discovers a tumor on the right side of her face.
Michiko is once again put on the operating table, but her condition is so severe that the doctor halts the operation. Makato hears about this over the phone and yells at Michiko, “What are the doctors doing? What about the scientists? We can make A-bombs, but cannot even cure such a simple illness?” However, after regaining his composure, he gives encouragement to Michiko, as he used to.
Putting on a brave face for Makoto, Michiko is inwardly preparing herself for death. One day, she cleans her bedside and takes a doll and other things that she has treasured to the incinerator. When asked by the manager whether the items are the belongings of somebody who has died, she quietly answers, “The person is about to die.” Looking up at the smoke coming out of the chimney, she mutters, “We all go up in smoke, don’t we?”
The book this movie was based on was published in 1963 and became a best seller, selling 1.6 million copies. It was not only adapted into a movie but also into several TV dramas as well as a song and, after all these years, still has the power to deeply move audiences. Similar dramas that depict young people caught between life and death have been released in recent years and include: “Sekai no Chuushin de Ai wo Sakebu” (Crying out Love, in the Centre of the World – a story of true love and a fight against illness – and “Ichi Rittoru no Namida” (One Liter of Tears) – a series based on the diary of a woman who died at the age of 25 after struggling with an incurable disease. These two titles also became big hits.