To Exist Inside a Memory: Alienation and Redemption in Moonshine
“Wer spricht von Siegen? Überstehn ist alles.”1
Sakura Mint's Moonshine, at its heart, is a story about the search for a place to belong. The main characters — the narrator and a "new-half" working 'girl' named Mai — are both outcasts within Japanese society, and their outcast status is entirely a product of that same society.
The narrator finds work as an errand boy/clerk in a new-half pub following his unceremonious expulsion from Japanese corporate culture. His crime was a form of muscular dystrophy2, transmitted genetically and nothing he could help. In a culture that still, to make a sweeping generalization, equates disability with inferiority3, this was the death knell of the narrator's participation in the rigid and heartless corporate culture. Trivialities such as equal-opportunity employment are rarely a concern within the corporate structure; if an employee is unable to perform the same work as the other "normal" employees — or perceived to be unable — he is simply dead weight, and must be jettisoned posthaste4. In a country where lifetime employment with a single company is the norm, it is rare for employees to quit work at one company and move to another; it is even rarer for a person fired from one company to find work at another. The workers of a typical Japanese company are family, to the point where having a few friendly drinks after work is valued more than an early return to the wife, children, and waiting dinner5. To be excised from this familial environment as something undesirable is then no trivial matter in the least.
The plight of Mai and her alienation are at least as bad as those of the narrator. The phenomenon of the so-called "new-half" — men with partial or full gender reassignment surgery — is largely relegated to hostess clubs or gaudy cabaret acts in a sort of minstrel show for the paying public. While gay, transvestite, or transsexual entertainers are on the rise in Japanese variety shows as an amusing public spectacle, the general public is much less understanding, and on a whole the scene is not too dissimilar from most Western nations 40 or 50 years ago6.
We are given these two characters, both different yet alike in their alienation from their home society. Who do they turn to but each other? While neither understands the other's plight from a firsthand perspective, they forge the bonds of a strong friendship — and maybe something more — in their shared understanding of what it means to be an outcast. But one night Mai tells the narrator about her time living with a past love: "it felt like our place was a sanctuary, and not a home,"7 she says, implying that a refuge for outcasts isn't necessarily the same thing as a place to belong. In one final night in the park where they often met, Mai reveals her plans to apprentice under her grandfather and finally pursue her dream of becoming a jeweler. As she leaves him with a ring to remember her by, he wonders, "are you really happy just to exist inside a memory?"7
The narrator has by this point come to rely entirely on Mai as the personification of his place to belong, but she sees their reliance on each other as only a sanctuary, where both are safe but neither is confronted with the change they need to grow. Mai understands this better than the narrator, and in deciding to leave she fixes his decision as well. In asking whether Mai is content to simply exist — and one day fade away — as a memory, the narrator fails to understand that her final gift to him is not the cutting of ties between them, but a severing of his dependence on her that will eventually enable him to forge ahead and find his own home, his own place to belong.
Faced with a town empty of Mai but full of her memories, the narrator decides to move back to his hometown. Both of them abandon their solitary, lonely lives in the unnamed city for the one constant, among so many cultures, that accepts outcasts as they are — family. In the epilogue the narrator has been living and working at home with his parents and sister for three springs since he last saw Mai. A souvenir from his older sister hints that Mai finally managed to find her calling, and we see that he has certainly not forgotten her as well. The narrator and Mai may now exist only inside the other's memory, but at this price they have both found a place to belong — a home.
30 November 2008
© 2007 Sakura Mint; © 2008 AstCd2
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