Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuxedo Begins

Reasons Why I Should Write the Sailor Moon Movie #9: Mamoru Chiba #2

Watch out! It's symbolism!

Man, remember in Sailor Moon when it was revealed that Tuxedo Kamen was actually Mamoru Chiba? Didn't that shit just blow your mind??! I mean, who would have thought that the tall, dark haired, handsome, sharply dressed guy who appears recurrently in the story for no other logical reason than to suggest that he is the tall, dark-haired, handsome, sharply dressed Tuxedo Kamen would turn out to be Tuxedo Kamen?!?!?

Christopher McQuarrie? M. Night Shyamalan?


You just got schooled by Sailor Moon, bitches.

Seriously, was there anyone on Earth who didn't figure that out? Okay, maybe during the show's initial run some of the show's younger viewers may have been genuinely surprised by this revelation, but pretty much everyone else could put it together. This is a problem because the Usagi-Mamoru romance, at least in the first arc of the grander Sailor Moon saga, is built in large part on the mystery of just who Tuxedo Kamen actually is. The answer to this question, "Tuxedo Kamen = Mamoru Chiba," was unfortunately already easily guessed to begin with, and nearly twenty years of hindsight has not improved matters. What redeemed this narrative misstep is that, following this obvious revelation, the story subsequently asked another, deeper question: "If Tuxedo Kamen is Mamoru Chiba, who then is Mamoru Chiba?"

That is the question I would leap straight into, as part #8 may have already indicated. Who is Mamoru Chiba? What is his past like? What could compel him to dress up in a full dress suit and a mask from a costume ball and go out robbing jewellery stores? Moreover, how could a high school student with (ostensibly) no superpowers or specialized skills be able to pull off such a feat without landing in jail?

For your consideration:

Amnesia is a particularly annoying storytelling cliche, not just because it's horribly overused but because the movies that use it often get it completely wrong. Think about the typical amnesia story: man/woman wakes up, doesn't know where he/she is or how he/she got where they are but otherwise have a pretty intact base of knowledge-- language, manners, etc. When asked, they cannot recall their name or other biographical information, but otherwise are perfectly fine -- you wouldn't be able to tell that they had suffered a massive neurological trauma.

Real amnesia, as you might imagine, is both far more interesting and, sometimes, far more terrifying than the movie variety. It can range from temporary, partial amnesia following a concussion (wherein you're conscious but cannot remember things like what year it is, your birthday, your name, etc.) to the loss of procedural memory (some adult lightning strike victims need to re-learn things like arithmetic or reading) to anterograde amnesia-- the inability to form new long-term memories (this was the type of amnesia that afflicted the main protagonist of Memento).

In the case of Mamoru Chiba, it wasn't just that he couldn't his name, where he lived, who his parents were, or how he had escaped the flaming wreckage of a car that had driven off of a cliff-- a car whose driver's dental records matched those of a low-level Yakuza gang member. Mamoru Chiba, believed to be between six and eight years old, couldn't remember how to speak, or eat, or walk, or use the bathroom. His severe brain trauma rendered him an overgrown infant, and every doctor who examined him believed an overgrown infant is what he would remain for the rest of his life.

Even his name, "Mamoru Chiba," was not really his own. This name was bestowed upon him by the young woman who found him the night of the accident. Apart from his clothes, the only item he owned was a star-shaped pocket watch, on whose back face was inscribed a scene of planet Earth and an over-hanging crescent moon. He clenched the watch in his hand as he lay on the ground, thrity feet away from the burning rubble-- or at least so goes the story. Feeling that the boy deserved better than to be given some generic identifier like "Nanashi No Gombe" ("John Doe"), the woman registered him under the name Chiba Mamoru, "The Protector of The Earth." The name, intended as a temporary pun, stuck.

The very same woman who found Mamoru at the crash site-- let's call her "Chiba-san"-- would later officially adopt him, indifferent to both the social stigma associated with adoption in Japan and the strong likelihood that Mamoru would never recover. It was rough going for about the first year or so, and Chiba-san, a fairly wealthy woman, had to hire nurses to help her take care of Mamoru. Chiba-san, an inherently loving woman, would have been just fine with taking care of the severely disabled Mamoru for as long as he lived. . .

But Mamoru recovered, in a startlingly broad and rapid way. It started with the eyes-- he came to recognize Chiba-san, something doctors said would be impossible. With Chiba-san's help, he re-learned how to speak, to feed himself, to walk and later run (in this case overcoming both brain damage and muscular atrophy), to read, write, and count, to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, to converse, to question, and on and on until there was almost no way to tell that he had ever had any brain damage to begin with.

Almost, that is, until you consider Mamoru's emotional issues. Even after his cognitive skills and re-education reached the level where he could return to school with students roughly his age, emotionally he was quite withdrawn. Though moderately well-liked around his school for his intelligence and easy-going nature, he didn't have very many real friends, something he seemed to be perfectly happy about. Occasionally, his usual calm gave way to irrational bursts of anger, but the frequency of these tended to subside with age, even if they not vanish completely. Given that doctors had trouble figuring out how Mamoru could rebuild his brain the way he had, it shouldn't be too surprising that they were not sure whether his emotional problems were psychological in nature-- the result of severe emotional trauma following the accident-- or neurological.

The only person who seemed to have any idea of what Mamoru was going through was Chiba-san. Mamoru did love Chiba-san as his if she were his own mother, which is why, despite his difficulties with expressing his emotions, he was able on a couple of occasions to confide to Chiba-san certain aspects of his inner reality. He said-- though not quite this articulately-- that he sometimes felt as though the identity he had built up since the accident-- his name, his arsenal of re-learned cognitive skills, his laid-back attitude, and even his "dream" of becoming a doctor just like the people who saved him-- was not really him. His entire personality amounted to nothing more than a mask. (Yeah, there I go again. . .) But what lay beneath the mask? The closest Mamoru had to an answer seemed to lie in something that he could not discuss even with Chiba-san-- his dreams.

He could never quite understand why, but Mamoru always felt more real, more human, while dreaming. Whatever it was that made himself "him" was clearest in his strange dreams. There was a bizarre comfort to this; even when he could only remember bits and pieces of whatever he dreamed the night before-- some tall structure, a disembodied female voice, the name "Endymion"-- the feeling of being whole remained with him. He considered, mostly for the sake of approaching the phenomenon rationally, that his dreams might be the lingering result of neurological damage. However, since it wasn't really doing him any harm, whereas telling someone about them would held the possibly, however remote, of being placed in hospital again, he opted to keep the dreams to himself. . . sort of.

Remember in Part #5, when I said that Rei Hino had gotten into a rather detached relationship with a certain boy whose identity I opted to withhold at the time. Well. . . that boy is Mamoru Chiba. There's a precedent to this-- a couple actually. First, Rei and Mamoru did date each other briefly in the anime. As well, in PGSM Mamoru was actually engaged to one Hina Kusaka before ever meeting Usagi. So how does their relationship play out in the movie?

Mamoru and Rei both come from families in the Japanese upper class-- Chiba-san was wealthy, and Rei's father was a politician. It was decided by their parents that the two might make a good couple, though Takashi Hino, who liked liked the cut of Mamoru's jib, was by far a bigger fan of the idea than Chiba-san, who liked seeing Mamoru socialize but misgivings about both the artificiality of the relationship and Takashi Hino himself. Chiba-san's concerns were not eased by the fact that Rei and Mamoru appeared to have no delusions about their relationship-- it was clear that they were both in this mainly to please their parents. Yet there was something deeper that drew them together. Rei, in a way, could relate to Mamoru's feeling of his identity being a mask, though Mamoru's affliction was clearly more extreme than Rei's moderate alienation. Mamoru, on the other hand, was fascinated with Rei's affinity for the religious and supernatural, particularly her interest in interpreting dreams. . .

So they dated, which pretty much meant that they showed up together at certain functions and looked like a good little conservative Japanese couple. Mamoru, meanwhile, continued to make progress in his studies and his overall recovery. He had even found a hobby in geology, studying rocks and jewellery. He added many rocks and jewels to his collection, though his favourites were a set of four stones-- one piece each of Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoisite, and Kunzite-- given to him by Chiba-san as a birthday present. Something about this hobby seemed to stir something inside him, beneath the mask.

By the time the movie begins, though, things are starting to fall apart for Mamoru. Chiba-san is sick. She won't say anything to Mamoru, but he can tell how much weaker she has become. On top of that, the dreams have become far more intense. Once limited to a few vague images and sounds, the dreams are now calling out to Mamoru-- to "Endymion"-- to find. . . something. He thinks it's a jewel, brighter and larger than any he has ever seen, called the Maboroshi no Ginzuishou, or "Illusionary Silver Crystal." That's what he's seen in the dreams, at least. The dreams have told him-- or maybe he always just knew it-- that this crystal has the power to heal. That is, he might be able to save Chiba-san.

But where the hell is he going to find it? It could be buried in the earth or held any number of vaults anywhere on the planet. It may not even exist yet; maybe they're manufacturing it in some hidden materials sciences laboratory. Then again, it could be sitting in some jewellery store waiting for someone to buy it. He wouldn't have had the first clue where to look, if it were not for the dreams. In addition to emploring Mamoru to seek out the crystal, the dreams also seem to be telling him where to look. Still, there's knowing where to look and knowing how to get it, and his dreams seem to be telling that as well. They'll leave little clues-- how he should dress, the code to a door lock, an alternate escape route, where certain people will be at a certain times-- that are so obsure that they're meaning isn't clear until the very moment they're needed, and yet are so vital that they allow Mamoru to break into jewellery stores and successfully evade authorities despite an utter lack of criminal skills or experience. Mamoru can't explain how he's able to see all these things in his dreams, but he feels compelled to follow them-- to save Chiba-san, to save himself. . . to save the world.

And what about the tuxedo? Mamoru won't begin the film as Tuxedo Mask; the "mask and dark clothing" he wears in Part #8 are a ski-mask and a dark shirt and pants. Just how he becomes "Tuxedo Mask" will be told in the film.

Stay tuned for Part #10: The Villain!


Cait said...

I have to say I just love this characterisation of Mamoru. It is so much deeper and to a degree much more believable than the tired old amnesia story that the anime and PGSM gave us. You are putting so much thought into this and it is just awesome. :)

Can't wait to read Part 10!

Jeremy K. said...

Thanks Cait!

Part #10 will have to wait a little bit though. I just got word that my paper is officially going to be published in the February 2010 issue of Physical Review A, so my next post will likely be the summary that I promised a while back.

If you want to take a look at the abstract, you can find at the URL below:


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