Spring and Chaos: adaptations of Kenji Miyazawa‰Ûªs life and works

Galactic trains, with steam trails spiralling vertically into space. The voice of a rock when struck by a hammer. Billions of stars reflected in a dark river. The works of Kenji Miyazawa have inspired many a writer in the many years since his writings have been published. Born in what is now the city of Hanamaki, Iwate prefecture, Japan in 1896, he was the eldest of the town’s pawnbroker’s five children. He would often see the farmers in the area come in to do business with his father,  usually trading their belongings for a pittance, while his family was relatively well-off. This disconnect would later manifest in Miyazawa’s Buddhist beliefs and desire to help others. Regarded as one of Japan’s greatest poets of the 20th century, his lyrical voice is balanced between earnest, fantastical, and scientific. Only two of his books were published before he died in 1933; his rise to fame came after his works were published posthumously. 

Most famous for his children&rsquo;s writings and poetry dealing with humans and nature, his work has been adapted into anime several times, or used as a source of inspiration. Among the numerous adaptations are Group TAC&rsquo;s <em>Night on the Galactic Railroad</em> (1985), Isao Takahata&rsquo;s <em>Gauche the Cellist</em> (1982) and <em>Pom Poko</em> (1994), and <em>A Restaurant of Many Orders</em> (1991). More recent adaptations include the 2012 remake of the 1994 film <em>The Life of Guskou Budori</em> and Goro Miyazaki/Hayao Miyazaki&rsquo;s <em>From Up on Poppy Hill</em> (2011). These are but a few of the works in anime that are directly adapted from his work &mdash; though labelled as children&rsquo;s writings, it&rsquo;s clear that that it touches readers of any age.&nbsp;

Directed by Shoji Kawamori, the film <em>Spring and Chaos </em>was first released in 1996 to celebrate 100 years since Miyazawa&rsquo;s birth and serves as an animated biopic of Miyazawa&rsquo;s short life. In a somewhat odd move, the characters, including Miyazawa, are depicted as animals. As a cat teacher, it makes a lot more sense if you look back on the animated <em>Night on the Galactic Railroad</em>: in it, Giovanni and Campanella are a pair of cats on a trip across the stars. That particular anime is uncanny in tone, but does serve to capture a sense of intensity and wonderment about human truths.&nbsp;

<em>Spring and Chaos</em> oscillates between intense montages of nature and quietness, interspersed with the events of Miyazawa&rsquo;s life, including his eccentric way of teaching and the death of his beloved sister. There was one particular sequence where Miyazawa was observing a farmer tilling in the fields; later, the image is reflected in the background with an image of him, staring and writing, trying to capture the details that fascinated him. It&rsquo;s a short movie broken into chunks pertaining to different periods in his life, but I felt that the animal designs didn&rsquo;t detract from the direction and writing at all. The animation is ripe with allegory that draws you in and tries to show what Miyazawa strove to put to paper through his poetry and writings. The backgrounds and the details that are highlighted are just as much a part of the story as the retelling of Miyazawa&rsquo;s life.&nbsp;

If older animation isn&rsquo;t your cup of tea, there is some recent anime that draw on Miyazawa&rsquo;s ideas, most significantly <em>Mawaru Penguindrum</em>&rsquo;s use of symbols like the apple and scorpion (as well as train stops), and the eternal <em>Galaxy Express 999</em> by Leiji Matsumoto. The film <em>Giovanni&rsquo;s Island</em> from last year also features strong imagery and references to <em>Night on the Galactic Railroad</em>, and if not for the flash-forward in the first 5 minutes of the film, the nicknames of the brothers foreshadow the events in the latter half of the film.&nbsp;

The UW library does have some translated works by Kenji Miyazawa in their catalogue, though they&rsquo;re far outnumbered by the number of academic writings on them. Published translations of his works aren&rsquo;t too hard to find. &ldquo;These stories of mine,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;All came from me from moonlight and rainbows, in places like railroad tracks and fields and forests.&rdquo;&nbsp;