Sanne Kabalt

The Unhappy End

Sanne Kabalt

Recently, I have attended a lecture series on Japanese cinema at Eye. From all the concepts, facts and history that were poured over me during these lectures, there is one piece of information that stood out to me: In the Japanese film tradition, many movies do not have a happy end. The heroes are not doing well. They fail. Many Japanese movies contain problems that remain unsolved. Main characters die. The simple idea behind this is that a movie ought not to be far from real life. An interesting fact is that in Japan the movies with an ‘unhappy end’ were no less successful then the movies with a ‘happy end’.  

Still image from 'Maborosi', a Japanese film by Hirokazu Kore-eda

Still image from 'Maborosi', a Japanese film by Hirokazu Kore-eda


This set me thinking about Greek tragedies. In plays such as Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus’ an honorable, respectable person messes up his life in a catastrophic way. Greek tragedy was designed to show that terrible things can and often do happen to good people. 

Greek Tragedy Mask

Greek Tragedy Mask

 

I am not going to claim that we do not have ‘unhappy ends’ in our movies, plays and literature here today. Of course, there are many examples. I have just finished a recent book by Hawaiian author Hanya Yanagihara called ‘A Little Life’. Tragedy befalls on the main characters. They struggle so much, they make so many mistakes, that I often had to stop reading - I couldn’t bear it. And yet, I would like to make a case here for ‘the unhappy end’. Because it is quite rare. Because it is not far from real life. 

'A Little Life' Book cover

'A Little Life' Book cover