(possible spoilers for SnU)
Sakura no Uta is a beautiful illusion. This is one of its most important aspects.
Some people have noted the strange structure of the Lotus Sutra. It is a Sutra that is the preface to a Sutra. Buddha spends the entirety of the Sutra talking about this strange, mysterious, and wonderful new Sutra or method that will turn the entire congregation in front of him into Buddhas themselves, and, furthermore, he speaks of how his past doctrines were all lies. He talks about his use of ‘expedient means’ to teach different people different pathways to enlightenment – but in the end he condenses it all into ‘One Wheel’. There is only one. Neither two, nor three.
The rest of the Sutra is a celebration of everyone. Even Devadatta, widely known as one of the most notorious opponents to Buddha himself, is turned into a Buddha in this Sutra. Even a female, the Dragon King’s Daughter, is turned into a Buddha – and this refutes the idea that females are denied from entry into the path of Buddhahood. Yet, as you get closer and closer to the finale, you realize that there is no strange Sutra. This celebration itself, and this preface, is the Sutra itself. The implications of this almost meta-fictive act of this are endless.
It is quite interesting to parallel this to Sakura no Uta, especially since the Lotus Sutra is mentioned off-handedly by one of the characters (if I recall, that was the Sutra that Kusanagi Kenichirou was reading – although, if I got it wrong, I still think that this analysis is interesting). Sakura no Uta is a work that frequently talks about strange, mysterious, and wonderful things – and it describes all these things within the prose – but there is always a kind of schism between the art as described and the art that appears on screen. Some works, like the Dream of a Butterfly and the Dying Sakura Tree are fully displayed, but the rest are either weird impressionist abstract art Sakura splatters or they’re merely hinted at without being shown in full splendour. Furthermore, some of the best ‘art’ scenes use methods found in stuff like Shounen Cooking Manga, whereby the techniques are described although you are not exactly sure whether the creation itself is even possible. Eventually, Sakura no Uta tears itself away from these mysterious ‘transcendental’ beauties and falls back into its philosophy of daily life and the true art within the world of human limits. Overall, the consistency of the art in the CG and backgrounds are more cohesively beautiful than the paintings depicted within, and this is what contributes strongly to its message as well.
This is why Sakura no Uta is a beautiful dream itself. It’s themes and message bleeds into your real life although it frequently uses Slice of Life jokes with characters that are larger than life, and it uses words & music to point towards fantastical acts of art which may not really be replicated in reality. It is one of the strongest proofs as to that saying by Picasso where “Art is the Lie that tells the Truth” – in that all the pretense helps to direct your mind to this clear message that you can apply to your daily life.
Yet, this is where there is a crack in that vision. The Art that Sakura no Uta frequently extols is Impressionism and those close to it. Even when it talks about Matisse, Gauguin, and Chagall – it praises them for their combination of colours. In opposition to that, there is the schism of Contemporary Art, whereby abstract deformations and sacrilegious scandals takes place. The final work of art depicted by the Sakura Artist is one whereby Contemporary Art of the most bitter variety, crude graffiti-like textures and splattered paint, is transformed into impressionistic beauty and light.
This schism of beauty and ‘bitter humanity’ is married together in the overall conclusion of the work itself – the simplicity of the final message. But you always get a sense that the ‘bitter humanity’ is never fully reconciled with. Though the work seems always to talk about breaching that schism, and this is most seen by making the ‘villain artist’ Kana a supremely and amazingly empathetic character – there is still a gap. The ‘life’ depicted in SnU is still larger than life, and the rest of the villains, such as the mafia or other bitter family members, are shown as the archetypal sort of characters that will definitely receive karmic justice.
There is a reason for this. In between the Sakura Artist and the Rubbish Kings of Contemporary Art – there was the Trash-Can King. The Trash-Can King is he who can turn that bitter ugliness of humanity into something beautiful, and never evict it from the sphere of the frame, but still giving it deeper significance. The reason why there are so many Rubbish Kings are because they have always been trying to emulate the Trash-Can King. The progression was not one where beauty was demolished and turned into crudity – but it was one where crudity was given life for the first time, and thus people became enamoured with that idea, and that was when, in their inability to see what the Trash-Can King was really doing, they merely sought to parade their own Rubbish as acts of communication.
The Trash-Can King is the most important type of artist, and the person that truly marries together Art & Life moreso than the Sakura Artist. The Sakura Artist is like the person who propounds the Lotus Sutra – the circle around the mysterious and non-dual. The Trash-Can King shows the blend.
We don’t really need to point out who the Trash-Can King was in terms of Art. He was Picasso – the man who turned a life of womanizing and being a complete asshat into his own realm of meaning.
One example of this would be The Dream – as seen over here.
Despite being a painting of his mistress – and also, apparently, he drew his own dick inside it – this painting by Picasso beautifully depicts that kind of restful state where everything within you seems to melt away. He used abstraction to portray meaning, rather than to turn everything into a blurry chaos.
We also don’t really need to speak of Guernica, which is a painting that reminds me so much of my Army days when I realized how much of a mess the actual moment of battle was after I experienced what it was like to go through a practice one. It speaks so much more of War & Human Suffering than something melancholic and dignified like John Singer Sargent’s Gassed.
A Trash-Can King is the type of entity that is closest to conveying what is human whilst being greater. Sakura no Uta talks about two kinds of Gods – one of them is a Transcendent God that speaks of absolute beauty and judgment, and the other – a human god that will carry you through all personal suffering, troubles and personal joys. In between that, there is the Trash-Can King – the entity that judges humanly, but judges with clarity and no sympathy, and takes ugliness into his own communication, knowing that there are limits, and that there are also moments of insight and observation that seem to emanate outwards from a clearer state of mind.
Like Picasso, who took his personal failings and cruelties and, in his own particularly genius fashion, turned them into higher communication about a more universal touch of humanity. Likewise, like Dali, who took his mess of dreams and eccentricities and desires and turned them into otherworldly realms always seeming to touch the messier side of human thought.
And like Chekhov, who so beautifully talks of the foibles of men and their smallness & boredom in the face of nature and many other things. Always being empathetic but never falling into acts of overbearing sentimentality.
Also, like Dan Schneider, who totally took his own experience of some dude he knew who had to suck off dicks at some gay bar as a child – and turned it into a part of his own memoirs, and also created a poem of it – over here. And also wrote about how Malcolm X was a dirty and violent pimp, but lionized him into a true cosmic voice by the end of his long poem Big Red.
But being a Trash-Can King is hard. Looking at oneself with a certain level of clarity requires some touch of irony and cynicism. But, there are always good kinds and bad overbearing kinds too. Whoever witnesses a Trash-Can King and understands his work properly – is always one step away from a beautiful dream, and one step closer to a beautiful reality. Though, perhaps the former is still more enjoyable.
(Addendum: I hope Sakura no Toki has a Kana route where Naoya becomes Andy Warhol and dies from a drug overdose while in a rock star orgy. Incidentally my chara ranking is Rina > Naoya > Kana > Ai > Yumi > Rin > Akashi > Thomas > Kenichirou etc…)