Paradox Paradigm is considered one of the best movies in The Garden of Sinners series. As the climax of the series, it cultivates themes from previous movies into a gigantic showdown, forcing a clash between Kara no Kyoukai’s mastermind and its protagonists.
Paradox Paradigm has a lot to uncover, and the previous article will prep viewers on the Taoist and Buddhist philosophies prevalent in the movie. It is highly recommend that you read that before continuing with this article. For this article, we will be discussing a little film theory and how visual techniques help support Taoist and Buddhist ideas.
Film Theory: Influence of Movement
In traditional film theory, it is believed that the direction a character travels can influence an audience’s perception. Movement in film can be categorized as: left and right, up and down, and forward and backwards.
In film theory, it is believed that characters who travel towards the camera are perceived as aggressive and powerful while those who move away from the camera are seen as weak and timid. Characters who appear high up seem more dominant and characters who are looked down upon seem feeble.
Characters who travel left to right are seen as more positive than characters who travel from right to left. We read from left to right. Books start on the left and finish on the right. In graphs, time forward is indicated starting on the left and moving towards the right. Even in video games, players typically start on the left and move towards the right.
From this thinking, film theorists believed that audiences with instinctively interpret movement from the left to right as more positive--progress. Movement from the right to left as negative--regression. This very theory has been proven in a psychological study conducted by Cleveland State University. If you’re interested in learning more about this study, feel free to search for the article Which Way Did He Go through the university website.
Circular Movement: What is Progression Without Regression?
Understanding movement is integral to understanding Paradox Paradigm, and even though the above film theory is from a Western perspective, Japanese directors borrow from Western film concepts. This is especially clear in Kara no Kyoukai’s 5th movie.
Tomoe Enjou is a newly introduced character in this film. Our first introduction to him is startling and confusing, the circular nature of the film already coming through. He is a former member of the track team, and the first time we see him run, he runs away from the grisly scene of his matricide (right to left: regression/running away from a problem).
The next time we see him, his lateral movement is always left to right except during a transition into a tunnel. In particular, the tunnel is red, the film’s dominant color. In previous films, when normal everyday colors transition to the film’s color scheme, there is an implication: the character has moved into the abnormal/spiritual realm (thus Tomoe’s movement left). It is here where steam rises that he meets his “double,” Shiki.
From this point forward, the film has a lot of circular movement: the turning of keys (right open/on, left close/off), characters spiraling down a staircase, the turning of clocks, the droning, infinite repetition of days--all of these examples spiral into each other, creating a non-linear progression of the film. To say it simply, things are confusing because actions are out of order.
This disorder is caused because characters lose sight of “what is forward”--what is progress. Viewers familiar with previous movies know what happens next. Things go wrong when there is imbalance. Thus, the way to correct things is to create balance: to gain sight of what is progress, characters must also know regress. Balance in one’s life (Yin & Yang) is Taoism in a nutshell.
In the case of Tomoe Enjou, his return to his home gives him context. He remembers his origin, his past. From there, he renews his purpose and finally runs forward. It is the anchoring of one’s past that one knows how to move forward. Without the past, one doesn’t have a reference point to make progress. Without the future, one will forever be unmoving. Balancing the future and present gives us the present, a time in which actions happen.
Character Foiling, Balance, and the Importance of Agency
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to escape the cycle of reincarnation. To do so, one must gain nirvana, a state where one’s individual desires and suffering goes away. This means one has to relinquish instinct (desire) and gain self awareness (enlightenment). To do this, one must be aware of the truth of life.
In the context of this film, Araya Souren, the main antagonist of the series, builds the Ogawa Apartment Complex. This building is split in two: one side houses the corpses of families and the other side houses dolls that reenact their deceased selves. Within the cycle of one day, the dolls will kill themselves at night and are reborn in the morning.
To gain the knowledge of “the Root,” Araya Souren has used knowledge of Taoism (balance Life/Death and Yin/Yang) with the building and encased Buddhism (reincarnation) inside. This is further supported when one realizes that the blueprint for this building came from Araya’s former colleague, Touko--the Magi who created Shiki’s doll arm.
Touko’s Taoist influence emerges through proximity. She is like an aloof teacher. She guides Ryougi Shiki towards balance with occasional advice, and pushes Kokuto to pursue Shiki, her “better half,” so to speak. She’s often seen smoking Dragon Smoke, a brand of cigarettes with a Ying & Yang symbol. In Paradox Paradigm, she gives Kokuto these cigarettes to guard him against Araya’s influence in the tower.
The Ogawa Apartment Complex is the meeting ground between Taoism and Buddhism. Its design incorporates both themes, and directly influences the characters who fight there. Thus, it is unsurprising that the two characters trapped by this building, Tomoe Enjou and Ryougi Shiki (foils of one another), emerge in an enlightened state.
When Tomoe returns from his childhood house, he gains direction. He knows his past and knows what he wants for his future. He can now move forward in the present. He reaches the underside of the apartment complex, an area where the brains of all the dolls are hooked into the building with red and blue never-like wires.
It is here that he is confronted with his own brain, the undeniable proof that he is a doll. However, through his experience with Shiki (she is likened to a doll) and his new understanding of himself, he firmly rejects the idea that he was controlled by his instinct to seek Shiki. As he dies, his last words are, “I existed here,” a refutation that his whole purpose was driven by Araya’s control. As Tomoe dies, he is released from the cycle of death and rebirth. With it, he has gained free will, or in Buddhist texts, enlightenment.
After Tomoe’s death, Ryougi Shiki’s consciousness rises from the building. Through her perspective, the viewers witness things she’s missed. Emerging from the “Root,” she has “counteracted” against the confusing disarray of previous scenes. Whereas the movie was filled with scenes out of order, Shiki’s vision places scenes in an understandable order. Shiki, after coming into contact with the “Root,” emerges in a white kimono. She stands resolute in the face of fallen priest in black. This time, she fights not to satisfy her blood. She fights with a new understanding of the world and herself.
There is so much to say about Paradox Paradigm and Kara no Kyoukai. Whether that’s from a philosophy perspective or a cinematography perspective, The Garden of Sinners has a lot of ideas to ponder. While explaining this movie took a lot of preparation, I’ve come away with a great appreciation for the staff involved in the movies. My hope is you will too.