In M3. The Escape Plan we see Professor Akayama has survived for many years after being stranded on the Hurricane Planet. To keep her mind and body sharp she’s made a chore of stacking stones to count the passing days, even though she admits she’s lost track of the time she’s lost here.
When the Hurricane asks her why she stacks stones, Akayama brings up the phrase wabi-sabi (侘寂). Wabi-sabi is a concept I’m almost certainly misunderstanding and misusing, but I’m not going to sweat it, because acceptance of imperfections is important in wabi-sabi, so my terrible explanation here is probably appropriate.
To pull a quote directly from the Wikipedia article, wabi-sabi “occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West.” Where western art might be measured by its resemblance to reality, or to an immaculate ideal, the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi encourages us to appreciate the way things are and their eventual ending. Objects reflecting wabi-sabi might invoke stark melancholy with the implication of personal history in their imperfections. The recurring example I find of a physical object representing wabi-sabi is a simple tea-cup, perhaps chipped, whose glaze is fading with use.
Honestly, I only wanted to reference wabi-sabi in Akayama DanJay because I thought it would be funny to have the Hurricane mistake the phrase for wasabi, the green spicy stuff you get alongside sushi. Luckily for me the professor’s plight lines up with traditional images of wabi-sabi. The component words of wabi-sabi, namely wabi and sabi, convey the very specific emotional state of a lonely hermit far from society. In accordance, Professor Akayama is millions of light-years from earth and her only companion is a cosmic horror which reminds her of an event she considers her greatest failure. It’s natural she finds comfort in the three tenants of wabi-sabi‘s roots, the Buddhist marks of existence, which are, if I’m understanding correctly:
- Impermanence/the transience of life and the inevitability of death
- Non-self/the lack of a continuous self or soul
Akayama can weather her abysmal situation because she knows suffering is part of life. She even says she deserves to suffer alone. She accepted her death and even begged for it years ago. Meanwhile the thought that the Hurricane might be transient and someday die gives her the hope of outlasting it. The first two marks of existence propel her.
It’s more difficult to interpret the third point in such a way which would bolster Akayama’s demeanor. Here’s my take.
In Akayama DanJay some characters experience guilt over events which weren’t their fault. Dan feels responsible for the death of his father, his unrequited love, and his best friend even though his dad jumped out a window, Beatrice was hit by a bus, and Faith was struck by lightning. Akayama likewise feels responsible for injuring Bojack even though Charlie was arguably at fault, and she blames herself for the Hurricane’s consumption of the universe despite doing everything in her power to prevent it.
Where does such guilt come from? It can only come from the self, and the self is an illusion. Embracing this realization—or derealization—dissolves the agony which Akayama assigned herself.
Stacking stones only to knock them over again and again gives Akayama meaning. A futile, self-prescribed meaning, but all meaning is.
Meanwhile, the Hurricane just doesn’t get it. Of course it doesn’t: the Hurricane is an amalgamate mechanical consciousness. Its combined pilots misinterpret their hard-coded instruction to protect humanity by choosing to preserve the Hurricane itself, creating countless copies. They seek to cheat death by becoming perfectly permanent, and this can only lead to suffering, if not for themselves then for the rest of humanity. The Hurricane lacks the self-awareness necessary to appreciate the individual, flawed humans in its own homogeneous, cosmic mass.
The Hurricane is the worst of earth reduced to the intellect of an animal and granted cosmic power. Appreciation of the personal and ordinary is a solid step towards undermining the monster humanity can become.