漫画へうげものとスターウォーズ:シスの復讐で描かれる業火への道 The Road to Goka in the Manga Hyougemono and Revenge of the Sith



I have spent more than 13 and half years of my life in Japan, and during that time I have worked hard (or rather still working) to deepen my knowledge of not only the Japanese language, but also the culture and religious perspective of the country. This "Japan filter" has provided me with new insight and perspective into repeat viewings of the Star Wars (SW) saga.




There is one Japanese word that has added a new layer of interpretation to the scene in which Anakin Skywalker, the protagonist of the SW saga, becomes Darth Vader: 業火 (goka). The word "goka" comes from Buddhism, and the meaning listed in the dictionary goes something like this: "Analogy that likens the evil deeds one commits to a fire that envelopes them. Also the fires of hell that inflict suffering upon the wicked." The two characters that make up this word, 業 and 火, convey the ideas of "deeds" and "fire", making it easy to surmise what the meaning of the word is. 

辞書に載っている意味は確かに分かりやすくて、その言葉が表す苦しみを簡単に想像できますが、本来は仏教において更なる深い意味合いが織り込まれています。 まず、仏教によりますと、すべての生き物は煩悩(ぼんのう)に満ちている限り、悪業を重ねざるを得ません。自分が悪業の結果すごく苦しむことを、火に焼かれ苦しむことがまさに「業火」ということなのです。煩悩といえば、その一つは力に対する欲望であるともいえるでしょう。

The dictionary definition is pretty straight forward, making it easy to conjure up the images of suffering it conveys. However, the original meaning in its Buddhist context is actually deeper. Buddhism states that people are doomed to pile up iniquities so long as they remain consumed by worldly passions and carnal desires. In this sense, we can classify a lust for power as one of these so-called passions and desires.




The first time I came across the word "goka" was in the manga Hyougemono. The scene in which it is used depicts Sen no Rikyuu, the tea master of the story's protagonist Furuta Oribe, paying a visit to an old friend Hechikan. Here is the conversation exchanged between the two. 



Sen no Rikyu: What have you been doing as of late?

Hechikan: I don't have much longer. Little by little, I've been getting rid of my writings and tea vessels. The fate of all these refined trappings will be the same as mine. 

Sen no Rikyu: I pictured you doing something much grander.

Hechikan: You've seen to have accomplished quite a lot. Even more than the Kanpaku (Toyotomi Hideyoshi) himself.

Sen no Rikyu: Indeed I have. I've been working to spread the philosophy of wabi (sober refinement, beauty in simplicity). In doing that, I hope to help people living now discover true beauty. That discovery will purge this land of conflict, enabling all to live in peace."
ヘチカン:「はあ、二十年の歳月は人を変えるものよのお。おまえさんは天下国家にまで口を出す仁じゃなかった。過ぎたるはなお及ばざるが如し。それはおまえさんにも言えるのと違うのかえ? 己のことは見えがたいものよ」

Hechikan: Humph, 20 years can really change a man. I never thought of you as one to espouse such an ambitious vision for unifying the country under a singular mandate. Too much of a good thing can be bad, you know. But do you really see that? You've lost sight of yourself.

Sen no Rikyuu: (Silence)

Hechikan: I say this to you because this is probably the last time we'll meet in this life. There is a limit to what a man's ambition can achieve.

Sen no Rikyu: Are you saying that it's impossible for me to spread the wabi philosophy?

Hechikan: The inability to recognize your limits ultimately courts disaster. Rikyu, there's a goka all around you. I see it.




The first time I read this scene I did not fully understand the meaning of the word goka. However, just as I wrote above, I was able to partially infer what it meant from the two kanji that make up the word. At that instant, an image of Rikyu enveloped in flames flashed through my mind. The impact of this scene grew even larger when I later looked up and checked the meaning of this word in the Japanese/Japanese dictionary I had.





So what exactly are the deeds of Rikyu that Hechikan is referring to in this particular scene?  The Wikipedia overview (in Japanese) of the Hyougemono series contains this passage within its description of Rikyu:

"Rikyu believes that Hideyoshi (Toyotomi) is the man through which he can achieve his vision of transforming Japan into the ideal nation-state he seeks to create; one founded upon his very own wabi-infused vision of refined taste. To achieve this end, he works behind the scenes to set in motion a plot to assasinate Oda Nobunaga (at the hand of Akechi Mitsuhide). Rikyu is named the head tea master after Hideyoshi Toyotomi assumes power, but his creative genius proves to be a regular source of friction between himself and Hideyoshi.  Believing that the world is not large enough for 'two flowers (two objects of beauty)', he tries to convince Hideyoshi to covertly poison and eliminate the Emperor. In short, he is willing to use any means necessary in pursuit of what he believes to be the ideal form of beauty.

Rikyu finds solace for a short time, drawing upon the lessons of the past as he works to break new ground in his pursuit of tea. However, the execution of his student Soji unleashes a well of hate and despair, leading him to further tarnish his soul with evil deeds. He severs his ties with Furuta Oribe, who refuses Rikyu's entreaties to join forces with him, and then works to plot the destruction of the Toyotomi government he created. It is only when Tokugawa Ieyasu tells him the final words of Akechi Mitsuhide that Rikyu realizes the error of his ways as he faces his own execution. He leaves Oribe with his vision for a country rooted in beauty, and accepts decapitation at his hand after committing seppuku."




When Yoda admonishes Luke about the inherent dangers of the Dark Side of the Force, he says "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will."  This is exactly what we see happen with Rikyu in the manga Hyougemono. Once he taints himself with the stain of evil, he becomes unable to break away from the dark path it sends him down. He viewed the incessant conflict among warlords in Japan as a form of hell on earth, and sought to end it through tea ceremony evangelism in an effort to create a new national order rooted in the wabi he viewed as the ideal form of beauty. Yet, just as the saying "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" goes, his desire to achieve a benevolent end led him to use whatever means necessary to achieve it. In the end, he lost all sight of himself, and became consumed by the fire (火) sparked by his own evil deeds (業). 




As a result of learning the word goka in this fashion, every time I see this word my mind races to the image of Rikyu driven by ambition, and the ultimate demise to which it led him in the manga Hyougemono. This line of thought added a new interpretation to the final battle between Obi Wan and Anakin in Revenge of Sith, in which Anakin is left consumed by flames on the banks of a lava river. Upon watching the film again and seeing Anakin writhing in pain, enveloped by flames, the word goka flashed through my mind. This scene truly and perfectly conveys the inherent meaning of the word. Surrounded by his own goka on the banks of that lava river, Anakin suffers the pain of all the transgressions he commits as Darth Vader, from his part in the destruction of the Jedi Order until he is finally redeemed by the compassion and love of his son Luke. But what was it that compelled him onward to this tragic fate? His own good intentions, in short the desire to save the ones he loved. Yet, just as Hechikan said to Rikyu, "too much of a good thing can be bad." In Anakin's case, the love that drove him gave way to a lust for power. In the end, his own original good intentions proved to be the cobblestones that paved the way to the hell he came to know as Darth Vader.