Isao Takahata and Akiyuki Nosaka talks about the book and Nosaka’s life:
Animage: We’ve heard this book is strongly autobiographical….
Nosaka: I wrote this book in 1967, right in the middle of Japan’s high economic growth years. From my perspective it looked like an abnormal time. I thought the real spirit of humanity was different, and i wanted to depict the idealized humanity of a brother and a sister, or, ultimately, of a man and a woman. It’s based on my experience, but in that sense, i wanted to place the main character in a idealized situation. I was an naive myself until the age of fourteen, and thus worse off than other kids, and i had to grow up quickly after being placed in such a situation. I didn’t like that one bit. I had to adapt to life every day, so it was like visibly growing up, like watching a video in fast-forward. Normally, you’d grow up slowly, after failures and betrayals and facing the apathy of grownups. But i had to go through ten years of that in a month, so everything like the cunning that was latent in me all came up to the surface, in a defiant way. My only support back then was my 2-years old sister. If i was stealing, i could feel it was justified if it was for my sister. When i was rapidly growing up, my feeling about not wanting to grow up, or the guilt that i was doing bad things in the process of growing up, was all compesated by the existence of my sister.
Nosaka: My sister’s death is an exact match with the novel. It was one week after the end of the war. At the countryside of Fukui prefecture where i was, it was the day the restrictions of lighthing were removed. It must have been the 22nd. It was evening, and i was picking up my sister’s bones. I was coming in a daze when i saw the village lit up. There was nothing like my surprise then. My sister died in my side of the world, and light was coming back in the other. The return of light also implies the return of peace, and at that time, i felt from deep within that i’d survived, which was also scary.
Takahata: How was it scary?
Nosaka: Well, i had to live in a place where light had returned. I felt i could live on in utter darkness. I had done many bad things, but that may have been all right in a dark world. But light returned, and normal civilian life came back. I was deeply confused how a 14-years old boy who had to grow up so quickly should live in a world like that. And it was after the death of my sister, who was my sole support.
Nosaka: Honestly speaking, there was also a relief that she died and my burden was gone. No one would wake me up in the night like she did with her crying, and i wouldn’t have to wander around with a child on my back anymore. I’m very sorry to say this about my sister, but i did have those feelings too. That why i haven’t gone back to my novel to re-read it, since i hate that. It’s so hypocritical. It must be absolutely true that Seita must have thought of his sister as a burden too.
Takahata: Maybe so…
Nosaka: He must have thought that he could have escaped better if it weren’t for her.
Takahata: In that respect, when you make the book into a movie, Setsuko becomes a tangible person. A four year-old is at an age when she could have become more assertive and self-centered, should try to have her own way, and we could have a scene where Seita can’t stand that anymore. But that’s difficult to incorporate into a story.
Nosaka: I hope you can use your talent as a director to compensate for that [LAUGHS]. There’s too many things that i just couldn’t get myself to write into the story. During composition, the older brother got increasingly transformed into a better human being. I was trying to compensate for everything i couldn’t do myself. I was never kind like the main character. I always thought i wanted to perform those generous acts in my head, but i couldn’t do so. I always thought i wouldn’t eat and would give my food to my little sister, but when i actually had a piece of food on my hand, i was hungry after all, so i’d eat it. And there was nothing like the deliciousness of eating in a situation like that, and the pain following it was just as big. I’d think there’s nobody more hopeless in the world than me. I didn’t put anything about this in the novel.