Sugaru Miaki Interview: "On the Summer Complex"

An interview with Sugaru Miaki (Fafoo) about a tweet he wrote once. It focuses on Your Story, but doesn't really spoil anything, though does contain some minor spoilers for Blade Runner 2049 I guess?

I've long called it "the summer complex." There are quite a few people who feel melancholy whenever they see something which gives them a strong impression of summer, and it seems to happen because, as they would say, "I've never had a "proper summer" of my own." Somehow, I really love that notion they have of a "proper summer."
- Fafoo


* This article was published in the doujinshi "Sentimental Masochism vol. 02: The Ultimate Summer Complex Special Feature." We interviewed novelist Sugaru Miaki with a focus on the "Summer Complex" that he proposed himself.

Sugaru Miaki (@everb1ue)
Born in 1990. A novelist from Iwate Prefecture.
Gained popularity posting stories online under the name "Genfuukei."

Interviewer: Once-Unsuccessful Tsundere Sub-Heroine (@wak)

01. First, let me ask a question about the Summer Complex. In the afterword of The Place I Called From, you wrote that you were greatly impacted when, after proposing the Summer Complex, you found there were others who felt the same way. So my question: of all the seasons, why is it that seeing things that give a strong sense of "summer" causes a complex? I want to know why it's not spring, autumn, or winter, but summer.

Miaki: The answer to this is complicated with a multitude of factors, and some elements will differ from person to person, so I can't speak unconditionally about it. But if I must give the most safe and boring explanation, maybe it's "because you can clearly envision what's proper." Basically, summer is a time which is suitable for doing anything at all. This is plain to see if you check ranking sites for leisure and date destinations. That's your "summer homework." It's noticeably thick compared to other seasons. No matter how diligently you tackle it, some unfinished assignments will remain. So year after year, this stirs up a sense of helplessness. "Once again, I couldn't do anything this summer."

To take a more masochistic interpretation, I think you could also say "the season of summer reminds you of the time you were brimming with youth, vitality, and possibility, and makes you conscious of your age, weakness, and limits." Summer is kind of like a sailor uniform. The essence of youth is condensed into it. By just plopping down a girl in a sailor uniform, a mediocre landscape photo becomes a poster for the Youth 18 Ticket. Empty rural scenery transforms into "scenery gone from your life." And the essence of youth is, more or less, the essence of life itself. I think it's weirder for someone to be faced with such an effective expression of that and not develop a complex.

02. In Your Story, you wrote about imagery that many people associate with "a proper summer," like girls in white one-pieces, or going to the summer festival in yukata. Are there works that influenced your own idea of "the proper summer"? Or are you depicting a fictional summer born in you from many works, sites, and experiences?

Miaki: As you say, I packed that story with unending archetypes of "the proper summer." But that's just part of the presentation; to tell the truth, there aren't any girls in white one-pieces or yukata in my mind. They're borrowed visions. I think girls in white one-pieces are like a greatest common divisor for the "young girl element" we're endlessly seeking, but maybe due to my staunch rural upbringing, I can't help but feel a fakeness there. Something a bit closer for me would be "the girl classmate who manages the candy store." I'd be lying if I said I wasn't influenced by fiction, but even so, I believe my vision is ultimately constructed from the world I see with my own eyes. If "the proper summer" is taking real experiences and fictions and reassembling them to my liking, then in my case, the fictional component is relatively small.

That's not to say I'm putting an emphasis on real experiences. But while there are piles and piles of stories set in summer, I've never encountered an attempt in which those sorts of fictional summers didn't feel off. Whatever I see, I'm like "this isn't quite the summer I know..." I myself have attempted to portray a precisely proper summer several times, but even those just didn't work out. On the other hand, merely putting the song Summer Lights over a slideshow of summer landscape photos on YouTube feels like a real summer. I wonder what's the deal with that.

For instance, I get a sense of the real essence of summer from the bus stop scene in Kikujiro. I think the reason that scene is good is because "it's just being filmed." Just film it, and play Joe Hisashi's "summer" over it. That's the ideal solution. The moment you mess with it even a little, the essence of summer is lost. But when you're using the medium of a story, "not messing with it" is just seen as an admission of laziness. It's a pretty tricky thing.

03. Reading your books, especially Your Story, the feelings that come from the discrepancy between reality and fiction are vividly put into words, and it felt like you were depicting yourself. I'm sure I can't be the only one who's thought this.

So my question is, when you wrote Your Story, did you follow your own feelings honestly? Or did you hypothesize people who were attuned to the discrepancy between reality and fiction, and model your words on their feelings?

Miaki: That's mostly my own experience. Whenever I encounter some charming thing, I can't help but run a simulation of it embedded into the basic outline of my life. So I'm always contrasting myself in potential worlds with myself in the real world. I wouldn't deny it's thanks to this ability that I could become an author, but as I'm unable to stop the simulations, I doubt the day will ever come that I'm satisfied with my life.

Whenever I visit a new town, I unconsciously wonder, "What would my life be like if I'd grown up here?" As a result, there are now possible "me"s spread all across Japan, living out their lives in the present progressive tense. The one thing I can say they all have in common is, they seem happier than the "me" who exists here and now. The grass is always greener.

Sugaru Miaki (@everb1ue) | Twitter, 4/13/2018 9:27 PM

04. On page 225 of Your Story, the heroine Touka Natsunagi's hometown is described as a seaside town in the corner of Chiba. As a resident of Chiba, I imagined it as Choshi from the description, but is the heroine's hometown an actual rural town? Or is it a fictional one?

Miaki: It's a fictional rural town, but it may include scenery from Choshi. Slightly before writing, I went to see Inubosaki Lighthouse and Moto-Choshi Station (I haven't built up enough good deeds, so I was unable to find any candy stores or shaved ice shops). So Choshi's scenery was always in the corner of my mind while writing Your Story.

05. I want to know if there are any songs that make you feel the Summer Complex.

Miaki: My top five are "summer" (Kikujiro), "Summer Lights" (AIR), "Ushio" (CLANNAD), "Sunflowers at Night" (Wonderful Everyday), and "Green Forest" (Kusarihime). Vocal songs like JITTERIN'JINN's "Summer Festival," Yosui Inoue's "Boyish Days," and ZONE's "secret base ~What You Gave Me~" unfortunately just feel like someone else's story. There's no room to insert myself. That said, I do like R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming," Teenage Fanclub's "Sparky's Dream," and Spitz's "Pool" for what they are, a complete picture of someone else's summer. I like game music because, unlike songs made to exist on their own, they leave a lot of blank space for the story.

06. What kind of entity is a "heroine" to you?"

Miaki: This is strictly defining it as a literary concept, but "the ultimate answer to your romantic ideal." They perfectly complement even the unconscious parts of your ideal, so the moment you meet them, it dawns on you like "this was my answer." Like "for the first time, I've learned why I was born into this world." That's what I want them to be like.

07. What sorts of situations produce emo-ness? Personally, I'd say rural scenery that brings to mind a proper summer, like "Maybe I could have had this kind of youth, too...", or a childhood friend who actually did love you back, but you part after high school graduation without ever confessing out of cowardice and shyness. Basically, I feel emotional about regrets over things you can observe from your position in the present, but never obtain. But I want to hear what it is to you.

Miaki: Putting aside the original definition of "emo" as a music term, let's break down the use of "emo" proliferating on the web. It's difficult to put such a deep feeling into words, but if we exclude those who use it simply to mean "something that touches my heart" (maybe they think it's an abbreviation of "e mo iwarenu," indescribable?), it appears many people use "emo" to express feelings that require a detour in the process of acknowledgment. The majority of the elements making it up are, independently, unemotional, but when taken as a whole, it's a far stronger emotion than the sum of its parts... maybe that's what we'll say. Take the case of "the girl I couldn't confess to even though it was mutual." Looking at the end point, it's "regret," but by looking back at the whole extent of that regret, the value of the "mutual love" is increased by relation. I'd consider that emotion, felt toward the beauty and dearness brought about by such detours, to be the core of "emo-ness." Most of the time, it appears in the form of "something desirable coated in something undesirable." To use the previous example: mutual love with a coating of regret. I would guess the reason we're so often mistaken as masochistic and perverse is because, when seen by an observer, it seems like it's these unpleasant coatings themselves we're drawn to.

By the way, personally speaking, I feel like "the scent of death" and "a sense of loss" are key themes in my emo-ness. I adore works in the so-called "sekai-kei" genre not because of the structure that directly connects the protagonist and heroine's relationship to the fate of the world and so on, but because of the "scent of death" that's a byproduct.

What I imagine when I'm asked about the ultimate summer is a decadent vision of "being in a rural town full of ruins that feels almost like the afterlife, spending quiet yet restless days with a girl with little attachment to life." To tell the truth, I believe the real worth of summer as a season is "the scent of death," and "the stinging feeling of life" attached to it.

Sugaru Miaki (@everb1ue) | Twitter, 5/21/2018 7:00 PM

08. Between your Summer Complex proposal, the music genre vaporwave which rebuilds itself from 80's and 90's consumer culture (such as video games and TV commercials), and the replicant K in Blade Runner 2049 who clings to false memories and is toyed with, it feels like works themed around fictional memories have caught on in recent years - not just in Japan, but worldwide. Even people who don't have good enough pasts to steep themselves in nostalgia can do so with fictional memories, which is one of the advantages. But fictional memories don't stem from your real experiences, so the more seriously you treat those fictional memories, like K, the more you'll hurt from being caught between reality and fiction. I'd like to hear your thoughts on nostalgia for fictional memories.

Miaki: Your Story truly is an answer to this question. All told, I think the main issue isn't whether it's real or not, but whether you can form a hypothesis where those fictional memories don't seem out of place when applied to you. A fictional memory like "I actually had 12 little sisters" is too distant from reality to be a useful aid (though there are ways to enjoy it, like consuming fiction). But take K in 2049: To him, the memory of the toy horse was an entirely conceivable event, which fit perfectly in his blank space. With the mere fact of it being "conceivable," I think it became a salvation for K (and being able to love the hologram Joi, that's surely in his nature). Like proving something using religion, a consistent theory can be a far more realistic lifeboat than a lousy reality. And theories like "a rural town, a pool at midnight, a girl among sunflowers" are not that extraordinary for our younger selves so full of possibility. By assembling the parts correctly, it can exist as the happiness of one possible world. As such, I'd place nostalgia for fictional memories somewhere around "about as important as religion, and about as useless as religion."

09. Not just myself, but most sentimental people would like to believe this, but indulging in nostalgia, retreating into a sentimental shell, and fantasizing and regretting about fictional memories can actually make you feel better. Nostalgia does have elements of escapism, but do you think it's fine to stay sentimental, or if you should eventually break out and move forward?

Miaki: For those who just soak in convenient fantasies, all I can say is "well, if they're happy, it's probably fine." But when you're dealing in events that could have happened to you, I'm thinking the attachment to fictional memories is like "dealing with another reality" moreso than escaping reality. You could even call it "searching for the ideal reality." From this perspective, I'd say denying nostalgia and fantasy and only facing reality is the real escape from reality (but in the sense of averting your eyes from possibilities, maybe it's more suitable to call it "escaping from unreality"). Basically, when you're faced with out-of-reach grapes, turning your back on them saying "they must be sour anyway" or fantasizing "they must be sweeter than anything in the world" can both be called escaping reality.

If you paint scenery on a canvas that feels like it's not of this world, or you write a melody so beautiful it's unreal, is that escaping from reality? Naturally, I don't think so at all. If you're reminiscing on a whim, or ceasing to think and going "things were better before," your nostalgia is only on the level of recreation. But if you glorify past scenery to its limits, and search for beauty by constantly rebuilding with elements from possible and fictional worlds, what you're doing is not so different from what an artist does. Sentimentality and nostalgia can be legitimate creative acts, and one of your lifeworks. If that's worthless, then life itself is probably worthless.

You could probably say this about any action, but if it's helpful to you in some way, I think it's okay to stay there. Think of it like "What's wrong with a bluesman feeling better by singing the blues?"

10. Your Story had the premise of memory-altering nanobots manipulating episodic memory to grant a fictional childhood. But personally, I think fictional childhoods and virtual reality are a good pair. Do you think you'll write a work themed around virtual reality in the future?

Miaki: I lightly touched on this in the Hayakawa Books interview, but before the idea for Your Story was born, I had a protagonist in a vegetative state using a Brain-Machine Interface to control a computer, making a faithful reproduction of his childhood in virtual reality, and trying to find the culprit who did this to him, but in some twist of fate, falling in love with the girl who's the main suspect. That's the sort of story I was trying to write. I finished the plot, but I willfully scrapped it. The biggest bottleneck was that in a story set in virtual reality, anything that happens to the protagonist feels like it's irrelevant, separated from reality by a thin layer of film. This lack of realism proved fatal for my writing style.

If I put virtual reality into a future plot, I think I would treat it like an extension of current VR chats. For instance, one I just thought of: A man recreates "the perfect summer day" from his own life in virtual reality, and lives only to repeat that day over and over. One day, someone infiltrates his virtual space, and the perfect summer day starts to go awry. Apparently, the intruder is someone who happened to be present on that perfect summer day. What's the intruder's objective? What are they trying to tell me? What was really happening in the shadows of that perfect day? I think something like that could be written, and read, in a similar mindset to Your Story.

11. I think our image of "the proper summer" includes elements of primal Japanese sceneries like sunflower fields and rice paddies. Perhaps as the birth rate declines and the population ages, those rural sights will decrease in number, and there will be more in the younger generation who never experienced those things when returning from Obon holidays or the like, for whom "the proper summer" was always only fictional. In that case, will the key elements of the Summer Complex change? Or will a new concept of "the proper summer" be born, set in the city rather than the countryside? I want to hear about the future of the Summer Complex.

Miaki: The first time I saw "Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day," I felt my idea of what nostalgia should be was slightly updated. It showed handheld game consoles that were in my childhood memories, and "secret base," a concept popular in my grade-school days, was used for the ending. Elements that had previously been prudently excluded from nostalgia came to be treated as, in fact, representative of those good old days. Seeing that sort of thing makes me think that yeah, "the proper summer" will probably also transform with the times. In fact, from my generation's perspective, Totoro's scenery has already become fantasy.

Speaking of Totoro, Project Itoh described it like so in "Project Itoh Log I."

I don't like Totoro very much. In fact, I hate it. Because being born in Koiwa, raised gazing at the Edo River from the northwest Chiba sprawl, in residential development bought so that workers commuting to Tokyo could sleep, I had no longing for that scenery - I'd lost it from the start.

Supposing a person "raised in residential development bought so that workers commuting to Tokyo could sleep" feels no nostalgia for Totoro-like scenery they'd "lost from the start," I expect that such people will continue to grow in number. Just maybe, new residential development itself might become a central part of nostalgia.

That said, even if candy stores and sunflower fields become a thing of fiction for generations who haven't seen them in person, I think select people will continue to draw the scenery from AIR undeterred. Even if they never had such sights themselves, as the last generation who can just barely imagine it being real, I suppose they'll pine for a "back then" they never experienced. And people influenced by the fiction made in this way will be possessed by "the proper summer" no different from how we have been now, becoming zombies in seaside rural towns searching around for fragments of memory.

12. Lastly, your opinions on and impressions of Sentimental Masochism?

Miaki: There's a definite dearth of places to dig deep into feelings like these, so I hope there can be many lively discussions through the concept of "sentimental masochism." Ultimately, sentimental addicts will surely seek quantity and quality from the pain (stimulation) that comes from sentimentality. That's the fate of a junkie. I think it's about time people who have arrived at that point develop words to talk about these things.

Posted May 18th, 2019

#fafoo, #your story (Source)

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