September 15, 2023    ArtsJapaneseReview

Japanese Film Review: “A Girl in My Room”

It’s possible to fall in love with dead people. We could, for instance, read what they wrote, admire their works of art, or listen to their passionate music. In other words, we can be in love with what they created. Let’s call these aspects of their existence “the symbolic” in contrast to “the real,” the physical aspects. It’s easier to fall in love with people who cannot speak back to us, as we can project our idealized images onto them. As they say, “Never meet your heroes”—they could never live up to our idealized images. But this type of love isn’t real—it’s more like narcissism—since we are in love with the images we created.

But what if we could talk to those dead people? I would imagine that, in the not-so-distant future, we will be able to train AI to speak like someone we know. A Girl in My Room, directed by Natsuki Takahashi, explores this possibility through an old-school medium, a ghost. [Spoiler alert]

A ghost, if she can talk, is essentially the symbolic aspect of a person stripped from the real. (To be more precise, it also comes with the imaginary aspect since we can also see her). Falling in love with a talking ghost is not narcissism, as she may reject your idealized image and not reciprocate your love.

There are two philosophical questions this film poses. If you were a talking ghost, would you stay forever in that state or cross over to the other side? Don’t we all want to live forever, not limited by the laws of nature?

The other question: If you fall in love with a ghost and she reciprocates your love, would you remain in that relationship? There will be many limitations; she won’t age, but you will, and she won’t be able to have kids. If you could accept those limitations, would you be happy?

In the film, the ghost named Aisuke decides to cross over to the other side, leaving the protagonist, Yohei, without explaining why. For Yohei, this must hurt, as if she killed herself without explanation. The only consolation is that, technically, she was already dead. In a way, she was already in heaven. She didn’t have to worry about getting sick, having a job, or dying. She had achieved immortality. What’s possibly better on the other side?

Many of us try to defy mortality by becoming rich and famous. Even if our bodies die, we want our legacies, the symbolic aspects, to live forever. For that reason, the death of the symbolic is even more painful than physical death.

Suppose God offered you eternal life with one condition: everyone immediately forgets who you are as soon as you stop talking. This is the opposite of being a ghost; you exist physically but not in the symbolic. Would you take it? It means you will never have friends. Creating anything with your name on it would be futile as everyone will immediately forget. I would imagine most people would take the ghost option; that is, the symbolic existence is more important to them.

For this reason, the ending of this film struck me as tragic. Aisuke must have felt that she needed to move on despite achieving immortality. She had to end her symbolic existence, too. We don’t know what compelled her to do so.

But imagine if scientists succeeded in creating an AI model that could think and talk like you. Let’s say your friends are fooled by it when talking over the phone. As far as the world is concerned, you will be alive forever. Your body will be irrelevant. Would that make you feel good about dying?

I’d like to think that Aisuke realized the pointlessness of the symbolic surviving without the real. We cannot live life fully if we split the mind from the body. By being with Yohei, she would be preventing him from having a full life, too. She made the right choice by moving on. It’s the most bittersweet ending I’ve seen in a rom-com.