This essay is part of an ongoing series on Sakura no Uta. It contains spoilers for the content through Zypressen.
To play on the words of Nakahara Chuuya, Zypressen is a fairy tale of two. Black and white, eternal and fleeting, male and female. Up until this point in the game, nowhere has the creator’s presence been more blatantly exposed than in these garish juxtapositions. A reader aware that the author is in fact a magician creating an illusion might realize that Zypressen is a vanishing act. It is an elaborately constructed spectacle of changing viewpoints and avant-garde poetry that obscures the moments when the truth disappears from plain sight, leaving a fairy tale in its place.
The black, black Zypressen
The meaning of the cypress is one with many convolutions. It evokes death, sorrow, and despair. It is the wood used in coffins. It also evokes immortality and resurrection. These associations are drawn from the evergreen nature of the tree, as well as a belief that cypress is one of the woods used in the cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on. It is this second image that Van Gogh would fixate on as he approached his own death. Note that Van Gogh calls the cypress by their Dutch name cypres, and Rina refers to the cypress in the paintings by their Japanese name 糸杉 (itosugi).
The term Zypressen comes from the German word for cypress, which appears in Miyazawa’s Spring and Asura. Rina hypothesizes that Van Gogh’s paintings resonated with Miyazawa, drawing a parallel between the image of Van Gogh’s flame-like cypress reaching the sky and Miyazawa’s scorpion and night jar burning red and blue into the stars. There is also a symbolic connection between the Crucifixion and Miyazawa’s self-sacrifice. It is Miyazawa’s image of immortalization through self-sacrifice that resonates with Rina, as she refers to the cypress as a black flame.
My umbrella is white
In contrast to the black associated with the cypress, Rina is associated with white. She wore white clothes to reflect light away, a measure to control the photo-sensitivity that was a side effect of the cancer drug UFT. In the fairy tale that she constructs, she compares herself to several varieties of white poisonous mushrooms. Rina’s nature is fundamentally different than that of the black cypresses that photosynthesize sunlight. Her image is one that continually changes, one not suited for the permanent smell of death that the black cypress gives off. “Like the light of the moon, ephemeral, gentle, illuminating all.”1
Yuumi on the other hand is always depicted in black. Frequently placed by Rina’s side in white, the darkness emphasizes her place in the shadows, watching over Rina. It also evokes the image of the black cypress. The unchanging cypress reflects Yuumi’s own unchangeable nature and her steadfast love for Rina. At the same time, it channels Miyazawa’s concept of self-sacrifice, as Yuumi prioritizes Rina’s happiness over her own.
If we accept the cypress as a symbol for Yuumi, another symbol for Rina lies in plain sight. One particularly impressionable scene involves Rina fishing by the poolside in a straw hat, Satie’s first Gymnopédie wending in the background. The straw recalls another image from Van Gogh, the wheat growing besides the cypress. Van Gogh often used the image of wheat bending to the wind as a symbol of life and its fragility. Placed next to the cypress, the two depict a cycle of life and transcendence. This pairing is used in several of his paintings, including Road with Cypress and Star which Rina uses as her example. Rina in her straw hat is a girl that has embraced her own life, regardless of how fleeting it will be.
It is no coincidence that this scene is so memorable. The scene is so absurdly artificial that one can’t help but be reminded that they are engaging with the vision of a creator. At a surface level, the creator whose presence you feel is SCA-DI, but there is an argument to interpret this creator as Naoya himself. Rina is a woman he changed to his own liking2. It is against this creator, the Sakura Artist, that Yuumi bares her teeth. The transformation of the cypress to sakura is a metaphor for Yuumi’s changing place in Rina’s heart. After the Night of the Zypressen, it is Naoya that stands where Yuumi once stood.
Sakura play a similar role for the Kusanagi family that wheat played for Van Gogh. Their magnum opera, Reclining Sakura and A Sakura Day Rhapsody use the image of sakura to depict the impermanence of life, an idea that manifests itself when Naoya and Rina’s collaborative graffiti vanishes on the Night of the Zypressen. The sakura and the cypress represent contrasting perspectives on the cycle of life and death.
But I must digress before I can continue.
Because the one I love has died3
Nakahara Chuuya’s A Spring Day Rhapsody is the centerpiece of Zypressen. It captures the entanglement of Death, Service and Life that inspires the artist. Rina finds herself caught in this entanglement after her metaphorical poisoning of Yuumi. Even after she notices Naoya’s reciprocal feelings for her, she chooses to sacrifice herself for Yuumi’s sake. Naoya likewise is caught in this entanglement upon his mother’s death, and it is this life of service that defines his attitude towards art and others.
There are a number of mother figures alluded to in Zypressen. The first is Rin. Naoya explains that his childhood infatuation with Rin was similar in nature to his love for his mother. He did after all have a mother complex in those days4.
The second mother figure is Rina. Yuumi’s comparison of Rina to a mechanical doll (機械人形) draws the association with Hoffman’s Olympia, which appears in the eponymous route. Olympia and mechanical dolls are intrinsically linked with Sui, Rin’s mother.
6 years prior to the events of Sakura no Uta, Naoya performed 3 major acts with his right arm in service of his dead mother. The first is the painting of A Sakura Day Rhapsody, his last major work. The second is the rescue of Rin and the sealing away of his arm. The third is the changing of the Zypressen to Sakura and the final artistic use of his arm. The dispersal of the Rina’s scent of death, the scattering of her drawing, and her transformation into Naoya’s “spiritual sister” symbolize the sublimation of Naoya’s feelings towards his mother.4
Zypressen doesn’t go into depth about these maternal feelings, but like the routes before, it does seem to foreshadow their role in the broader narrative. Here the mother plays the role as the source of artistic inspiration. Naoya draws inspiration from his mother’s death to create A Sakura Day Rhapsody, and was again inspired by Rina on the Night of the Zypressen. He expends his arm for the sake of his dead mother, Rin, Rina, and by extension, his artistic inspiration. This sacrifice is simultaneously an indulgence, a metonymic flourish of art for art’s sake. It is such a subtle connection, but SCA-DI once again hints at how Oscar Wilde plays into the narrative.
Artistic inspiration is something I loosely associate with the underlying facts or nature of the internal and external worlds. Recalling the epistemological discussions in Fruhlingsbeginn and Olympia, art is an interface between internal and external worlds5. This usage of art once again plays a prominent role. By the time Naoya had met Rina, his arm was no longer able to draw, but it was Rina’s cypresses that gave him the inspiration for one final work of art, one with the power to change Rina’s view of the world.
End of digression.
If Kusanagi’s sakura captures the impermanence of life, it is a direct contradiction to the enduring nature of the 1000 Year Sakura. The 1000 Year Sakura resonates with the imagery of sorrow and reincarnation evoked by the cypress, and it resonates with Yuumi’s struggle with loss. But while both trees share a permanent trait, the 1000 Year Sakura’s permanence operates at the expense of others. It is self-indulgent, not self-sacrificing, and for this reason Naoya considers it a curse. The nature of the cypress’s immortality also contradicts the 1000 Year Sakura, and Yuumi, unable to change her own nature, chooses to sacrifice herself for Rina’s happiness instead.
Zypressen has, up until this point, the most accessible narrative in the game. The unique visuals and sensational drama have an irresistible pull on the reader. The force of this pull is so powerful that you can’t help but to notice the creator’s presence behind it. When I first started writing, I compared this manipulative presence to a magician performing a vanishing act, expertly obscuring the truth. That view has since evolved, as nothing ever really vanishes. The entanglement of ideas is rather, a verbal game of Cat’s Cradle between Chuuya, Miyazawa, and SCA-DI, creating new shapes with each variation.
たしかにそれは、死んだのですから」Nakahara Chuuya, A Spring day Rhapsody.
5. Learning, Memory and Knowledge