I left tears on the plane to Narita airport. These were not from any strong sadness or joy I was feeling from coming back to Japan, –a likely possibility– but because I was finally able to watch Fast 7 on the way to a country that me and one of my bestfriends often call the “Motherland.” The film is not some superb cinematic feat, as it includes the typical Hollywood explosions, stunts, and expensive set pieces. However, it was the impromptu end of a saga, expedited by a car crash that killed protagonist, Paul Walker (Brian in the films).
I learned of Paul Walker’s death via a Facebook post in 2014. At that moment I was simultaneously struck by his sudden death, and the surprising amount of feelings me and many virtual others felt for a man most of us did not even know. How could a man that acted in several thematically inept films hold such a place in our heart? It was the family he made all of us feel, breaking down the wall between spectacle and reality, and the sports car culture he invited us all into. This is augmented by the fact that he died while speeding around a corner in a Porsche Carrera. It was not just a movie to me and other people, we lost a member of our family, no matter if we were actually related or not.
It was in 2 Fast 2 Furious that I felt actually invited into this family. I like to think that all of my heroes are dressed in white tees. This is in relation to the white t-shirt that Paul Walker wore in that film, the main character, Fujiwara, in the anime Initial D, and the various people that do what they love. In that film, Walker became my hero when he jumps up in the middle of the night after a race invite, hops into a Nissan Skyline R-34, and proceeds to defeat his friends while driving what is debatably the greatest Japanese sports car ever made. He had what so many of us dreamed of as the ultimate coolness, and a most powerful ode to Japanese craftsmanship.
Whenever someone asks me why I am studying Japanese, or what attracted me to the culture, it is always so difficult to explain. The aforementioned story cannot be told all the time. But what can be told is that Japan is a source of happiness for me, and is a recurring motif in so many things that I love. It is the illegal street and drift racing, the samurai of old, the postmodern anime and manga, the flashy neon lights, and the hyper society that is Tokyo. It is the unmatched fashion sense, the hip hop dancers and artists, and the myth of such a long lived dynasty and people.
The notion of what brought me to Japan and its culture is one that is constantly evolving. Rather than layering on to previous experiences, JASC is helping me to realize how I’ve come to love Japan, and the depth of that love. Just as Paul Walker and his Skyline is/was a piece of that, each person and place that I’ve encountered at JASC has factored into it. Studying Japanese is one thing, but being able to meet with Japanese and American students that honestly want to find how we confront each other and the rest of world in order to create peaceful resolutions is momentous.