Most relationships in life are fleeting—they last a few weeks or months or years, and then either disappear or fall into the long lull of hibernation, awakening only occasionally for a quick chat or “Happy birthday” message. But even among these more temporal relationships, there are a few for each person that were once so intense that their legacy endures. Whether romantic or friendly, or something complex that can’t quite be categorized as either, they leave an impression which may drastically alter the course of one’s life. And thus, as temporary as they may be, those connections are often more significant than the ones which last far longer. In the anime romance, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, Haruki and Sakura share such a bond. The film captures the intensity of their togetherness, one that burns brightly (exhibited by perhaps the most beautiful fireworks scene put to animation) and carries such meaning to them both. It also ultimately conveys to the viewer the significance of our own deep relationships, including the one that should be most intimate of all.
Spoilers are ahead, and in fact, I’ve already given one away. The entirety of the film is itself like one massive spoiler, so any discussion of the plot could ruin the movie for you. Proceed with caution. Better yet, bookmark this page, go watch the film, and then return to this article afterwards.
In its opening scene, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas immediately demonstrates the gravity of the story and how transitory the main characters’ relationship will be. Sakura, who we discover is upbeat, playful, and full of energy, is being memorialized at her funeral; meanwhile, Haruki, who is later revealed as bookish, afraid of being emotionally hurt, and friendless, lies on his bed, unable to attend the ceremony. Fast-forward through the movie and to a point just a few days after the funeral, and the film reveals Sakura’s thoughts as written to Haruki, as she tells him about how he changed her life. She speaks of his charm and how he encouraged her on her lowest days as she dealt with sickness. With only a little time to live, she chose to spend it in deep relationship with this boy.
But the story isn’t about Sakura—not really. It’s about Haruki.
Although intelligent, responsible, and handsome, Haruki is a pariah in his class. He literally has no friends, and claims to never have had even a single friendship. He’d rather spend his time adrift in books. As he relates to Sakura during an early outing together, Haruki has a very low view of himself, assuming that all his classmates see him as “boring.” He later also reveals that his reasoning for not having friends is that by not involving himself with others, he’ll prevent pain—inferring that he wants to avoid hurting others, but more likely meaning that he doesn’t want to endure such pain himself. So it’s quite troublesome to him at first when Sakura leaps into his life and won’t take no for an answer. They first meet at a hospital when Haruki finds the diary she left behind and learns that she has a terminal illness of the pancreas, and from that point forward, Sakura decides that she won’t let him go. She is fun, engaging, non-stop, and real. It’s especially her authenticity that affects Haruki, and which helps him slowly open up.
And indeed, transformation is slow for Haruki, but as with Sakura’s personality, and as the TangleCast team will point out in their podcast episode on this movie next week, it’s genuine. And thus, that mean also that it’s messy. At many points, Haruki is hurtful toward Sakura. And their relationship is confusing to him—is Sakura his friend? A love interest? Something else? It’s hard to define, with Sakura later explaining that she can see that he’s trying to keep her at arm’s length this whole time (and that she somewhat obliges this preference).
And yet, he can’t help but move closer. Haruki starts to look forward to her texts. He admits that he has fun on a trip they take together. And eventually, he proclaims that he wants her to live. These instances read, perhaps, like only small steps forward, but for someone as insular as Haruki, they’re majestic leaps, punctuated by the film’s conclusion, which might underwhelm if not seen in light of who Haruki was before Sakura and who he is now, as he crosses the highest hurdle of all.
All of this change is instigated and “given” to Haruki because of Sakura’s actions. She is relentless in her pursuit of him. Although he is blunt and rude to her at first, and continues in that manner for some time, she won’t take no for an answer. Even after he hurts her, Sakura continues to cling to Haruki and bring vivaciousness and energy to his life. After all, as Sakura reflects, it was likely what she was born to do: “I’ve spent 17 years waiting to be needed by you.”
With a name like Sakura, accompanied by cover images that overflow with cherry blossoms, it’s expected that the movie would be filled with analogies to spring and blooming. One is that Haruki himself blooms due to Sakura. He is a special person—as are we all—but couldn’t bloom without her by his side, and he eventually comes to realize as much. As he waits for her to arrive for a date, Haruki considers what to text her in response to her demand that he compliment her. Before deleting it, he types, “I want to be like you.” Those words are a meaningful compliment coming from virtually anyone, but from one who at the start of the film was happy that he was the exact opposite of Sakura? What a wonderful and warm idea to convey!
What he sends instead, however, is even more profound, but I want to stay on this idea of wanting to be like others for a minute. What kind of impact must one have on another for that person to want to change who they are at their very essence? It surely takes incredible force, but as with Sakura to Haruki, it need not necessarily come from a spouse or parent. One can have an immeasurable impact in only a short amount time. I’ve lately considered this idea in light of this ministry. So many followers come and go, and I wonder, did I leave a mark on them? Was I intentional enough? Did God use me to share his love? Or did I maybe even urge some toward the other direction by displaying the more negatives side of my character—pettiness, selfishness, and impatience? Did I ever ignore someone who might have become the Haruki to my Sakura?
I’ve mentioned it before, even in writing other than that on Beneath the Tangles, that I was profoundly impacted in middle school by a couple of young men. One was a friend who was my age, a guy far more mature than I was, whose friendship over the course of just one year reveals itself to have a greater impact on me as each year passes by for all that he taught me about what friendship and godliness means. And then by an older boy, a high schooler, who played basketball with me for about 20 minutes one day. I don’t remember his name or even what he looks like, but the kindness with which he treated me made me want to tell him: “I want to be like you.”
Returning to Haruki, he actually does become like Sakura—bit by bit. He begins to reach out to others, and to react to them in both kindness and, in the finale, through a self-sacrificial way in helping another who is struggling more than he. But further, Sakura is able to bring out the best in him. There’s a difficult scene in the movie, after their relationship comes crashing down due to poor choices and actions, as well as because of teenage confusion. Sakura, troubled by what’s occurred and where it might lead, sheds tears as she explains her philosophy to Haruki: They aren’t there because of fate, but rather because of the choices they made. She chose to write a diary and give it a mysterious title. He chose to pick up the book and flip through it. She chose to pursue. He chose to respond.
And of course, that’s how relationships work. One person acts and the other responds. The other person acts, and the first one responds. And the dance goes on and on until the relationship eventually ceases and is no more. Sakura is both the driving force of the transformation that occurs and the one who is able to make change occur by just being herself; but Haruki has a role to play as well: He must accept and respond. He can’t only only “want to be like” her; he must be willing to do. He must endure discomfort. He must say yes even when he mind says no. He must use his time and energy and resources on Sakura. He must invest in her. He must care for her. And, he has to be willing to eat her pancreas.
The strange wording and title of the movie relates to the myth, as Sakura explains, that if one eats another’s organ, that person’s soul will remain inside of him. As much connection as one can have emotionally or physically, that type is most intimate of all, one of two souls bonded. And so, Haruki’s ultimate reply to Sakura’s request is deeper than “Let’s be friends” and “I love you,” and even more transformative than “I want to be like you.” He’s telling her this: I want you to dwell in me forever. I never want to be separated from you. Their lives are intertwined from here to forevermore.
I’ve been blessed to be in a dance with a partner for nearly half my life now, and before that, to be treasured by a very good father and mother. But I wonder, too, how I would react if those relationships didn’t exist, if I was still looking for a spouse, and if my parents had failed me substantially. Could I look back to those two young men of my youth and their contribution to me, and would that have been enough to set my life “straight”? Would our bond have endured in some spiritual or cosmic way? I don’t think they would have been enough, though I also believe this: others would have come along, placed in the path of my life at the right times for the right reasons by the One who cannot be taken out of the equation, who remains with me in any scenario. For you see, each one of us has a Sakura in our own lives, though we’d perhaps need to exchange the image of a cute teenage girl for a loving, heavenly Father. For God comes to us and make us feel discomfort for our own good. He pursues us relentlessly and refuses to quit, refuses to let go. He puts himself in our lives and, if we respond, will change us slowly, bit by bit, into one more like him: more full of love, life, and joy.
And even this: As Sakura gave the remaining days of her life to Haruki, Christ gave his very life for all of us. Oh, how “boring” we must seem to a God who knows everything and caused creation and life to occur, but he doesn’t see us that way. He finds joy inspending time with us, and loves us so much that when it costs him everything, he continued to cheer for us, call out to us, and live for us. And in the most unexpected of ways, one can always say this: Christ was born to meet you. And if you respond to that kind of pursuit, that kind of love, like Haruki you will bloom and be able to say, “I want to be like you,” to say, I want you inside of my heart, to say I want to be with you forever, and to even perhaps even speak some paraphrase of that strange and meaningful phrase, I want to eat your pancreas.
For the intensity of this kind of relationship need not last a week or month or season. Christ pursues you to this end: He wants you to consume his word, his promise, his flesh and blood so that he will remain with you now, for the remainder of your days, and forevermore.
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