Photograph / Temple
The view from Igirisu:
The fourth episode of Girls’ Last Tour feels like the most slice-of-life episode so far, lacking one of those big shocking moments that have characterised the series so far. Having said that, the kettenkrad crashing into a statue is a momentary surprise, and Yuu lost in the dark in the temple is quite scary. But none of that shocks us in quite the same way as Yuu pulling a gun on Chi, burning her book, or both of them nearly falling to their deaths from a derailing lift.
What we have instead is the most cleverly integrated exploration of a theme so far. Previously the girls have been grappling with survival and the meaning of life. Now we are moving onto speculation about the afterlife instead. This being Girls’ Last Tour, which always does something interesting and left-field, the theme is explored metaphorically, through the use of the word “cheese”.
So the girls have been given a camera by Kanazawa. Note once again how subtle the world-building is, with the year this is taking place finally revealed to us when it shows up on the camera screen: 3230. Chi figures out the self timer, and has read in a book that you are supposed to say the word “cheese” when you pose for a photo, but that’s all she knows. Something important is lost in the dub, which goes with “cheese Yuu”, resulting in Chi pulling an “oo” face in the photo, but in fact what is happening here is she’s pronouncing the word in the way anyone from Japan would: “cheesu”. If you’ve watched enough anime with subtitles you’ll probably have noticed that the Japanese have a hard time pronouncing English words that end with a consonant sound, because that just doesn’t happen in Japanese, so a vowel sound tends to get added on the end when they are saying English words. Now the point of this is that Chi has read about saying “cheese” but hasn’t quite understood why. She is just carrying out a ritual, and it has ended up being meaningless and worst than nothing. Later the girls eat cheese flavour rations, a taste they have never experienced before. So “cheese” does have some use to them after all. You can eat it. But it doesn’t make Chi have a smiley face for the camera.
Here we have the writer questioning whether there is any point to ritual or tradition, with only the practicalities of life shown to have value. Later we get our answer to that question. When discussing “what’s a god”, the girls come up with this:
“A god is sort of like… I don’t know.”
“Can you eat it?”
“I don’t think so.”
A god is shown to be no better than the concept of “cheese” without its physical presence. But the cheese was misunderstood, and so are the gods, until Chi answers Yuu’s question about “what’s the point of making a big disappointment like this?” Gods offer an escape from the darkness:
“Maybe they didn’t really want to think about that… so their lives could feel at ease.”
Note that this is not a literal escape. That’s not what she’s saying. It’s an escape from the fear of the darkness, a refuge from the darkness in the mind. The writer isn’t bashing religion, and he shows the temple to be something utterly beautiful, which has fulfilled its promise on a very literal level: it is there to celebrate a being that “lights up the world beyond death”, and here we have a building still lighting up the ruins of a city every night, whose original builders and inhabitants are all long dead.
Chi and Yuu have gone on a journey of exploring what religion means, and that’s also reflected in their use of the camera. Yuu starts off snapping away with it, performing the ritual of taking photos without much purpose. Most of her photos feature one of the statues of the gods. Then they progress to taking photographs of themselves, and they are included in a photo with one of the god statues. Having mastered the self-timer, Chi and Yuu have inserted themselves into that religious world, and are no longer onlookers. Finally, Yuu elevates Chi to the level of a god herself. They have worshipped mindlessly, questioned the gods, and finally built their own philosophy. Fascinatingly, that philosophy was never a rejection of belief. It was an open-minded acceptance of the unknown, and a recognition of the meaninglessness of ritual on an intrinsic level, acknowledging the benefit of a belief system as well.
At the heart of the temple, amongst all the beautiful fakery, is a giant statue that looks in the opposite direction to all the other statues. Like this god of a lost civilisation, Girls’ Last Tour encourages us to look at life in a different way too. RP
The view from Amerika:
The camera given to Chi and Yuu in the last episode comes into play in this story giving us a very connected series, even if some small amounts of time go by between episodes. In this episode, Yuu starts to experiment with the camera taking all kinds of useless pictures “like an idiot would”. Chi has to explain that they don’t have an infinite number of pictures available to them. Yuu gets Chi to turn her attention from the road and they have a small accident with a statue. And I found myself wondering about those statues. What are they? Why are they there? Do the represent something else? They look like tubes with eyes on them. Wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tubemen, I hear you ask? Well, without the arms or the waving, maybe. But when Yuu tries to get pictures of them, they always come out blurry. And when Chi hits one with the kettenkrad, it falls on both girls almost like a punishment.
The sweetest part of this chapter is when Chi realizes what the camera can do and she sets a timer to get a picture of herself and Yuu together. Once again showing the contrast between herself and Yuu, she even takes a moment to adjust Yuu’s hair. It’s a lovely scene and I am convinced that is the titular Photograph of the episode. “Say cheese!” Although, I still want to know about the weirdly placed statues…
Then they find themselves at a temple. This is the first time I’m given any idea about the world at large and unfortunately it doesn’t help much. “400 years ago…” “3 gods…” Nope, nothing. The temple is there as a “reproduction of the afterlife” which really confused me. I was of the mindset that one has to see a thing to then create a reproduction of it. Is there more to this than a straight forward journey through a war torn world? No! This isn’t a mystery, I remind myself.
There’s a lovely sequence where the girls are cast into darkness and, when Chi doesn’t respond to her calls, Yuu starts to speak aloud about a world without Chi. It’s a lovely moment where Chi is actually guilty of teasing Yuu. But what they find is a stunning area of light, fake water, lily pads and fish. They relax and bask in the beauty, as friends should. Interestingly, we find more to add to our list of things Yuu doesn’t know. She asks “what’s a god?” I found the answer inspiring. God lights up the world beyond ones death. Interesting. This episode seems spirit-heavy to me, but that’s not a complaint. Just makes me wonder.
Artistically I was impressed by a few things. Visually, the sepia-toned flashback from Photograph is marvelous. In Temple, the top-down image of the steps was amazing. It conjures both a sense of isolation and loneliness along with a vastness that needs to be explored. I was also taken by the reflection of the girls as they ate their rations over the fake water. It’s a skill to be able to show the movements so fluidly that they even reflect in the water. Acoustically, the theme I love came back and I was suddenly reminded of Julie Cruz, the artist who did so much of the music for Twin Peaks. There’s innocence mixed with melancholy and just a hint of eerie, and I adore it. (I’ve found the soundtrack on Youtube and find myself playing it through my work day!)
Each episode has an after-credit scene and I had to chuckle at the image of Yuu as she says she is a god and wants food. One of the most enjoyable things about this show is the relationship between the two survivors. That was her being playful, and I loved it. I look forward to their next destination. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Girls’ Last Tour Episode 5