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Commentary by our President, Hitoshi Shirai
In November 1970, Yukio Mishima visited a small Italian restaurant by the name of Chianti, which still exists in Iikura, Tokyo today. It was the night before he committed suicide at the Ichigaya garrison of the Self-Defense Forces. That night, Mishima is said to have had Spaghetti Basilico, a feature on the restaurant’s menu. It was, so to speak, Mishima’s “Last Supper.”
Chianti opened its doors in 1960, and became an avant-garde presence as an Italian restaurant in Japan. The restaurant attracted diverse people of the cultural world including artists, musicians, novelists and poets, and Mishima was one of the regulars who frequented the restaurant. The founder of the restaurant, Koji Kawazoe, who had lived in Paris for a long time in the prewar era, is said to have modeled his restaurant in the image of places frequented by the café society in Montparnasse, which already attracted many artists during the 1930s. At a time when it was still difficult to source the same basic ingredients as those used in Italy, Chianti grew its own basil leaves and created its feature Spaghetti Basilico dish by mixing basil with parsley and perilla (an herb used widely in Japanese cuisine) and attracted many cultured people including Mishima.
What would you choose to eat as the last meal in your life? This is an everyday topic discussed in various scenarios, but in reality, considering the fact that many people face their last moments either in illness or an unexpected accident, there may be very few people who have the privilege of choosing the menu of their last supper.
On the other hand, suppose your final days are just around the corner, and when your senses are beginning to fade, someone brings a music player to your bedside and tells you that as a final request you may listen to any piece of music you have ever listened to in your life. I wonder how you will react. Today, as digitalization of music becomes mainstream and we are able to access countless pieces of music via the internet, this is not hard to imagine. For someone who has listened to music via Apple’s iTunes since childhood, choosing the best 10 music pieces in one’s life can easily be done by adding up the number of times that person has listened to certain pieces. We can well imagine that perhaps in the near future, even without any effort on our part, AI may take the liberty of selecting on our behalf the “last song” we should listen to at the end of our lives.
Teruhiko Kuze, an astute television producer who once produced a number of popular programs such as Terauchi Kantaro Ikka (Terauchi Kantoro Family) and Jikandesuyo (Time is up!), had his essays “My Last Song – What would you like to listen to in the end?” serialized in the magazine Shokun! (Gentlemen!) from April 1992 until right before his death in March 2006. During this long serialization, he took up 119 pieces of music in his writing, covering a wide breadth of genres from popular songs, folk songs and waltzes to the American national anthem. Anyone reading his essays one by one will understand that choosing “My Last Song” is also an activity that causes us to reflect on our personal lives in the context of the music we have encountered over time. It also teaches us how difficult it is to prioritize these, let alone to choose one piece of music. Until the very end, Mr. Kuze himself never disclosed which of the 119 pieces of music was his own “My Last Song”.
Whether the day when AI chooses “My Last Song” will really come is a notion I have tried to think about together with Mr. Kuze’s essays. There are times when I have mixed emotions and I am even unable to explain why a particular song remains in my heart. It may be that a person whom I suddenly wish to meet at the last moment of my life springs to mind. “The one I pray will return in the final moment of my life, someone I have rebelled against, someone I have betrayed against my will, someone whose importance to me I realized only after their departure from me – they all must be people who left me with a feeling of regret. Wishing for such people to return is too selfish. In the same numbers as my regrets, the faces of those who left me come to the surface of my darkening mind, and soon they too will start to grow hazy and disappear, and the last face we see may very well be our own” (When Will You Return?).
The way we feel about the same song or the same event and how it remains in our memories varies from person to person. “A song, especially a popular song, is a mysterious thing. Depending on when, where and in what mood you listened to it or sang it, a song that was meant to be cheerful and happy may make you feel you’re at rock bottom or, on the other hand, a song that sings of the despair of lost love may make you feel elated” (Tokyo Dodonpa Musume).
Even in the digital age, the data of songs may not be kept if demand for them is limited. “A song that failed to gain popularity, rather than lying dormant, is dead. When we think about it, we realize there may be many good songs that have died simply because they did not sell well” (Sakura no Uta).
There is no doubt that rapid progress in digitalization will enhance economic and industrial efficiency and improve the safety, comfort and convenience of society in the future. Moreover, not only the way we choose music, but also even the way we choose our memories over the course of our lives will significantly change in the future. In the end, however, only we ourselves can judge the way we live and bear witness to our own lives. If choosing “My Last Song” is one of those changes in the future, the internet and AI will perhaps be ready to assist.
Teruhiko Kuze, Best of My Last Song, Bunshun Bunko, 2009
Tsuneyoshi Noji, Chianti Story Gentosha Bunko, 1997