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Commentary by our General Manager, Keiichi Shimada
No matter how popular a drama series nor how many movies in a movie series, there is always a final episode. Some of them are filled with the sentiments of the author, while others simply come to a natural ending.
“Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe)” was a boxing manga serialized in the “Weekly Shonen Magazine” from 1968, which became a long-running series lasting five years and four months, with the final episode published in the May 13 issue in 1973. Not only did the work boost the sales of the “Weekly Shonen Magazine” to 1.5 million copies during this period, it also triggered numerous social phenomena. For example, during the campaign against the Japan-US Security Treaty in 1970, students who locked themselves in the Yasuda Auditorium of the University of Tokyo were engrossed in reading the work. Meanwhile, during the Japan Airlines Flight 351 hijacking incident, the perpetrators left a statement saying “We are Tomorrow's Joes” before seeking refuge overseas. In the final episode of the manga, Joe Yabuki, the hero of the story, who is physically exhausted after long years of battle, fights against Jose Mendoza, the undefeated world champion. Despite losing the vision in his right eye during the match, Joe gets back on his feet each time he is knocked to the ground, telling himself that his sight is not completely gone yet. After finally losing the match by a split decision to his opponent, he sits in his corner of the ring grinning to himself and muttering, “I've burnt myself out…completely. I'm completely wiped out….into ashes.” This has become a widely talked about, classic ending scene. The story ends without the reader even knowing whether or not Joe Yabuki survives. All we know is that Joe continued to fight by his own free will until he was completely burnt out.
“Ashita no Joe” was written by Asao Takamori (also renowned for works such as “Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants),” a baseball manga, and “Tiger Mask,” a pro-wrestling manga, and known as a novelist by the name of “Ikki Kajiwara”) and drawn by Tetsuya Chiba. However, Chiba was not satisfied with the initial version of the final chapter by Takamori, so he obtained consent from Takamori to make changes before arriving at the present version.
“Otoko wa Tsurai yo (It's tough being a man),” is a Japanese movie series by Yoji Yamada, featuring Kiyoshi Atsumi as the kind-hearted vagabond “Tora-san,” which first hit the big screen in August 1969. A total of 48 movies were made in the series, before the finale was released in December 1995. It is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the longest movie series in the world. In the final scene of the final movie, entitled “Otoko wa Tsurai yo, Torajiro Kurenai no Hana (Tora-san to the Rescue),” Tora-san visits Nagata Ward in Kobe City after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and stands there dumbfounded at the sight of the place, which he can hardly recognize after the disaster. However, he also runs into old acquaintances who are helping with the restoration work, and the show ends with Tora-san saying “Thank you everyone for your hard work!” as his last line. Since this is the last movie in the series, it is as if these last words are meant not just for people involved in the restoration, but also for Kiyoshi Atsumi and all the production staff. In fact, Atsumi already had liver cancer by this time, which had spread to his lungs. According to his doctor, it was almost a miracle itself that Atsumi had been able to appear in the final work, so perhaps he knew that this would be his last piece of work. In this final installment, Ruriko Asaoka played the role of Lily, the female character whom Tora-san adored. This was Asaoka's fourth appearance in the series, making her the most frequently appearing of all the actresses in the series. She is said to have asked Yamada, the director of the movie, if Tora-san and Lily could get married, since this might be the last in the series. Yamada also knew by this time that a 49th installment would be unlikely.
Atsumi passed away on August 4, 1996, so the 48th installment naturally became the last in the series. In fact, the initial plot intended to conclude the series two installments later, at the 50th episode, when Tora-san would retire as a street vendor and take up a stable job as a janitor in a kindergarten. The movie would end with him passing away peacefully while playing with the kindergarten children. However, fate did not allow for the same to happen to the actor in reality. The series ended while Tora-san was still in the middle of his journey. How the journey would end was ultimately left to the imagination of each individual viewer.
While all of us are the hero as well as the director of our own lives, this does not mean that we are necessarily able to depict our lives freely in the way we would like. In particular, we have no control over our “last chapter.” Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, died of pancreatic cancer in 2011. He was first diagnosed with the disease in May 2003. Back then, he was told that he would not live longer than three to six months. Jobs was lucky to survive as long as he did, and he gave his well-known speech at the Stanford University graduation ceremony in 2005 based on his encounter with death. “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
The “final chapter” is perhaps always the hardest. Not just in movies and comics, but in business, as well as in our own lives too. That being said, we should still try to bring them to a conclusion in accordance with our own will, and people who are able to this can be said to have led a happy life. Jobs famously concluded his speech with a phrase quoted from the back cover of his favorite magazine, “The Whole Earth Catalog”: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
Takarajima Separate Issue No. 235, ‘A Sudden Ending’ (Takarajimasha Inc., 1995).
Hideo Yoshimura, The World of ‘Otoko wa Tsurai yo’, The Complete Edition, (Shueisha, 2005).
Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs: The Biography (translated by Koji Iguchi, Kodansha, 2011).
Whole Earth Epilog: Access to Tools.