Here is a different take on the Tower of Babel tradition and mythology. Kino enters a town that doesn’t seem to be interested in anything outside it. She can tell because there are no hotels or inns. There isn’t a hostility towards outsiders, only a complete indifference for them. What holds the townsfolk’s attention is the continuing project of building the tallest possible stone tower.
Everyone in the city is engaged in building the tower. Everyone has a role. When Kino asks them questions, they answer with disinterested ignorance, making the excuse that they’re only masonry laborers of some form, hence incapable of being useful otherwise. There are children, but they too are preoccupied with playing at erecting a tower.
It would seem that the town is either hypnotized into wanting to build the tower, which already has pierced the clouds – an impossible height, but Kino’s Journey suggests it is fantasy of some kind – or the people truly see no other purpose in life but to build it. They don’t seem particularly inspired so there’s got to be a catch right?
Not everyone is thrilled with the life of a tower mason. One such man attempted to sneak into Kino’s makeshift lodgings with the intent to ask her to let him come along. He felt trapped by the future of a life all about the tower. Kino represents a way out. She flatly turns him down. In her journey, only Hermes the motorcycle is her companion.
It is the conceit of a story like this is how the world behaves in the service of a plot point, or a theme. Surely there must be some other way for someone to escape the town. There are no police, nor military. There is no policy that people should stay. There is just the inertia driving everyone inexorably up the tower to build it higher and higher.
And the next day, the tower fell.
Sticking with the conceit. There seem to be no casualties, despite a tower that high and that big requiring more manpower at the current level of technology than the entire city has, and that population must live within the tower to maintain productivity of any kind. The disaster would have been the event that marks a milestone within the history of the whole land, but the people imply it’s a cyclical thing.
They are happy, that the tower fell during their lifetime.
This is when I expected that the town would further rejoice for being emancipated from the strange overarching desire to build the tower.
But no, the point of their rejoicing was that they can build it once more. Perhaps, there is excitement in the beginning of something, as opposed to the continuation of something they didn’t have any say in doing.
This is explored further when Kino lectures the man who had wanted to leave. There is newness to be found in the same work. The same work can be made new, with imagination. Kino suggests engraving on the bricks. The townsfolk get excited that they launch immediately to plan the new tower, making the would-be defector an instant celebrity. Never mind that there’s so much rubble to be cleared that I’m certain should’ve flattened houses.
But what’s important I suppose is what we can take away from the conflict and the resolution. Work can be tedious, and what makes tedium worse is the bankruptcy of meaning. What is the point of building a tower so you can see it crash? It’s as meaningful as living a life that is doomed to end, making friends who you will lose; falling in love with someone who will leave you, or you’ll grow to hate; raising children who will resent you; amassing wealth you can’t take with you when you die.
Or, blogging anime for that matter.