Interview with Tomo Kataoka

Tomo Kataoka talks about writing the Narcissu series and Christianity

Hey everyone, Kaze here sneaking back onto this blog with a very special and exciting post! As some of you know, I’m a big fan of the Narcissu series and have written on the stories numerous times because of its inclusion of Christian faith in a very respectful, thoughtful, and accurate manner alongside serious, meaningful stories of terminal illness, mental health, and suicide. Any Christian with an interest in Japan should experience at least Narcissu 1 and 2. Beneath the Tangles even hosted a Narcissu giveaway last year, and many of our readers got the chance to enjoy the series for free. I’m now very pleased to present an interview with the author of the series Tomo Kataoka where we talk a bit about the series and his thoughts on Christianity. A big thanks to Agilis of Sekai Project who has been a supporter of us with both the giveaway and interview, as neither would be possible without him.  Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this interview.

Kaze: First of all, thank you so much for this interview, Kataoka-sensei. Your use of Christianity in Narcissu has been a wonderful experience as a Christian reader.

Tomo: Hi, I’m Tomo Kataoka.

Kaze: I understand Narcissu was based on the Yodogawa Christian Hospital; could you explain a little about it and how it helped to form the 7th floor of Narcissu?

Tomo: That hospital also had a hospice on the 7th floor, like in the games. I regularly visited there for a year’s time. The rooms, lounge, how the helpers were, I think they’re very much like how it was written in the game. [TL Note: It’s unclear, but most likely he is referring to someone else about the hospitalization while he was a visitor]

It’s been over twenty years now, but, wanting to express my gratitude to them, I drew and sent them a picture. Perhaps even now it’s decorating the 7th floor.

Kaze: That’s really interesting. What sort of influences do you think Christian organizations, such as the Yodogawa Christian Hospital, have had on Japan?

Tomo: In Japan, people have quite a good image of them. However, the perception might be a bit off the mark from the true essence and perhaps carries a bit of “a cool/fancy western aspect of culture” feel to it.

Kaze: That’s definitely the feel I get from seeing Christianity in Japanese fiction, which I wish more Christians understood properly. Were there any other reasons you decided to include Christian faith in your stories?

Tomo: The Christian helpers had been a great help to me. Not only during the hospitalization, but after the discharge, they even helped at home.

I’m of the Shinto faith, but as a person, I really respect Christian people and their spirit of volunteerism.

Kaze: What motivates or inspires you to write stories that deal with serious topics like terminal illness, depression, and death?

Tomo: I think that, as a person who had been given someone’s “proof of having lived,” I wanted to also convey that to other people.

Kaze: Japanese people are mostly non-Christian, and many have incorrect ideas about what it means to be a Christian. How do you think this affects their opinions of your portrayals of Christianity?

Tomo: The only thing I hope is that they don’t think I’m denying the existence of God or Christians ><

Kaze: You did mention that before.

Himeko’s struggle with her faith was very meaningful to me as a Christian. Were there any memorable reactions to this struggle among the Japanese audience?

Tomo: Someone from ICU wrote a paper. Apparently they’ve never questioned the existence of God, but on numerous occasions, they’ve almost wanted to question it. I think that God’s an entity where, even if you occasionally have fights or arguments with,  you’ll eventually make amends.

KazeA Little Iris has a very different setting and premise compared to the other Narcissu works. Even so, I understand it was based on events during the Albigensian Crusade. What was the reason you chose to use Medieval Europe and Christian history as references for this game?

Tomo: I wanted to write about the contradictions in the world and how religion can bring about differences in values.

It’s not something that is limited to Christianity. I think of it as how religion can have two faces.

Kaze: 1993 is incredibly short but still a powerful story depicting social problems surrounding loneliness and suicide. Christians truly want to help these people, but from a Japanese perspective, how do you think Christians can best help people who are feeling so alone and hopeless?

Tomo: By chance or whim, without it being anyone’s fault, there are times when misfortune strikes. It’s simple to just call those misfortunes “fate”… but I don’t think people are strong enough to do so.

Perhaps sometimes, people want to place the responsibility on something that’s beyond human… a god?

And so, I’d like Christians to say, “God” is also something beyond human that “grants forgiveness.”

Kaze: Speaking of misfortunes, Narcissu‘s stories are very much about facing death. Do you have anything to say to the readers who are currently dealing with the reality of death, be it themselves or a loved one?”

Tomo: Everyone dies.

Even people who are seeing others off will one day themselves be leaving.

It’s disheartening and lonely, but that might be what “living” is.

KazeNarcissu Zero teaches us about the origin of the 7th floor in the world of Narcissu. What do you think Youko would have to say about the “proof of existence” that she left behind in the form of the 7th floor?

Tomo: I’d like to think she’d be satisfied that she was able to leave behind proof that she had lived.

KazeNarcissu Sumire takes a more abstract approach than usual with “the world of closed eyes.” What sort of difficulties are there in writing an abstract premise like that which also needs to overlap with the real world?

Tomo: Sorry. The truth is, that section of the story was extracted from a Nekoneko-Software game Sumire and I think that it was a bit difficult to understand. ><

Kaze: That’s unfortunate. Maybe one day that game will be localized as well. What sort of stories would you like to write in the future? Do you think you’ll continue to reference Christianity?

Tomo: Yes, for serious games, I’d like to write about the contradictions in this world, so it’s likely that Christianity will pop up quite a bit! [TL Note: Kataoka generally divides up his game scenarios into “moe” or “serious” games, which is what he is referring to here.]

I really like Christianity, including both its good sides (such as love and helping each other) and its bad sides (such as religious exclusivity).

Kaze: I’m definitely looking forward to when you do! How do you feel knowing that we of Beneath the Tangles, a Christian organization, are big fans of your work, particularly because of your inclusion of Christianity? Would you like to say anything to Christian readers?

Tomo: I really respect Christians. If I hadn’t been born into a family with ties to a Shinto shrine, I think I may have gone to church.

Kaze: Thank you for the kind words. Finally, I understand you’ve been busy with a new game. Could you tell us a little about it?

Tomo: In the route that I wrote for Ruri no Kasane, it might be somewhat like Narcissu? Ruri dies after all. I guess you could almost say it was switching from Catholicism to Shintoism.

Kaze: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! Do you have any last words for your overseas fans?

Tomo: My thanks to everyone! Going forward, I’m going to try putting some effort into working as an individual. [TL Note: as opposed to working under the Nekoneko-Software brands]

I hope everyone enjoyed Kataoka’s answers! If you haven’t already, you can buy the entire Narcissu series on Steam and enjoy a very rare combination of Japanese fiction and Christian faith. Also, please do leave comments below about your thoughts on Narcissu and Kataoka’s interview.

 

Kaze is a graduate from the University of Tokyo who currently works on developing gene therapies for genetic diseases. He is a Nanatard since 2009 and mostly spends his time reading VNs and studying Japanese. Strangely enough, also a devout Christian.

One Comment on this post.

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  • Jeremy
    28 November 2017 at 8:32 am

    I find it really interesting that Kataoka-Sensei said ” I think that God’s an entity where, even if you occasionally have fights or arguments with, you’ll eventually make amends”. It’s something I guess I never gave a lot of thought to because I don’t really argue with God over things, but know people who have. It’s a reminder of the grace that he has towards us. Thanks a bunch Kaze for the interview and of course Kataoka-sensei for participating!

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