When the dust settles, are you living a life you are happy with?
While the first installment of the Kizumonogatari films is a visceral, largely linear (at least in an emotional sense) affair and the second is a trio of encounters that progress in inversions of each other, Kizumonogatari Part III: Reiketsu is a film made up of cycles. It’s an appropriate conceit for the genesis of this franchise to rely on, for Monogatari as a whole is made up of such things. Of course, this is not to say that by the end of Kizumonogatari we are back where we started. For all the chatter about Monogatari‘s talkative methods of storytelling, one of the story’s distinct characteristics is its commitment to its characters-in-motion. Although the cycles repeat, the exit point is always somewhere further along.
In Reiketsu, the act of moving forward is facilitated by both micro and macro uses of these cycles. While the dominant structural element of the film is the interplay between the grounded earthiness (I continue to fail to find a better word to describe the muted brown color palette that signals this) of reality and Araragi’s fantasized hyperrealities, on the overarching narrative level, we see the same actions repeated over and over again. Life, death, failure, hope, blood, fire, darkness, light… all of these recur in the imagery and stories that hold the film together. Fundamentally, this film is about the collapse of the illusion Araragi has built around and about himself, and Reiketsu‘s weapon of choice in tearing down that illusion is the repeated heightening of its depiction of reality into fantasy—and the subsequent reversion back to the uncomfortable truth of the situation.
To speak of the immediate first, Araragi’s fantasies—or, perhaps to be more accurate and less generous, delusions—are the means by which Reiketsu progresses itself as a film. They serve as charged emotional bubbles, the popping of which (Kiss-Shot is no friend, Hanekawa is no angel) pushes the film forward into its successive scenes. As a methodology, I confess it’s one I found myself extremely fond of because of how the film’s cyclical treatment of Araragi’s dalliances into his personal hyperreality as things to be broken eventually crushed out of them the capacity to be cathartic.
Does that sound rather bleak? Despite the ending, this is not a happy film.
The delineation between the two versions of reality are frequently marked by the familiar transitional techniques the Monogatari series has become known for—intertitles, sound bridges, colored frames. However, the most powerful iteration of the cycle is different, with the elision of that familiarity replaced by a hauntingly smooth step from glowing daydream into bloody truth. Following their ebullient conversation on (which is itself cast quite literally in an idealized light that evokes the romantic nostalgia of black and white films), Araragi makes his way back to Kiss-shot with his convenience store drinks in hand, swept away by vision of his vampiric companion as a fair maiden in a field of flowers. But as he arrives, in lieu of the customary “noir” frame, he steps inadvertently over the threshold between realities and is greeted by the gruesome truth.
Even Araragi’s grande bataille with Kiss-Shot is eventually revealed to be sham, an illusion of hyperreality that inevitably fails to mask the ugly, dull, and painful truth it attempts to hide. It is not the glorious confrontation for the privilege of survival and protection that Araragi believes it to be, but rather a contest for the chance to die. The contrast between the fight itself—all lights and grandiose staging and wild animation and dramatic standoffs and vivid colors—and the true resolution of the situation is stark.
It is here that the true power of the cycle between fantasy and reality reveals itself, the catharsis-ridden fight tumbling down into a pathetic wreck of desperate, unhappy people. Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade reveals that she desires to do for Araragi what he had intended to do for her—die—and in so doing annihilates the romance their squabble, stripping it of all nobility and any pretense of glamour. All the color, all the elegance of the drawings, all the thumping music evaporates in the dim and muddy glare of their reality. At last, the cycles of the film have aligned with the cycles of Monogatari‘s stories.
Where have we seen this before? A boy meets a girl who is in trouble. He believes that he can help—or least desires to—and begins to act. By the time the tale has played out, the girl has, almost always of her own agency on the final stage, managed to overcome. But in this version of the Monogatari cycle, the choice at the end is given not to the person in need, but to Araragi. The choice will not always remain his to make as the cycles turn in the future, as they will in Owarimonogatari, but in this moment Araragi will fail to save Kiss-Shot just as she failed to save her first minion. Kiss-Shot takes on herself the role of the villain—a fanciful, false role that plays into the illusion of grandeur the final fight attempts to upload—so that Araragi can be the hero, but in the end, Araragi chooses to make everyone unhappy.
More importantly (and more to his condemnation), he makes the choice that will disempower Kiss-Shot, that will turn her into the husk of her former self known as Shinobu Oshino. In essence, he returns her to the state in which he found her—powerless and reliant on him to be her savior. Is it any wonder that the cycles of Araragi’s savior complex continue on and on after the events of Kizumonogatari? He has learned nothing. He has changed nothing. He has dragged the fantasy down to reality and mashed them together, for “a way everyone can be satisfied” is nothing more than a daydream.
But the story doesn’t end here. Perhaps the wounds in Araragi’s neck will someday be allowed to heal.