Seeking Happiness and Loving What You Do – Nodame Sure is Subversive

Subversive, certainly. And I can sympathize with her.

(Minor spoilers to follow of Nodame Cantabile ~Finale~.)

She had it all: her performance of Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto was greeted with fanfare and was broadcast across the globe, reaching and touching the hearts of many classical aficionados.  Fame! Prestige! Honors! They were all within her grasp! Yet, when it was over, Nodame, wasn’t elated; rather, that performance set off within her a deep funk, one that took a bit of traveling around to shake off. And even then, it wasn’t completely over by the time she returned to Paris.

Back in Paris, her friends were puzzled by this.  Instead of eagerly rushing out to sign record deals and concert tours that would propel her to stardom, there she was, playing a silly ditty on the piano in one of the house’s practice rooms.  Her face was relaxed and she seemed to be having a grand old time entertaining the children who accompanied her without even giving a thought about what the future holds, and this irritated her friends greatly. Indeed, she seemed to be avoiding the issue altogether.  “What’s wrong with her?” they wondered aloud. Why, on the cusp of such success, is she wasting her talent on the piano to even think of becoming something as ordinary and mundane as say, a kindergarten teacher? If someone close to you had a chance to grab at such a rare opportunity and didn’t, you’d be disappointed in them too, right?

When I think about how to respond to such a hypothetical situation, Bill Watterson’s words rise to the top of my mind:

But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

Bill Watterson’s Kenyon College Commencement Address

Maybe that’s why those housemates were so angry. To them, music wasn’t something they did for fun anymore. Instead, they saw it as a means to climb up the social ladder and gain whatever prestige happens to be associated with being able to play a music instrument at the highest levels. I’m sure that at some point long ago, they loved playing for the joy of simply expressing themselves through this artistic endeavor, but as time went on, it stopped being about playing music just to play music. Nodame ~Finale~ stresses how the side characters’ have pushed themselves to compete in the various musical concours where their performance would be judged and the results would make or break their musical careers. While I applaud their determination and tenacity, a part of me suspects that they’ve missed the point somewhere along the way.

From that standpoint, it’s not hard to see what separates Nodame apart from her housemates. From the very beginning, she shows an almost childlike delight when exploring music and she never loses that sense of curiosity and playfulness even as she matures. You’d see her sit at the piano and seemingly improvise whimsical melodies out of thin air and having fun while doing so. As long as she was able to share in the music with those she loved – Chiaki, for one – she was happy. And isn’t that what’s most important?

So even though the path to success lay wide open after her concert debut, she was able to look the other way. She knew what was important to her. It was never about the fame or the success but about loving what she does and being able to enjoy it on her own terms rather than have it all dictated by the expectations of others. Is it selfish to withhold one’s talent and not share it with society as Nodame was prepared to do? Maybe, but in the long run, she’s happier for finding what makes her life meaningful and fulfilling. And I do hope that people take this into consideration when making their life decisions as well.

Other notes:

Of the shows airing this season, Arakawa Under Bridge comes closest to capturing this sentiment. The members of the bridge-commune all focus upon doing what makes them happy. Sure, they all contribute to the community in some way, but at the core, they love what they do; just observe P-ko’s enthusiasm when she talks about horticulture or Hoshi’s passion for music. Now contrast this with Kou/Recruit’s bewilderment since this doesn’t reflect his world, with its continual struggle to reach the top of some societal hierarchy. In terms of generating happiness, the bridge-commune sure seems to be doing something right.

Finally, I do recommend reading Bill Watterson’s Address in its entirety. It’s something I’ve found to be inspiring ever since I’ve laid eyes on it and I make it a point to read it every year to re-orient my life compass. Calvin and Hobbes has had a tremendous influence on my childhood, and even now, its message continues to be relevant.

8 Responses to “Seeking Happiness and Loving What You Do – Nodame Sure is Subversive”

  1. Agreed 100 percent on this, and this is one of the big issues I focused on as I watched the series. (And it’s a big part of why Nodame is so memorable and interesting to me.) I admire the way Nodame lives her life because she doesn’t plunge into anything simply because she is pressured into doing so; she gives the life of a pro musician an honest shot, and even though her debut performance is a huge rush, she doesn’t stay on that course because she finds that she doesn’t like the huge stage. The smaller, more intimate performances are more to her liking.

    She finds her place and goes for it, because it is what makes her happiest. I think that is what Chiaki realizes just before he knocks on Nodame’s door in the final episode. He hears the pure joy in her playing, and he knows that he just wants to play music with Nodame and be happy with her. Pushing his talents to the furthest limits is important to Chiaki; however, it finally hits him that this is not the most important thing to Nodame, and he also accepts that this does not mean she loves music any less than he does.

    I really loved it when Nodame focused on those questions of talent and what is the right thing to do with one’s talent. It reminds me a lot of Honey and Clover, actually, except the point of view is from the talented themselves, whereas Honey and Clover‘s questions mostly came from the point of view of the relatively untalented Takemoto.

  2. … but in the long run, she’s happier for finding what makes her life meaningful and fulfilling. And I do hope that people take this into consideration when making their life decisions as well.

    Well said.

  3. zzeroparticle post can’t not have music in it

    There are people to whom success is happiness. It’s just it doesn’t make a good human story. The only example of such a character in anime I can think off the top of my head who is only driven by the desire to be successful is Tokuchi Toua from One Outs.

    Chiaki is as well I suppose but the show often kept the big emotional punches to when he realises what else he needs to be happy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that story-telling wise. Just an observation.

    …not sure where I was going with this comment….

  4. There’s a line in one of the last few episodes where Nodame’s roommates made the comment that she was born in the wrong era, ie, one where musicians merely play (and interpret) the works of the classical masters rather than making their own. It’s interesting… arguably one could say Nodame is subversive because she would have excelled had she been born in a different time (and place).

    It’s an interesting life lesson. Anime isn’t exactly renowned for life lessons, but a lot of the best ones have them in spades, eg, ARIA, Honey and Clover and even Rurouni Kenshin (to pick an example which one wouldn’t immediately think has life lessons, but does when you look past the surface).

  5. Although I have not seen Nodame Cantabile (and am probably spoiled rotten by all the posts I’ve read that mention it in some shape or form), one would be hard pressed not to read this article and be reminded of Hagu’s struggle in Honey and Clover. I believe one teacher even accused her of being selfish for not presenting her talents to the world. That brings up the hard question of whether or not one is obligated to give anything to this world if one has the ability to.

    I can’t quite think of many famous people who achieved happiness in this way though. The only one off the top of my head is the late Richard Feynman, who fell into a slump and only got out of it after realizing that he needed to play with physics again, not simply use it to teach and research. He did achieve fame as his life went along, but he never worried about the deepest problems of physics, only the ones that interested him, which kept him busy all the way up to his death.

  6. @Shinmaru
    Chiaki’s acceptance was one of the most poignant parts of the latter half of Finale. And that’s what I love about how that reflects Chiaki’s growth and maturity as well as an understanding of what loving Nodame really means. So for both to seek their own happiness while being happy with each other… you can’t ask for much more than that!

    @Marco Gaspar
    It’s a question we all have to struggle with at some point, but I do hope that line helps people find the way.

    I agree that those people exist. This post is not written for those people because they know what peaks they want to climb and will be happy climbing said peak. In fact, many are already doing so

    This post is for those who aren’t sure with what to do with their lives and/or have something that they’re really passionate about and aren’t sure of how to proceed. And the advice here (for those people) is to pursue those passions and don’t worry so much about success the way society defines it. You’ll be happier for doing so.

    Certainly a sense of subversion can be had by taking the mindset that’d be better suited to a different era though in Nodame’s case, she’s actively rebelling against the established norms by doing stuff her own way (eg playing the Chopin at a slower tempo). She’s certainly good at letting her passions loose too.

    It’s a tough fence to walk for sure in Hagu’s case. Of course, I’d argue that she should go with the choice that makes her happiest since I don’t agree with the assumption that one is obliged to give back to society. I’m not saying that no one should give back to society but that if one were to do so, it’s because that’s what makes one happiest.

    Good to see someone bring up Feynman since he’s certainly a subversive fellow, one who has a lot of life experience simply by stumbling into it (and having a brilliant mind helps too) and never treated his work as a job. He loved doing what he was doing. I’d say quite a few sports players are doing what they love. If you’ve ever looked at someone like say… Lionel Messi or almost any Brazilian soccer player out there, they always seem like they’re having fun with the sport rather than treating it as a job.

  7. In agreement but… more emphasis on the “sharing her music” than “with those she loved“. She certainly enjoyed larger audiences, and was definitely not satisfied with just Chiaki, especially when she exclaimed that it’s no good if only Chiaki appreciates her music. Her primary goal might be playing with Chiaki but, her sentiments goes a lot further than that, IMO.

  8. @Aorii
    That’s true since she does love those smaller crowds at the recitals. Somehow, I’ve always pictured her as the kind of person who is more comfortable with intimate settings like someone’s house rather than the large-scale concert environments. Of course, that perception might not necessarily be true, but it’s where I see her at the moment.

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