Path Seven

Time is a compass that points away from the past to help navigate the future.

Junji Ito’s Uzumaki tells the story of a small Japanese town, Kurozou-cho, that is being ravaged by a strange curse which involves the manifestation of spirals that hypnotize and entrance the townspeople. This particular illustration shows the character Azami Kurotani at the peak of her hypnotization by the spirals. Azami used to have a scar on the center of her forehead that acted as a magnet for the male gaze; she never had any trouble finding male suitors. When she encounters a young boy, Shuichi, she is shocked that he doesn’t return her romantic advances. From this point on, she becomes obsessed with winning Shuichi’s attention, and that obsession manifests itself into a spiral at the center of her forehead.

Similar to the Cretan Labyrinth in the story of Theseus, the spiral tunneling from the center of Azami’s forehead and into her mind represents a journey in which she must overcome the maddening effects of time in order to succeed. Azami refuses to accept that Shuichi does not give her the same affection that other boys have in the past. Her inability to control the intense desire brought on by her inability to move beyond the past causes the spiral in her head to grow. Spirals and labyrinths, like those plaguing Azami and Theseus, exist inside of everyone. These internal labyrinths can best be represented by an individual’s journey through time which, like a labyrinth (and spiral), only moves in one direction and forces everyone to move away from the past and into the future.

In this way time also becomes a tool for those who move through it. Like Ariadne’s thread showing Theseus where he had already been in the Labyrinth, time is the utility that points us toward the future. Some people, like Azami, misuse the tool of time and remain focused on the past—the equivalent of Theseus walking backward through the labyrinth—while others use time to keep themselves oriented toward the future. As Azami dwells on the past, she deepens the spiral in her forehead and lengthens the distance between the outer edges of the spiral and the center. By doing this she is actively ignoring the redemptive and reformative aspect of time and, like all those who entered the Cretan Labyrinth without Ariadne’s Thread, she becomes lost in the labyrinth of her own mind.

David Mitchell represents this idea well in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. The story involves a young Dutch trader, Jacob, stationed in Dejima, Japan who quickly falls in love with Orito, a local woman. When the two first meet, Jacob uses the memory of Anna, his fiancée, as well as memories of embarrassing himself in front of Orito to convince himself that Orito could not love him. Rather than focusing on a future where he and Orito loved one another, Jacob walks backward along Ariadne’s thread and only when Orito is forced out of Dejima, does Jacob try—and fail—to fully confess his love to her. As a consequence of this, Jacob spends the rest of his life painfully reminiscing on the past and dreaming of the future he could have had with Orito. During every encounter Jacob has with Orito he allows the anxiety he feels from their past interactions to interfere with his ability to make a connection with Orito. Similarly, Azami is unable to form a connection with Shuichi because, rather than trying to earning Shuichi’s admiration, her past experiences cause her to feel entitled to it.

Jacob and Azami misuse the tool of time by failing to realize that the past is not worth dwelling on because of its unchangeable nature. Both of them could have refined their relationships with Orito and Shuichi over time by allowing their past embarrassments and successes to inform their future interactions. Instead, they fail to apply their knowledge of the past to the respective futures that they want to achieve and are unable to progress any further in life. The layouts of both labyrinths and spirals are such that as the circuits progress toward the center, they may change length, but they always remain the same shape. This congruence is precisely the reason why Theseus is able to fearlessly trek through the labyrinth: Ariadne’s thread not only shows him where he has been but simply seeing a single circuit gives him a rough idea of what lies ahead. Theseus’ heroism results from his ability to overcome the disorienting nature of the labyrinth’s circuits to reach the center. While Jacob and Azami’s woes come from the fact that they were unable to recognize the congruent relationship between their past and future and crumbled under the pressure and expectations of their past experiences.

Follow the thread…