663114 ONA Explores Historic Japanese Disasters Through a Cicada

Isamu Hirabayashi’s Noburo Ofuji Award-Winning Animated Short 663114 (2011) provides a constructive response to the devastation caused by the Tohoku earthquake, the nuclear fallout at Fukushima and other devastating disasters in Japan’s history. The work tells the problematic relationship between mankind and the environment through the story of a 66-year-old cicada that slowly crawls across a vertical surface.


Numbered titles of works have been used to represent a handful of disasters throughout Japanese history. 66 is the number of years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by Little Boy and Fat Man in 1945. Three and 11 represent the date of the 2011 Thoku earthquake, which was followed by a terrible tsunami. The number of reactors emitting radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant is four.

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Plot of 663114

Viewers are introduced to a cicada that informs them of its purpose and the lifecycle of the species. As the creature climbs slowly but steadily, a “tree that is tall, strong and doesn’t move as much,” he discusses how the environment is ideally suited to the needs of his kind. Whether it is a lack of soil, water, juice or strong pesticides, the cicada is clearly proud of the country in which it lives and appreciates what it has to offer.

once every 66 years,

I leave the land, leaving the child and die.

before meeting,

I shed my hard shell at the risk of my life.

Our ancestors have continued this cycle countless times.

The soil of this country is very suitable for our living.

It is free from strong pesticides and has no landmines.

Water is delicious so juice is delicious too.

I will climb as high as I can.

Aim higher and higher.

This is our natural tendency.

To survive and leave offspring.

Since the moment of skin flaking is life threatening.

We choose a tree that is tall, strong and cannot move so much.

Our ancestors have continued this cycle countless times.

through various difficulties.

The journey of the insect is one from which it will never return. Their instincts have tasked them with finding a mate to emerge from their sleepless 66 years, leaving offspring so that the next generation can continue this vital cycle and eventually die. After traveling for some time, the cicada stops and begins to shed its skin, a “life-risk” process for its species. At this critical moment, an earthquake occurs and the tree on which he is resting shakes dramatically. The cicada, being a resilient creature, clings to its shedding skin to survive this natural calamity. However, before he can recover from the incident and spread his wings, a tsunami ensues.

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Great waves like wet hands, paw on the insect’s body in what appears to be a purposeful attempt to dislodge it from its position. However, the cicada firmly declares that he will not die and will fulfill his mission of leaving a child. As the creature continues to cling to its now shrunken husk, a black smog ensues and suddenly, the screen turns black.

I am a 66 year old cicada.

once every 66 years,

I leave the land, leaving the child and die.

66 years ago when i was born

I heard that there was a big earthquake and a big tsunami.

A big accident also happened.

I would risk my life to release this hard shell before intercourse.

Our ancestors have continued this cycle countless times.

The soil of this country is very suitable for our living.

I love this country.

After a brief credit sequence, the audience returns to a similar scene and sequence of text. However, the creature that speaks no longer has the reassuring or intelligent voice it previously heard, but is, instead, a jumbled and distorted mash of vowels. A frightening creature that is beyond recognition from a previously seen cicada enters the picture and sporadically crawls onto a tree.

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Themes of 663114

The dominating motive for Hirabayashi’s acronym is the rippling consequences of human decision-making. The cicada has been chosen to represent not only its kind but all living beings in Japan. In short the horrors it feels are a reminder of how even the smallest things have been damaged and changed beyond repair. In these moments, the director attempts to show the society a mirror and asks each viewer to question their role in the disasters that have happened.

However, this is not done in a way that aims to embarrass the individual, but rather emphasizes the cause and effect relationship that human beings have with each other and the natural elements that surround them. Inkan (印鑑), red stamps used in Japan in lieu of the sign that cicadas are climbed to adorn the tree, indicate the bureaucracy and rules governing society. These signatures represent the corruption that has occurred within the civilization and how decisions have been made without considering the issues they can cause.

Hirabayashi told me that ink is a metaphor for contracts [of the kind we would call “red tape” in English], He further said that after the war in Japan, priority has been given to the contract on the sentiments of the people. After Fukushima, he feels this bad attitude has come to the surface. – Kathy Monroe Hots, Nishikata Film Review, 2012.

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However, there is still hope to be found in this work. While cicada may have been afflicted by human hands, they remain a symbol of rebirth, longevity and the light that brings warmth. Although the dramatic effects of radiation have harmed a generation, this organism’s life cycle continues, and with it comes the prospect of a brighter future. Even the most dire situations must eventually pass. The pollution and devastation of the coming disasters will sooner or later spread or be repaired. A new era will emerge, in which mankind will have learned an important lesson from its ancestors and will no longer be burdened with bureaucracy.

Instead, a new system would arise that would take into account the power of all living beings, the environment of each land, and the human race. This vision, while utopic, remains self-aware. Like the cicada’s way up the tree, things will be tricky. Humanity will struggle to realize its place in the world or the power needed to reach the pinnacle of its potential. Regardless, if people want to continue their cycle of life and death it is a journey that mankind is forced to take.

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663114 The nature and resilience of the Japanese people are also highlighted in times of disaster. Despite the struggles they have to face, the people of the country have survived and their culture too. While every creature has adapted to the conditions that have been imposed on them, it is this very characteristic that inspires hope that future generations will be able to make better decisions.

Children are exposed to dangerous radioactivity a year after the earthquake. It is our responsibility as Japanese adults to protect children. – Isamu Hirabayashi.

However, Hirabayashi’s work also warns the current generation of Japanese adults: that their children should be protected at all costs. While the wounds of the disasters in Japan may heal with time, if they continue, little can be done to turn back the clock. The negative effects of radioactivity have engulfed themselves, literally, in the DNA of life within Japan. Now it will be the collective effort of the people of the country to remove the spread diseases and ensure that such catastrophe never happens again.

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