Tatami Galaxy Episode 10 – Apartment of Leaves
This episode, something is different.
There are no dreams of a rose-colored college life, no clubs to join with naïve optimism, only to be let down by the cold, detachment of reality; our hero is more realistic than that. He knows such things are impossible, so instead he shuts himself up in his tiny apartment, extolling the virtues of solitude.
He eventually becomes known as the “4.5 Tatami Ideologue,” although it’s never clear by whom. Outside of school, he sees no one, interacts with no one, is friends with no one.
A tatami is a mat, traditionally made of rice straw, that’s used as flooring in traditional Japanese homes. They come in standardized sizes (usually around 1m wide by 2m long), so the number of mats on the floor is typically used as a way of measuring the size of the room. A 4.5 tatami room is made of 4 tatami mats and one half mat, usually arranged in a square. That makes it roughly 9 ft by 9 ft.
So, it’s about the size of a one person dorm room. I had a dorm room about that size in college, anyway. At the start of every school year, I’d pack up all the contents of my life (most which had been living in boxes over the summer, anyway) and try to cram it all into another dorm room. All my clothes, books and games stuffed into every possible crevice.
That’s how our protagonist lives here, too. A lifetime of accrued belongings crammed into 81 square feet. He doesn’t have all that much stuff, so he probably knows where everything is, approximately. Something might be buried in a pile on the floor, or in the no-mans land between the desk and the curtain, but you know it’s in the pile or that abyss.
You have control over a space that small. Since it’s a square, you can see everything from anywhere else. You know where everything is, and it’s all yours. You are the master of your domain, lord of all you can see.
It’s that kind of control our hero is after. Over the past 18 years, lived in cycles, two years at a time, he has had to venture out into the strange, frightening, unpredictable place we call the real world. He has been battered about by the winds of fate and the whims of sinister forces (well, Ozu, anyway). Life has always felt out of his control out in the world, where other people are, flailing about and trying to control their own lives, as well. And every time that rose-colored campus life has seemed on the verge of coming true, something seemingly beyond his control (but usually directly related to a choice he made, or couldn’t bring himself to make) has gone wrong and shot it all to hell.
But on your own, in one room, things are simpler. You are in charge of everything that goes on. There’s no one else to throw a wrench in your plans, no one else telling you what to do.
So our hero lives like this for two years, rarely venturing outside the 81 square feet that he is in charge of. And then one day he finds himself unable to leave.
I don’t mean he’s become agoraphobic (although you could probably argue that he already qualifies as a hikikomori); I mean that when he tries to leave the room, he finds himself entering another, seemingly identical, version of his room. Experiments made to leave via the window, ceiling and breaking a hole in the wall all lead to the same result.
He is trapped in a series of copies of his room. He tries to rationalize it, to say it’s not that much different from his life up to that point, but eventually things start to wear on him. Unable to leave to get food, his diet consists entirely of the castellas and fishburgers lying around the different versions of the apartment.
After conceiving a number of grandiose plans for his solitary life—including building his own bowling alley out of several different rooms—and failing to complete any of them, the stress of solitude begins to wear on him. Is he dead, and trapped inside a 4.5 tatami hell in his own mind? Finally, not able to take the stink of his bathroom-less prison any more, he strikes out to explore the other rooms.
After several days of exploration, he begins to realize that each of the rooms is different. They have different books, different furnishings, artifacts of lives this version of our hero never lived. Each room has its own unique color, its own style reflecting the life of its owner. Lives with adventures and crazy schemes. Lives with other people.
That’s the thing about living a world you have absolute control over: it consists only of you. There can’t be anyone else, because other people are unpredictable, dangerous even. They can’t be trusted in a world of your creation.
The only thing worse than a life ruined by making the wrong choice is a life where you never let yourself make the choice at all. In the final seconds before the floor plans start dancing over the ending credits, our hero realizes this.
Watch this episode here. The final episode of Tatami Galaxy airs Thursday. The review will most likely be up on Friday.