Kichijiro and Xiaolou: The Hated Secondary Characters

This is written for my Japanese Film & Literature class in the summer of 2017.

The character Kichijiro from the novel Silence reminded me of the character Duan Xiaolou from the movie Farewell My Concubine. Similar to many other supporting characters, those two help push forward their stories along the main characters. However, unlike some secondary characters who stand by the main characters and conform to their doctrines, Kichijiro and Xiaolou show up the charm of the main characters by contrast. They are opportunists or realists (or both) who abandon their principles in emergencies and they hold views towards faith and life that are vastly distinct from those of the main characters. The role of these characters such as Kichijiro and Xiaolou is to further embellish the main characters by making the audiences think “She/he is so great. Not everybody could do what she/he [the main character] did. Just look at that wretch [supporting character] there!” Moreover, those characters usually provide different perspectives to the main themes of the stories.

In Silence for instance, what Christianity to Kichijiro is what rice to others. It is clear from the book that most peasants turned to Christianity in despair, as the last resort to comfort their slaved souls. Although not explicitly articulated, I believe Kichijiro was not different than the others in this regard. However, when rice was taxed away and he had to eat something else (let’s say frogs) to save his life, he would do so without too much hesitation. Is he a good Christian? I do not know. But apparently he likes being Christian. He is obsessed with the idea of confession. With his faith, he easily accepts that his sin could be forgiven. In this sense, Christianity to him is no more than a tool. He does not like carrying the weight of guilt and confession takes it off from him. That is why he begs to do it. This view is certainly very different from how Rodrigues saw his faith. He believed in God and his almighty. He believed it because it was the truth to him, not because it provided a simper solution.

In Farewell My Concubine, Xiaolou betrayed his profession — Beijing Opera — multiple times; he even betrayed Dieyi (the main character who grew up with Xiaolou and was his stage partner) as well as his wife under the pressure of Cultural Revolution. In fact, he told Dieyi straight out that Opera to him was just a job, a path to money and fame. Dieyi, who was whole-heartedly devoted to the art, was disappointed over and over.

There is no doubt that most people hate (or at least dislike) Kichijiro and Xiaolou. Nevertheless I really wonder how many of us could do better in their positions. Both stories happened in special periods of history when people suffered in living hells. How many people would survive the torment and maintain their decency like the main characters? Probably rather than despising people such as Kichijiro and Xiaolou who led an opportunistic but longer life, one should place more blame on those in power who made the world a hell in which people only sang for the strong but the deceased. After all, “can anyone say that the weak do not suffer more than the strong?”

Lastly, an interesting note is that this kind of secondary characters is more prevailing in stories with no strong villains. On the other hand, supporting roles in evil-vs-justice stories tend to be ones that stand by the main roles. Looking back to Silence, one might be tempted to think that Inoue-sama is the villain of the story. However direct description of him is very scarce and there seems to be more conflict between Rodriguez and Kichijiro. In Farewell My Concubine, the only villain is the instability of China at the time. In contrast, in superhero movies in which villains are strong, secondary roles are more often than not supportive. One potential explanation for this phenomenon is the necessity of drama in stories. Without a strong villain, the faith and determination of the main characters cannot be tested, thus their personalities cannot be developed. To compensate for this, a salient wretched secondary character would be a good choice.