In ancient times it was believed that to cure an ailing organ, you’d need to consume the same organ from someone else. As the two leads discuss this, Sakura, a high school girl diagnosed with a fatal pancreatic disease cheekily elaborates, “There are people in foreign countries who believe if you have someone eat you, your soul lives on inside of them.” To this the protagonist replies, “Find somebody else. Your soul is probably really obnoxious.”
The story of the terminally ill character is nothing new. It’s been explored from every angle in every industry, with titles like The Fault in Our Stars, Dasvidanya and The Sky is Pink. Amidst this plethora, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas doesn’t pretend to be groundbreaking. Yet with time, its story and characters have grown on me the most, for how honest, simple and potent it is.
It all begins when the protagonist (name not mentioned because it contains a spoiler), an aloof, detached high school boy who’d rather escape into a book than interact with people, finds a diary titled ‘Living With Dying’. Opening it, he learns its author is suffering from an incurable pancreatic disease, and hasn’t much time left to live. As he’s reading, he’s confronted by the author, who turns out to be Sakura Yamauchi, a girl in his class. Realising there’s no point in keeping it a secret, Sakura dejectedly confesses the truth of what she’s written, only for the protagonist to noncommittally reply, “That’s too bad.” Having constantly been showered in sympathy, the impassive reply leaves her flummoxed, and it peaks Sakura’s interest. From then on, she goes out of her way to interact with the protagonist, and social recluse that he is, he can’t find a way to refuse her and gets carried along on her whims.
The movie doesn’t go the usual bucket list route where the characters try to tick off their most outrageous desires. Entertaining as they are, I’ve always felt a disconnect with such stories because they’re so unrealistic. Instead, and what I love about this film, is how it appreciates the mundane, everyday moments. When the protagonist asks her why she’s spending time with him instead of chasing her desires, she in turn asks him why he isn’t doing the same, considering a freak accident could possibly claim his life tomorrow. “Each day is just as valuable as the day before it. That’s why the value of today doesn’t change based on the way I spent my time.” Her words stuck with me. Indeed, for a person running out of time, time itself is the most valuable thing. Even humble desires, like going to a cafe and enjoying the company of a friend, are so, so precious.
Sakura is undoubtedly the heart of the story. Her strength and dazzling vitality in the face of this soul-crushing reality are entrancing. Yet the writing doesn’t reduce her to a pretty ideal. She is beautifully human, and while her strength of character is almost superhuman, she has weak moments that show you she’s still a scared, young high school girl. The protagonist, in this regard, acts as a mirror for the viewer. He’s aware of her condition, but looking at her strength, her mortality often feels unreal to him, as it does for us. Which is why small details, like when he opens her bag to fetch a facial cleanser, and finds an arsenal of tablets, syringes and more medication, hit you so hard it makes you catch your breath. In a truly heartbreaking scene, the protagonist asks Sakura, “Are you… actually going to die?”, and looking him in the eye, with a soft smile she replies, “Sure am.”
It’s a testament to how powerful the storytelling is. The film opens with her funeral, and as a viewer, you too know that you only have a little time left with her. Even so, it’s futile to try to put up a guard and emotionally distance yourself, because the characters and their story draw you in, and before you know it, you’re invested. The writing, the music, the artwork, each craft lends itself to making you appreciate the beauty of the moment. The soft glow, the colours of cherry blossoms in the sunlight, emphasise just how wondrous and fleeting a normal day can be.
Rather than a story about dying, I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is a story about the small things that make life worth living. It appreciates the meaningless conversations and unlikely friendships, and shows them for the true treasures they are. It makes you reevaluate the importance of that last time you briefly met that friend in passing, and makes you consider, what if that was the last time you’d ever see them? And if you’ve sadly had to part with a friend, I suspect this story will resonate with you more than most. It doesn’t go out of its way to make you cry a river, but if you want something more honest, less dehydrating, then this will definitely leave your eyes moist.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.