Belief in the meaningless leads to meaning


When Motonobu Uchimi was in the fifth grade, he visited Hepburn Field for a soccer game, and there he received a Meiji Gakuin University mechanical pencil. For whatever reason, he has continued using it until today, even repairing it with tape when it broke. This demonstrates how even seemingly meaningless things can become a connection, leading to something meaningful. Here Mr. Uchimi describes his student life, through which he has come to believe this.

Uchimi Motonobu Fourth-year student, Department of Art Studies, Faculty of Letters Motonobu Uchimi joined the Film Studies Course in the Department of Art Studies. He played soccer until high school, which is when he became interested in art. His hobbies include reading, meditation, art appreciation, and late-night radio. He sometimes watches soccer highlight videos. He is good at arm wrestling and meeting up with people in crowded places.

I had no connection to the arts in high school

I started playing soccer in kindergarten, and for a long time I had no connection to the arts. When it came time to think about what I wanted to do after high school, there was no university I particularly wanted to go to. I went to open campus events at some nearby universities, but nothing really clicked.

The high school I attended in Sendai had an “Art Appreciation Society” event once per year, rotating between rakugo, singing, and drama performances over the three years of high school. In the performance during my third year, I saw a play put on by what I believe was a theater company from Tokyo. My appraisal of that experience was that it was…extremely boring. It was some old European tale, one I couldn’t empathize with at all. A few of my classmates even fell asleep. Even so, when it came time to present the troupe representative with a bouquet of flowers, our class representative who did so was in tears, crying to the point where she couldn’t speak. That really surprised me, because when I scanned the room, none of the other thousand or so students were crying. When I saw that, I didn’t think “She’s the only one who got it,” I thought, “She gets it,” which felt very odd.

From that time I started renting DVDs and watching plays, and I gradually became increasingly interested in theater, which influenced my choice of career path. When discussions with my friends regarding what to do after high school started getting serious, I began telling my closest friends that I wanted to study theater.

News arrives

Nearly all art departments in Japan are at private universities, and tuition is generally more expensive than that for other departments, so I was a little worried. When I learned about Meiji Gakuin’s “Shirogane no Oka Scholarship,” I made it my first choice because if I were accepted, I would be able to study what I wanted for only about thirty percent more than the tuition at a national public university. While studying for exams at home, I found an old mechanical pencil in my desk drawer. On it was inscribed “Meiji Gakuin University.” Since finding that memento of my first choice in schools, I never doubted that I’d end up going there.

I got that pencil in March 2011, when I was in fourth grade. That was when I lived through the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which struck my area. The elementary school I attended was only about 300 meters from the coast, so when the tsunami warning sounded, we evacuated to a kindergarten up the hill. I was still wearing my indoor shoes. My home was farther from the ocean, out of reach of the tsunami, but my school was flooded. My father came to pick me up from where we were sheltering, so I was able to get home, but since we had no power or water, I remember having to stay bundled up in a blanket against the cold.

The year after that, in the winter of fifth grade, there was an exchange event between soccer teams from Yokohama and from disaster-affected areas, and I traveled to Yokohama to participate. That was my first time visiting Yokohama, and I was both a little scared and a little excited about the idea of spending the night in a stranger’s home. Our match was held on Hepburn Field at MGU’s Yokohama campus, and the mechanical pencil was a gift I received afterward. For whatever reason, I had held on to it, and I’m still using it now, even applying tape to fix the clip when it broke. Sometimes I can’t help but feel as if that mechanical pencil brought me to this school.

My theater world expands at MGU

In my case, I knew exactly what I wanted to do in college: study theater. After school started, I joined the Theater Research Club and a theater company led by a former MGU student. While the COVID-19 pandemic placed some restrictions on us, I feel that I was able to do what I wanted.

One of the most memorable courses I took was titled “Special Topics in Film Studies 3B.” We were given assignments to make films, one of which was to create a film that makes no sense. That was a challenging assignment, because as soon as you point your camera at something and start filming, you’re creating meaning. I created a video of myself going into a classroom, sitting and reading for a while, then leaving the room, then I cut that video into short segments that I spliced together into a jumbled mess. I learned a lot from thinking deeply about what it means to have no meaning, and I realized that even things that are meaningless to some are meaningful to others.

Outside of class, I participated as an actor in an independent film production launched by several students in the Media Studies course in my department. They invited me to audition, so I did. It was a strange role, that of a job-hunter with a sleepwalking problem. I read the script they gave me, thinking about what kind of person that character was, and I discussed his characterization with the scriptwriter and the director. Rather than putting myself into the role, to develop an image of the character I pretended he was someone I was usually friends with, and I only tried to become him when I was acting. During the period when we were filming, however, people on the crew would sometimes tell me I was acting like the character I was playing. While I’m thankful for having the opportunity to learn what I wanted to learn, my biggest impression of that experience was one of enjoying youth to the fullest. By having been part of a work of art, I feel I have left an indelible sign of my having existed.

Artworks outlive those who created them, so I believe that creating them is in a sense a marvelous thing.

A sense of choosing things, a sense of their being chosen

I want to keep researching and learning practical aspects of film production, so I plan to go on to graduate school. I know there are some people who don’t consider film and theater as a necessary part of life, but if those works can bring joy to the life of those coming to the theater, I believe they have a certain significance.

I am aware that as part of my personality I am shy and unable to honestly open up to people. That is precisely why it can take a while to accept opinions and points of view that differ from my own. I tend to take a passive attitude toward what is happening to me, for better or worse, thinking, “Ah, well. That’s just the way things are.”

But since coming to Meiji Gakuin and interacting more with friends and teachers, I have realized how many people around me have interesting ideas. It definitely expanded my world, my tendency to just assume that people are one way or another and that they are not a good match with me. I was able to attend a theater company performance through connections with the club I’d joined, participate in an independent production project in the same department, and pave my path to graduate school. It certainly eased my first steps in that direction.

The people I’ve met at Meiji Gakuin have expanded my world. I feel as if I chose that experience for myself, but also as if it’s something that a mechanical pencil led me to. Whichever is the case, it’s a little bit strange, and a little bit romantic. I hope to continue believing such meaningless things, and making films that will have meaning for someone, while continuing to engage with the things I love.