Earlier today, I was thinking about the two films: A Japanese drama series, 1 Litre of Tears (2005) and an American movie, Million Dollar Baby (2004). As both depict female 'fighters', a comparison between their personalities might be informative, telling us something about the difference between the Japanese and American cultures.
I can write in detail, but I'll try to keep it as short and concise as possible.
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I don't want to criticize or belittle Maggie's decision to end her life. To me, she is a real fighter (wish I had a fraction of her resolution). But ok! Let's talk about the two heroes!
Both Aya and Maggie have serious physical problems. For Aya, it's spinocerebellar ataxia which causes her to lose all her motor activities and finally die. For Maggie, a former professional boxer, it's ventilator-dependent quadriplegic, loss of voluntary movement and sensation in all four extremities. So, both face tragic and hopeless situations, however their reactions are different. Aya fights to the end, to the point that she literally can't do anything, even eating, while Maggie asks her trainer to help her commit suicide. Surely, Maggie isn't a weak personality. Contrarily, she is a real fighter. Without serious support and in the worst condition, she is so determined that she becomes one of the best professional boxers. However, when she faces the serious physical problem, her life is finished. She is happy that she had her moments, that she was at the top, but her new and crippled life has no meaning for her. However, for Aya, the real battle starts exactly when her situation seems totally hopeless. She is going to lose her normal life and ability to do simple things gradually and painfully, but she fights like a hero. Why? What's her motivation? What does she have that Maggie lacks?
It needs a serious and detailed discussion, but I'd like to point to two differences that seems cultural, not merely individual.
First, while for Maggie, the real motivation is to stand out and be the best (boxer), For Aya, it's to become someone who others can rely one. This is Aya's goal even before her disease. She has some ideas and jobs in her mind to fulfill the dream (going to college and ...), but when due to her disease, she notices that she is not able to pursue those ideas, she is ready to modify them, since as far as there is a chance to become someone who others can rely on, she has more than enough motivation to fight against the worst circumstances. At the end, when she can do almost nothing, her mother reminds her that she is still able to write and her diary can motivate other people in similar situation to not give up. And this is enough for Aya. In fact, through publishing her diaries, she finally manages to fulfil her dream: She becomes someone who others can rely on! (Aya! Thank you so much! I really want to be a person someday that can claim 'I rely on Aya').
Aya's fight can't be understood unless it is seen in the context of her family. In fact, it's not only Aya's fight, it's her whole family's fight. All members of her family do their best to be supportive. And when for a short period, because of being bullied by his peers, her little brother becomes ashamed of the ill sister, all members of family, especially Aya's sister, are ready to help the little kid understand how important Aya is for them. Similarly, one main motivation for Aya is to be a good first sibling. And in fact, she is the best role model for her siblings, making her sister try harder and improve to fulfil Aya's dream for her. On the other hand, Maggie is alone. She tries to help her mother, but her family is too dysfunctional. Worse than that, they try to trick Maggie and take benefit of her terrible condition. Surely, not all American families are like that, but anyway, it shouldn't be unfair to say that Japanese families tend to be more supportive and caring and work as a unit.
I tried to be concise, but wasn't successful! Sorry, when I think and talk about Aya, I can't stop myself.