Forgive the rambling nature of this post. It's hard to find much to say about such an underdeveloped aspect of the movie, but here goes...
I was thinking about this movie in the shower this morning (because of course I was), and I had a realization.
This has been among my favorite G flicks ever since I first saw it, which was probably in early 1994. But I've also never been blind to its flaws. One thing that I always identified as a flaw is that, while Teresawa is a basically likable enough lead, a good point of view characterm but he doesn't really have a story of his own. His romantic relationship with Chiaki always felt tacked-on, and the "you're my ancestor" bit with Emi seemed kind of pointless.
And then, this morning, it all tied together in my head.
Initially, Teresawa's want is established as: become a more respected/credible journalist. We don't really know if he gets that or not, but that's not the end of the world, because a protagonist's want is a starting point; if it's the whole point of a story, than you have a two-dimensional story.
But a good protagonist has a want and a need that differ from each other (though ideally they are meaningfully related), and it is the need that should be paid off in the end. So, what is Teresawa's need?
The realization that I had is that Teresawa does have a need, and that it ties in to both his desire for credibility as a journalist, his relationship with Chiaki, and the revelation about his relationship to Emi.
Teresawa is disappointed to learn that his book wasn't a best seller. This not only calls into question the viability of his want, but also clues us into his need, which - appropriately enough, in a movie about the past shaping the present and the present shaping the future - is a legacy.
In the end, he won't get that legacy through his journalism. He'll get it through Chiaki (okay, that's a little dehumanizing, isn't it), in the form of their descendants, including Emi.
So, yay, possibly my biggest problem with this movie is no longer a problem.
Tokyo, a smoldering memorial to the unknown, an unknown which at this very moment still prevails and could at any time lash out with its terrible destruction anywhere else in the world.