Let’s examine more closely Tifa’s reaction to Cloud in the final FMV at the moment he chooses to meet Aerith. Some people claim that Tifa snuggles up to Cloud and smiles during the scene where they are hanging off the ledge. In actuality, Tifa makes a gesture of this sort only in the scene below, which is before Cloud says, “I think I can meet her… there”.
Once Cloud makes his choice to go to Aerith, Tifa makes no more movements of this sort. Instead, you can see her initial response to Cloud’s words in the picture below. Her reaction is obviously one of dismay and shock, rather than pleasure. At this point, Tifa realizes that Cloud will return to Aerith, and that Aerith will always be first in his heart.
After her initial reaction of dismay, Tifa’s facial expression changes. At this point, some people say that Tifa smiles. However, if you study the close ups of her mouth below, you will see that Tifa is not actually smiling. Instead, her lips are pursed together, almost in a frown. It is simply a visual illusion that Tifa is smiling, largely due to the camera angle on the curve of her face. If you focus on Tifa’s eyes, she does appear to be smiling. However, if you focus on her mouth, Tifa’s expression is actually that of a lost soul.
Even if Tifa were smiling here, a smile is not necessarily an indication of pleasure or happiness for the Japanese. The smile can often be an expression that conceals embarrassment, pain, or anguish. In an uncomfortable situation it is not uncommon for the Japanese to give a nervous laugh or awkward smile to conceal the true emotion.
Tifa’s last response to Cloud is to bow her head in submission and resignation. Tifa does not snuggle against Cloud as she does this, although some people say that she does. Instead, she simply lowers her head, which is a gesture equivalent to a bow in Japanese society when made to a person with whom you are familiar. Besides, Tifa is unable to bow anything but her head as they are hanging in mid-air off the ledge. In the tradition of the Japanese, a bow represents humility and the desire to honor and respect another person. As Tifa says, “Yeah, let’s go meet her”, she is honoring Cloud’s wish to go to Aerith.
Again, we are seeing the element of self-sacrifice here, and one that demonstrates Tifa’s love for Cloud. The Japanese believe that the karmic balance of the world is such that nothing is gained without something else being lost. In shoujo and bishoujo stories, a sacrifice can be something as extreme as death, or giving up on your own hopes and dreams so that someone else can accomplish theirs.
Out of her love for Cloud, Tifa sacrifices her own happiness so that Cloud may follow his own dream… to be with Aerith, his light.
No matter what the time
Because you’re by my side
The light known as “you” finds me,
In the middle of the night.
-Utada Hikaru, Hikari (Light)