Kagemusha

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #267: Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha.

Kagemusha

This is a very thought-pro­vok­ing film. The sto­ry could have eas­i­ly been turned in­to farce but for the un­bear­able ten­sion that Shingen’s dou­ble is forced to shoul­der in main­tain­ing the pre­tense that he ac­tu­al­ly is the ruler, while the re­al Shingen mold­ers at the bot­tom of a lake. The lengths that “his” re­tain­ers go to up­hold the il­lu­sion of “his” rule be­comes a clear tes­ta­ment to the ne­ces­si­ty of sta­ble gov­er­nance, but al­so sug­gests that it is mis­guid­ed to put that trust in a speci­fic per­son, rather than the po­si­tion it­self.

Shingen is such a strong ruler that that the mere ru­mor of his death brings a gleam in­to the eye of his an­tag­o­nists, and the dash­ing of that ru­mor puts their tails back be­tween their legs. His wis­dom is such that his last or­ders pre­serve his realm for 3 years af­ter his death, be­fore his im­pul­sive and dis­owned son Katsuyori pro­vides the pud­dding-proof that line-of-de­scent preser­va­tion of a coun­try of­ten pays a hor­ri­ble price. Though the ma­jor­i­ty of the film keeps us with the rul­ing class­es, the fact that Shingen’s dou­ble is a pet­ty thief saved from cru­ci­fix­ion al­ways keeps the poor com­mon Japanese peas­antry “in the room”. The ram­pant slaugh­ter at the end of the film is there­fore much more poignant, and a worse night­mare than any­thing the thief-turned-Shingen has dreamed for the last three years of his life.

Though this thief, is, os­ten­si­bly, the kage­musha, the true shad­ow war­rior is the dead Shingen, who was far­sight­ed and clev­er enough to know how his lega­cy would crum­ble af­ter his death if his prepa­ra­tions and or­ders were not fol­lowed. A man that comes along on­ce in a cen­tu­ry, but realms are meant to last longer than a sin­gle ruler.

Incidentally, this movie got me itch­ing to play that old 8 bit Nintendo turn-based strat­e­gy and re­source-man­age­ment game Shingen The Ruler.

Sanjuro

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A part of this view­ing listCriterion Collection Spine #53: Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro.

At first watch, this film is more comedic and less com­pelling than Yojimbo. At its essence, this is a bud­dy flick, but Sanjuro has a dou­ble hand­ful of im­petu­ous id­iots to wran­gle in­stead of just one. Because of this, Sanjuro’s ut­most ca­pa­bil­i­ty stands out at all times. He comes across as an uber­men­sch ron­in who’s so bored with be­ing a badass that he helps out the­se bum­blers just to en­liven his day. This might ac­tu­al­ly turn the film from a com­e­dy in­to a satire.

I would make the ar­gu­ment that there is an im­plic­it cri­tique of Japanese so­cial struc­ture here, all the mun­dane samu­rai are the me­dieval equiv­a­lent of mod­ern salary­men and they all want to be like the boss­man, Sanjuro. He, on the oth­er hand, is self-prim­ing and au­tonomous. Because of this, he is filled with a kind of whim­si­cal con­tempt to­ward the oth­er samu­rai who place worth on things ex­ter­nal to them­selves. This is a lone­ly place for Sanjuro, and would ir­rev­o­ca­bly dark­en the tone of the film if not for the pres­ence of Mutsuta’s wife. She’s the on­ly oth­er non-vil­lain­ous char­ac­ter who has the same sort of self-pos­ses­sion, and her peace with her­self is a marked con­trast to Sanjuro’s dis­con­tent. He rec­og­nizes this, and the re­fine­ment of her per­son­al­i­ty gives Sanjuro a foun­da­tion from which he can launch his fury.

The re­cip­i­ent of this ire, and the on­ly oth­er char­ac­ter Sanjuro in­stinc­tive­ly re­spects, is the oth­er au­tonomous ac­tor: Hanbei Muroto. Though forced to kill him, Sanjuro has no de­sire to do so, and the film ends as he con­tin­ues his search for a group of his equals.