Archive for the ‘Japanese Films’ Category

h1

January 29, 2013: Betwixt Two Worlds

January 29, 2013

Arrietty_and_Sean_in-fieldSoooooo….take a popular 1952 British story based on updated Celtic faerie imagery, further update it to a modern Japan anime. Then, translate the Japanese into English (with well-known and talented British actors in the speaking parts.) Transport the film to America, where Disney (who now controls the film’s distribution rights) feels somehow compelled to translate the British-English into American-English! Confused yet? With all these transformations, it takes a truly substantial and entertaining story to roll with all the changes. Somehow though, “The Secret World of Arrietty” does just that!

arrietty_under_leaf.jpgStudio Ghibli’s “The Secret World of Arrietty” is based on “The Brorrowers” by Mary Norton. “The Borrowers” were actually a series (a total of five) of books about small (about 5″) human-like creatures that live within, yet out of sight of, human households. Their name comes from their symbiotic habit of “borrowing”  materials that they need to live, from the “human beans” they live among, at the same time trying desperately not to be seen by those “beans.” The heroine of the story, Arrietty Clock (14 years old), lives with her father Pod, and mother Homily underneath the kitchen floorboards of a cottage in the English countryside. The Clock family have stories of other “Borrowers” but the reader/viewer sees no evidence of them for some time. Unlike the Celtic faerie creatures, “The Borrowers” do not have any magical ability, and seem to be just very small versions of the “beans” they live with. Their world is fraught with danger, not only from animals like cats and birds, but that a discovery of them by the “beans” would mean their expulsion into the wild, with all the dangers that represents.

Arrietty_and Sean“The Secret World of Arrietty” begins with the arrival of a young (human) boy (also about 14 years old) Shawn, at the cottage. Shawn is ill with a heart condition, from which he believes will soon die. Upon arriving, he notices Arrietty in the field outside of the house. On her first “borrowing” (an implied right of passage) Arrietty is seen, and mildly confronted, by Shawn. Once having met, they begin to learn more about, and ultimately trust one another, while both try to keep the secret of “The Borrowers” away from the other “beans” of the cottage.

“The Secret World of Arrietty” is only the latest film version of Mary Norton’s popular book. There was a 2011 TV movie; a 1997 film; a 1992 TV movie all called “The Borrowers.” I managed to find and watch the 1973 TV movie starring Eddie Albert as Pod, and this one comes closest to the book. This version also has, (while dated by 2013 standards) some pretty decent FX for its time.

While a few things managed to  twist the experience, I loved a lot of “The Secret World of Arrietty.” First, Studio  Ghibli’s films just get more and more visually detailed and beautiful! Second, the background sound is well done, often emphasized as it would be heard, made by large objects to tiny ears. I loved the instrumental music pieces and they were largely harp, very well suited to the faerie-like imagery. Most of the songs were very well suited, as well.

ForestI intend to write another article on Japanese-English translations as the problems of these are manifold. But really, what was the justification of the American-English version? Disney…c’mon you had fantastic voice talent with Mark Strong playing Pod and Saorise Ronan as Arrietty in the British-English version. That’s the version that I wanted to hear! Despite popular and talented voice talent of the likes of Amy Poehler and Carol Burnett, the American-English version was voiced alternately too flat or too shrill. A pop-song tacked onto the end-credits sounded totally inappropriate. Curious, I researched it and I found out it was sung by the young woman voicing Arrietty in the Disney version. This then, was just  shameless Disney promotion of their talent, and was totally unnecessary and discordant. The filmmakers left a large part of the original story intact, but their changes were just…confusing. They chose to introduce the character of “Spiller” in this story, when he doesn’t appear until the second “Borrowers” story. I haven’t read this one yet but I highly doubt he looks Ainu, like the “Spiller” from this film does. Either way, this choice seems odd, discriminatory, and just plain wrong.

Sean_in_fieldThe other change…the biggest and worst…was to make Arrietty and the boy Shawn the same age. In the book, the “bean” boy is 1o years old to Arrietty’s 14 years old. This is a huge psychological/emotional gulf. I know that in “…Ariettey” they were trying to set up a Tweeny-Twilight knd of romance there, but it just comes out distracting. Witness the scores of IMDB-ers who question the possibility of a “romance” when they consider the two characters’ large size difference. If a plot point takes you out of the film, it’s just not worth doing it. It is especially harmful, as the “romance” takes  a lot of the strength from the main character of Arrietty. In the book, she is clearly more mature, self-possessed.  and emotionally sound than the younger boy, and she often corrects his rather petulant behavior. Norton seems to be saying that a smaller physical size and being female does not mean you are not in control of your life. Losing Arrietty’s strength for “romance” is not a good, nor wise, trade for the character.

However, there is still much to like about “The Secret World of Arrietty” not the least is an interesting retelling of a perennial favorite. As the only Studio Gihbli film to sport a “G” rating, this makes it a good one for the kids.I leave it to the parents to de-program the Disney-fied parts. Oh…and to read the originals to the kids at bedtime.

[My thanks to the Hudson Public Library for supplying not only the film, but the Mary Norton original book.]

Advertisements
h1

January 18, 2013: Revisiting “Spirited Away”

January 18, 2013
Some really fantastic fanart of "Spirited Away" by Silver Melody

Some really fantastic fanart of “Spirited Away” by Silver Melody

I had the pleasure of seeing “Spirited Away” in theaters back when it first came to the states in 2001. Thanks to the Hudson Public Library I was too able to revisit it (as well as eleven other Studio Ghibli animations) in a great boxed set I discovered on their shelves.

“Spirited Away” is one of the most popular animations of all film history, not only in Japan (where it has won many awards and was the first film to surpass “Titanic” in sales there) but also pretty much the rest of the world as well. Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, much in the vein of classic “coming of age” tales such as “Alice in Wonderland” “Peter Pan” and “The Wizard of Oz,” “Spirited Away” follows the adventures of ten-year-old girl, Chihiro, as she is mystically transported to an “otherworld” to suffer the bewilderment and loneliness of a stranger in a strange land. Foreign to the “rules” of this world, she is forced to find aid from the otherworldy people and creatures she finds there to overcome adversity, learn what is important, gain strength, find acceptance, and eventually…love, only then to find a way back home again.

Chihiro on Street_smAt the beginning of “Spirited Away” Chihiro, her mom and dad are traveling to a new town where they are moving. Close to their new house, the dad takes a wrong turn and comes to a dead-end of a standing stone in front of a tunnel. Curious, they enter the tunnel which comes out in a kind of abandoned amusement park. The parents notice that all the shops are restaurants, and eventually settle on one to begin eating. Chihiro, who is bit freaked out by the eerie surroundings to eat with them, walks on and finds a boy, Haku, who is surprised to find her there and anxiously orders her to return or else she will be trapped there if she doesn’t return before nightfall. As night descends, the park lights illuminate a town filled with specters. Chihiro runs back to the restaurant where she left her parents to find them transformed into pigs!

spirited-away-smChihiro is forced to return to the bath-house, which is the center of the town, where she starts to disappear, but before she can dissolve completely, she is rescued by Haku who feeds her a berry that restores her. Haku tells her that to prevent being turned into an animal herself, Chihiro’s only recourse is to find work from the witch, Yubaba, who runs the onsen (bath-house.) Chihiro strikes a bargain with Yubaba, who’s contract includes stealing Chihiro’s name. The work turns out to be a bit harder and bizarre than Chihiro expects as the onsen’s clientele are “gods” (but to Western eyes, they appear more like monsters.) One creature that Chihiro keeps running into is Nil-Face: a dark and insubstantial spirit with a blank expression and a rather innocent and benign temperament. Nil-Face helps Chihiro gain favor, aiding her to clean a “Stink-god” who then transforms into a river-god after the bath, leaving behind gold amidst the muck. Nil-Face notices the appeal the gold has on the staff and uses it to gain service for an outrageous amount of food. As Nil-Face consumes, he grows…and changes. He becomes more aggressive and eventually violent. He tries to tempt Chihiro with gold, but she resists and feeds him a charm that makes him disgorge the food, transforming him back into his benign form.

The story continues with more adventures for Chihiro, including a considerable amount of magic; a rivalry between Yubaba and her “good” twin sister Zeniba; the true nature of Haku, his prior history with Chihiro, and an assortment of odd “otherworld” characters…not the least of which is Yubaba’s 500Lb. “baby.”

“Spirited Away” is wonderful on many levels: first, the animation is just gorgeous. Not only the character animation, but even the backgrounds are stunning! The music is very well done, throughout, culminating with an especially pretty vocal piece for the credit sequence. Rich in details, I pick up something new from “Spirited Away” with each viewing. As always, story must be king and “Spirited Away” has a depth of story that draws on a plethora of mythological images, themes, and ideas from not only Japan, but from European sources as well. It’s one of those great films that prompt a good after-film-coffee discussion. There are better and more learned sources for the Japanese mythology, but either as part of the collective unconscious, or borrowed directly from the European sources I was familiar with, there were a couple of things that jumped out at me that really made the story work.

Chi+Nil-Face_on_trainFirst, the structure of “transport” into the spirit or faerie realm as the tunnel guarded by a standing stone could be straight from the many of Celtic legends of “faerie hills” that have just such a construction. Once within the faerie world there are rules: humans must never eat faerie food. To do so will bind you to that world and erase your memory of the mortal world. [Persephone, daughter the harvest-goddess Demeter, was condemned to six months in Hell for eating six pomegranate seeds given by Hades, which is why we have Winter.] It is careful that you never reveal your true name, as this will allow power over you by the faerie. [The clever Odysseus goes by the moniker “Noman” so that his actions against the gods can be said to be done by “no-man.”] Also borrowed from the Odyssey is the witch, Circe, transforming Odysseus’s men into pigs. There is usually a faerie guide in these stories to aid the human caught in their world. This guide normally does not return to the mortal realm with the hero(ine.)

Miyazaki weaves his own personal beliefs and experiences among the classical themes, to good effect. His protest over human disregard for the environment is shown in the transformation of the “Stink-god” into a “River-god” through the ritual bath. He seems to say that it is up to the compassion of youth today to act in order cleanse away the ills of our pollution of nature. With the transformation of the benign Nil-Face into a monster/destroyer, Miyazaki seems to suggest that avarice/desire is the antithesis of spirit and will destroy harmony of the self. Miyazaki has been quoted saying “Everyone has a Nil-Face within themselves.”

Of course, whether it is Alice, Wendy, Dorothy, and now, Chihiro, the most important theme of these stories is that in order to overcome adversity (not to mention just plain weirdness) pass from childhood into adulthood, and to finally return safely home, you must be first find…and then be true, to yourself.

h1

September 11, 2012: Sleeping with Hedgehogs

September 11, 2012

I’ve been noticing new DVDs coming in at my local library (Hudson Public Library) and I thought I had a triple score when I found that they had a new-ish Independent Japanese film slated to be comedy! The trouble was that after watching, I realized I didn’t like it! I find that those films that trouble your spirit may be the ones that can make you grow the most, and I was glad that I sat on it a while and gave it a re-watch to figure it out a little more. It was in one of those weird moments of synchronicity that life sometimes throws at us that it came together even more for me. That moment took the form of an Aesop’s Fable I was reading while mulling the movie over.

The Hedgehog and the Snakes
A hedgehog had selected a comfortable cave as his home only to find the cave already occupied by a family of snakes. “Would it be OK if I used one corner of your cave to spend the Winter?” the hedgehog asked. The snakes generously offered to share their home. The hedgehog moved into the corner, curled up in a ball, stuck out his prickly quills and settled in for his Winter’s nap. Before long, the snakes realized that they could not move one bit without being pricked by the hedgehog’s quills. After bearing this discomfort for a while the snakes finally complained to the hedgehog. “That’s just too bad,” said their guest. “I am most comfortable here, but if you snakes are not satisfied, why don’t you move out?” He then curled up to resume his nap.

Moral: It is safer to know one’s guest before offering him hospitality.

Hospitalité (2010) by Foji Fukada story centers around a small family who own and run a small “mom & pop” printing shop with living quarters above. The father, Mikio leads a busy but understated life managing the shop with the help from his young and lovely wife, Natsuki. They have a young daughter, Eriko that Mikio has had with his former wife. One can tell the current situation is fairly new as Eriko treats Natsuki with some emotional distance, calling her “teacher” as their main connection is from Natsuki trying to teach Eriko English. The family has another new situation as Mikio’s sister, Seiko is in the home/shop, herself recently divorced. The local neighborhood has a watch group out for the activities of the gaijin (foreigners) in the area, whom they detest. This watch group seems to have a mission to rope as many members of the family into its fold as they can. The family has recently lost their pet parakeet and are busy posting fliers around for anyone who may have seen the bird.

Enter Kagawa, someone who lives nearby, who finds the flyer and visits the printing shop with “information” about the bird’s location, saying that he has seen it in the park. By hook or by crook, Kagawa slowly injects himself into the work and family at the shop/home. First, he sells himself as a replacement for an ill worker. Then, he moves into the house, saying he has been evicted. Then, suddenly a gaijin woman shows up in the house when the family returns one day. She is Annabelle, Kagawa’s wife of convenience. Annabelle also slowly invades the family’s life, first by taking over English lessons for Eriko, as her English is better, as is Kagawa’s it turns out. Annabelle says that she is Brazilian to the family but in a later scene introduces herself as Serbian to a visitor. The odd couple slowly takes over just about every aspect of the family’s life and business, until it is clear that the family are the guests in their own home!

So a fine independent film, with rich characters, shot well with a good story, and well executed Hospitalité still left me unsettled for a number of reasons: first, my own issues aside, I find it hard to believe anyone would qualify this film as a comedy. At best, some scenes were amusing. There was nothing approaching even a chuckle. Good drama, but misrepresented as a comedy.

Second, I lack the cultural knowledge to weigh what seems to be an important aspect of the script: how foreigners are perceived by Japanese. The foreigners were portrayed in exactly the way that the watch group fears: loud, obnoxious, intrusive to Japanese life, yet at the end, Mikio chastises the watch group, telling them to lay off his “friends” who all at that point have been the opposite of “friendly” (or even considerate) to him. At the same time, it’s clear that the family has grown from the contact of the foreigners, but at a great cost. Someday, I will see this with Teja, my good friend who lived labeled as a “gaijin” in Japan up until he came to the States for college and he can best explain the significance of all of this (and I promise an update, then.)

The main unsettling component to Hospitalité was the character of Kagawa. Having had my share of treacherous and dishonorable Machiavellian personalities in my real life, I can no longer appreciate them in my entertainment. Kagawa is Iago, he is Don John, he is every rotten, cowardly schemer of literature and film. I suppose my extreme reaction ultimately is testimony to how well the story works. Also, having lost so much in my life, the idea that someone could lose their privacy and personal space, frankly…terrifies me.

So, with almost no laughs, but still a good execution, plot, and acting Hospitalité is a decent indie. Even with my criticisms, I still plan on seeing it at least once more to understand it better. But I have no misgivings: at parts I will be gritting my teeth and enduring. Kinda like sleeping with hedgehogs.

h1

November 30, 2011: “American Pastime”

November 30, 2011

There is this prejudice I just have to get over, and that is that I have it in my mind that I hate any film that has a sports orientation. Although a rather harmless one, and certainly only affecting me,  like most prejudices they exist only in the mind, have little to do with reality, and invariably limit growth. So, there were these two movies on the library shelf that I have been avoiding forever, even ‘tho I was pretty sure that a part of me would really like them. The first was “Invictus” that I saw last month. Loved it. C’mon. Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela? One of my most favorite poems in the title? Why did I wait so long? And, after that experience, why did I wait another month to try “American Pastime?” Why? Well, that’s the part of myself  I struggle with.

“American Pastime” begins as a an American utopia: it’s title sequence uses a blend of documentary footage of 1941 combined with movie stills to tell a quick story of a group of young integrated friends as they grow up in California. The movie starts as these friends are hanging out upstairs, talking about their loves: jazz, baseball, and their favorite movie stars. Their parents are downstairs organizing a cookout for them all. I love the quick pan of the food on the table where you get to see corn on the cob, spaghetti with sauce, and riceballs (and what I think is okonomiyaki!!!) all together on one table. This is an America that was supposed to be. Unfortunately, December 7th, 1941, the “Day of Infamy,” changed all of that.

Within the first few minutes of the film, the Nomura family (father, mother, and two teenage brothers) are packed up, along with 120,000 others of Japanese-Americans, told to sell all they own, and are shipped off inland, the Nomuras to Utah to be interred in the Topaz Relocation Center.

I’ve written about this black chapter of American history before in my article “Kiri’s Piano” and I readdress it here, because I still find it hard to believe that America interred it’s own citizens with no proof of collusion with an enemy. Yes, America was at war, but we were at war with the Germans and Italians at the same time, yet only Japanese-Americans were interred.

The Nomura family, along with their fellow internees, try to form a sense of normalcy in their new and rather bleak surroundings. The deal with the bigotry of not only their guards, but also a few of the townspeople, as they go into town to buy supplies to improve their camp. One of the things I like about “American Pastime” is that the bigotry is dealt with in a realistic way. They show people the way they really are: not every one of the townspeople is hostile, some of those who are, change to the better. Some will simply, never let go of their hatred. The bond that all the people have in common is the game. Baseball is the cultural glue of the American people and as long as you play well (physically and ethically) it doesn’t matter what your heritage is. Dignity and mutual respect can be achieved through excellence.

“American Pastime” is not a perfect movie. It tries a little too hard to stuff many worthwhile topics into the film: bigotry in time of war: issues between fathers and sons, between brothers, between lovers: all very noble topics, but a little too much for one film. Still if you like dramas based on real life, or (unlike me) have no issues with sports films, “American Pastime” could be the film for you.

Check out the “making of” part of the DVD. They interview some of the Japanese-American heroes of the 422nd Regimental Combat Team (the  most decorated in US Armed history.) They also interview the actors, and to quote one who sums up well the notion that dignity can come through a game says, “There are more important things in life, but sometimes it takes a game to understand them.”

h1

June 30, 2011: Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran”

June 30, 2011

Here’s a premise: take an ancient Celtic legend of a semi-mythical King of Britain (“King Leir”), then have this rewritten 500 years later by the bard William Shakespeare (“King Lear”), then let this steep in literary consciousness for almost 400 years, then have one of the greatest directors of the 20thC. rewrite the story, mixing in a real life 16thC. Japanese historical figure and a “Noh” theatric style. THIS is “Ran” (1985) directed by Akira Kurosawa, as his last truly epic film.

Much like “Saving Private Ryan” “Ran” is a film about a war, but focusing on the ultimate futility of war. Unlike the character of King Lear in Shakespeare’s play, who is basically innocent but gets caught up in the machinations of those around him, the King Hidetora in “Ran” is guilty of horrible crimes against his enemies. He  has built up a karmic debt for all the misery that befalls him and is eventually forced to revisit all of his past violent deeds. Also, unlike “King Lear” in “Ran” instead of daughters showing filial honor/dishonor, it is sons, neatly color-coded to be able to track their armies. Taro (yellow) is the oldest and is first bequeathed the kingdom by Hidetora. Second oldest is Jiro (red) becomes a contender to Taro’s inheritance. Both these older sons pretend devotion to their father, but the minute he relinquishes power, they try to totally exclude him from his own kingdom. Hidetora’s youngest son, Saburo (blue) is truly respectful and  loyal to his father, but is not perceived so by Hidetora, because Saburo tells his father the truth, not what he wants to hear.

Much like the Shakespeare play, “Ran” is full of delicious minor characters that flesh out the play. There is the clown, Kyomi, who has both funny and poignant moments. Lady  Kaede is truly Machiavellian: a physically and mentally worthy villain, and one of the strongest woman characters in cinema. As evil as she is, Kaede acts not without reason as Hidetora has destroyed her family. Kaede is offset by Lady Sue, while suffering the same loss at Hidetora’s hands, has adopted Buddhist ways and is a truly good and forgiving person. My favorite is Kurogare, Jiro’s vassal, who constantly gives the best advice (that Jiro foolishly never takes)  and pits himself against the evils of Lady Kaede.

“Ran” which means “chaos” or “revolt” has some of the best battle scenes in cinema. Grand in scale, it’s hard to believe Kurosawa could pull a film of this magnitude off in a pre-digital era, like: building a $1.5 million castle just to burn it to the ground! 1500 extras, 250 horses, beautiful costumes, gorgeous sets, “Ran” is huge!!! If you want to see a film the way they used to make them (and really never will again) see Kurosawa’s “Ran!”

h1

May 12, 2011: “Grave of the Fireflies”

May 12, 2011

I’ve never been a huge anime fan, but I try to stay open to film styles in general. I remember seeing “Spirited Away” (2001) in theaters and enjoyed it, so when I found consistent high ratings for “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988) I was intrigued.

The story is set place  in Japan, 1945, at the end of WWII. The main characters are Seita, a boy of about 12 years old and his sister, Setsuko who is about 3-4 years old. I’m not giving anything away by saying that the whole film is a series of events before the two children’s death, as Seita’s first words recount that this is the night he died and with Setsuko’s absence, her death is implied as well. So, I want to be upfront and say that “Grave of the Fireflies” is not the most “cheery” film out there, but rather, is a poignant study of effects of war on innocents and the nobility of humans struggling under hard conditions.

The city of Kobe, where Seita and Setsuko live, is firebombed and they lose their mother. Their father is absent serving in the military, so they are sent to their aunt’s house in Nishinomiya. The unsympathetic aunt plays a kind of subtle wicked stepmother who resents the added burden of the extra kids in a time of shortages of war. Seita picks up on this, and has the idea of moving he and his sister to a nearby shelter in the woods. At first, this is a kind of an adventure which gives the children freedom to explore  life in kind of Tom Sawyer way. They have time to establish themselves, experience nature and reminisce about the better times of their life. They find  a nearby field full of  fireflies that they capture to fill their shelter with their light. The next day, as Setsuko is burying the dead fireflies, Seita finds out that the aunt has told Setsuko that their mother is dead (something Seita desperately wanted to spare Setsuko.) Eventually, conditions decay. Despite Seita’s best efforts, Setsuko is wasting away from malnutrition and soon she dies.

Despite this rather morose setup, “Grave of the Fireflies” is, surprisingly, a film about the beauty of those simple moments of life that we all take for granted: playing on the beach, the sour taste of  pickled plum, chasing butterflies, the playfulness of our children, the sweet taste of fruit drops, the memories that fill our life…and if you’ve ever spent a night in a field of fireflies you understand the magic of nature. All this, and more, is packed into “Grave of the Fireflies” while not ignoring the sadness inherent in life.

“Grave of the Fireflies” is not quite a perfect film. Viewers will find at least one major logic flaw that momentarily  detracts from the story line, but what the film lacks in logic, it makes up for in heart. One comment that I have read over and over is that “Grave of the Fireflies” is one of those films that sits with the viewer for some time after. It is based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka who, during the war, lost his younger sister to malnutrition in a similar way that Seita loses Setsuko. The novel was Nosaka’s way to come to terms with this.

I’ve always considered that fireflies were (at least partial)  inspiration to the plethora of Edwardian faery stories. Certainly, any creature that manufactures its own light to shine as a beacon, as it flies through the night air, is envocative of many things to the human imagination: magical spirits, ghosts, the soul, etc. As she is burying the fireflies, Setsuko asks Seita “Why do all the fireflies die so soon?” A very human question indeed…but, of course, we are all fireflies.

h1

March 08, 2011: Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”

March 8, 2011

When I found my library stocked Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” I was psyched! When I found that this Criterion Collection had 3 DVDs stocked with extras including a tag-team of different commentators, and several documentaries about Kurosawa, I was even more excited! Imagine having everything I could possibly want to know about one of the greatest films, by one of the world’s greatest directors (“SS” was one of Kurosawa’s personal favorites.) Before you see “SS,” try to get the Criterion version which has the full 3+1/2 hours of Kurosawa’s vision. I know, 3+1/2 hours of a foreign film seems like a lot, but honestly, when it was over, I could have easily watched more. Most of the reason it has to be this long is “SS” has many good characters (in addition to the main seven samurai, there are many villagers) who play important roles and are worth every bit of Kurosawa’s rich exploration and development.

“Seven Samurai (1954)” is considered by many to be the greatest Japanese film ever made. It revolutionized Kurosawa’s career and allowed him to make the “Jidai Geki” or “Period-style Film” truly his own. “SS” went on to inspire many films, (the first being its American remake “The Magnificent Seven” 1960.)

The story takes place in 1467, feudal Japan, during a time of civil war. “Ronin” or masterless samurai, threaten to sack a village of farmers as soon as the harvest is in. The farmers, incapable of defending themselves, attempt to bribe other starving “ronin” with their meager supplies of food too help defend their village, when the time comes to do so. The villagers are impressed with the heroic actions of Kanbê (played by Takashi Shimura) a samurai who rescues a woman and her child from a kidnapper, by posing as a Buddhist monk. Kanbê proves to be everything right with the code of Bushido (warrior code of ethics of a samurai) he lives by. He is wise, strong, even-tempered, kind, patient, funny, a brilliant strategist, and a perfect leader. He puts other ronin through trials to test their spirit and ability and soon comes up with a team of seven to help the villagers. Each of these has a distinct personality and ability that adds to the group. These skills will all come into play as the bandits raiding the village outnumber the samurai about 6:1!

This film has been criticized as being anti-democratic, but I think that falls a little flat considering the time period Kurosawa made this. Certainly, a anti-democratic film would do nothing for Japan, at this time, and would have been a flop in foreign markets, if this were true. I think “Seven Samurai” is a film about people at their best: individuals who come together with stoicism under hard times. The seven become a group to protect the defenseless with strength, honor and integrity. The film actually shows the flaws of a feudal caste system and the ultimate downfall of the samurai because of them.

A suggestion: watch it through and then watch it again with the commentary, which is full of insights of Japanese culture and history and tons of film facts! While doing research for this article, I found another remake is in production this year, set in modern day Thailand. No, PLEASE! Not necessary! I guess Hollywood is running outta good stories!

…and if the term “Jidai Geki” seems a little familiar to you, so did it to me, as well. A little checking on the “Star Wars” fanboy sites confirmed that this is where Lucas came up with the term: “Jedi!”

%d bloggers like this: