Saturday, January 03, 2004

Looking forward...

As I settle into the new year, I brace myself for the challenges ahead. The previous year ended on a rather uneasy note, and I am faced with many questions. I suppose that things would be much better if I just invest the time... But as BarbEric recognized, I'm in the clutches of Xanga!

Still, it is therapeutic, and allows me to write what i wanna write about. I saw the movie Better Luck Tomorrow and thought it was pretty interesting and will write about it soon. I also want to finish NLUTE, which I will soon. For now, I will talk a little about the Last Samurai...

Last Samurai: Depicting the Past...
So many people were saying so many good things about The Last Samurai, that I was afraid that I would be in for a big let down. Indeed, even Musubi-chan thought it was a good flick, that it incorporated the spirit of Bushido, that it well represented many of the things she believed to be true of her native land. And I must admit that there were many things to like about it. First, the movie was visually stunning. From the very first scenes of Japan, the film depicted a Japan that even the Japanese have never done. The vista of Yokohama as the boat carrying Nathan Algren approached was fascinating. I don't think I've ever scene a movie depicting premodern Japan on such a scale. The city itself was also wonderful, as it successfully depicted the narrow yet corwded streets of a blossoming port town. I understand that the designers studied many photos from the mid 19th century and created the look and feel of the movie, and they did a great job. (I have a photo book of 19th century photos and many of them look exactly like they were taken from the movie!) The costume was also well done. While I'm sure the designers had many Japanese advisors, many of the costumes were designed by the American staff. Amazing.

But perhaps the most amazing were the battle scenes. I have seen a few samurai movies in my day: Samurai Trilogy (Miyamoto Musashi), Kurosawa flicks from Seven Samurai to Sanjuro to Ran, as well as the campy Sato Ichi and Kozure Okami (Lone wolf and cub) series. All are good, and exciting, but none of these had the hakuryoku (ferocity?) that The Last Samurai exhibited. As kid I often compared the fighting in medieval western tales with Japanese samurai tales. Samurai movies were always refined, a struggle between combatants with swords. Rarely was there any physical contact. Compared the the grabbing and pushing depitcted in fights in the Adventures of Robin Hood or the Three Musketeers, samurai seemed like true swordsmen who repsected the "art" of the sword. Of course, when you think about it, a fight is a fight is a fight. I learned this in karate (5 years of Shotokan). Once a senpai challenged three of the older guys to a mock fight. While there were no blows to the head or crotch, everything else was pretty much fair game. After a few punches, they seemed to really get into it and there was much more grabbing, pushing and kneeing than the typical image of a karate fight choreographed in a movie. It certainly bore no resemblance to the kata (Form: choreographed moves in an imagined fight) we practiced time and again. Since then I began to envision fights as a more brutal affair than a clean cut one. There was a TV show once in Japan starring Sugi Ryutaro. He is loder than me, but quite athletic and a great swordsman (for movies). But in this TV show--Kenka-ya Ukon 喧嘩屋右近--Sugi-san fought in this manner, a brawler who was good with a sword. This was the kind of fighting that was depicted in the Last Samurai: brutal, physical, very real. And it was exciting.

I really liked this movies and gave it 4 stars (out of 5) on my MovieLens* ratings. Still, the movie did have it's drawbacks, which I will address tomorrow.

* NOTE MovieLens is a place where you open an account and rate movies. It's free. After a few ratings, the site will provide you with predictions of your ratings. The more you rate, the more accurate the prediction. At this point I have rated 910 films and it predicts most movies fairly accurately, except of foreign films. I often give Japanese films high ratings, and the program figures I like foreign films and predicts I will like every French, Russian, German and Italian movie that comes out.

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