Japn 340 Japanese Cinema
Final Paper Ideas
1. Following the Kurosawa Thread Option
Kurosawa has written that while he was never invested in the formal conventions of the jidaigeki films, he longed "to construct a a grand action film without sacrificing the portrayal of humans." Yoshimoto, p. 240) Likewise, Prince argues that "For Kurosawa's ethical project to persist, the past must disclose possibilities of freedom and humane action not immediately accessible to the present (203)....Seven Samurai is a film about the modern wor[ld], an attempt, by moving farther back into history, to uncover the dialectic between class and the individual, an effort to confront the social construction of self and see whether this annihilates the basis for individual heroism (206)." In the end, the film seems to say that people (social classes) need to cooperate and function as one even though their interests may at times differ, if they want to accomplish something. Don't blindly follow leaders, but if there are good leaders like Kambei and the others, it may be the only sensible course of action in times of crisis. Heihachiro's flag may symbolize a new form of unity that transcends social classes, if only for the moment.
Stephen Prince has the notion that, beginning in the postwar period, Kurosawa was interested in a "social" or "ethical project," one that inquires into how the self, the individual, was constructed and functioned in modern Japan. There was that feeling that Japan needed a different kind of subjectivity than what was experienced in the 1930s and during wartime, and Kurosawa was trying to explore that in some of his early films in order to help Japanese people construct some values and a sense of self that were suited to a modern, democratic era. Is this the best way to view Seven Samurai? What makes Kambei such a good person and good leader? What makes the film, Seven Samurai, so powerful and compelling? Could it be, as Audie Bock suggests, that each individual (samurai) has to decide for themselves whether "the little bit of good they can do, so that ordinary people can live in peace and with a modicum of comfort, is worth doing to the utmost, even to the point of death. . ?" Is this notion of self-sacrifice for the greater welfare a traditional Japanese virture? Or is it perfectly compatible with the modern? Is it what heroes everywhere do? Where would you place yourself in this discussion?
2. Focusing on After Life and Departures
Taking a look at these final two films by younger filmmakers, what sort of perspective do you think they offer? How does their visual style compare with other films that we have watched? Memories seem to be a concern of both films. But also, After Life is clearly about the filmaking process itself, "about the choices and dilemmas that face filmmakers, who must sift through the human experience to choose which images contain the power to inspire and endure." (Tina Gianoulis) And Departures is at least in part about the power of gesture and ritual, properly performed, to allow a practioner to achieve a higher state of consciousness much as the old tea masters did. In order to perform ritual properly, one must be focused, centered and completely self-aware. Music might have done that for Daigo but then that ship sailed. So he had to discover another avenue, another space to inhabit, a place in which he could learn and grow. To learn, to grow, to become better human beings--is there anything else to which we should aspire? To learn to perform our job well, to learn how to improve ourselves as we do so, to become selfless, "unattached" in the Buddhist sense, isn't this a wonderful gift? Life isn't always easy but you do what you must do and you do it well. You play the hand you are dealt, right? Does this kind of recognition occur with some of the characters in the Seven Samurai? Can you formulate a discussion of these films around some ideas like these?