“If a warrior is not unattached to life and death, he will be of no use whatsoever. The saying that “All abilities come from one mind” sounds as though it has to do with sentient matters, but it is in fact a matter of being unattached to life and death. With such non-attachment one can accomplish any feat.”
“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”
“Bushido is realized in the presence of death. This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death. There is no other reasoning.”
― Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure.
My Interest on Japanese Cinema
If you read one of my previous post you know about my Love Affair with Cinema (Jan 2017) as a child, and a young man, not that I ever stop of loving movies, but you could say, I have not the time now to waste, as I did as a young man, looking at movies, that unfortunately, sad to say, most of them are a waste of time, mass produced, poor in plot, and most of the time mindless entertainment, despite the great amount of money now day cost producing a movie, save few honorable exceptions of course.
From very early in my life I was impressed with Japanese cinema by the portrayal of fearless, skillful with a sword, and honorable Samurais, willing to give their life away for loyalty, and their high moral sense of duty.
How not to be impressed by these stoic warriors, heroes of the past, at such tender, and idealistic age?
Not to say the movies were superbly crafted, and carried by a vision different from let’s say a bunch of wild, and rogue, cowboys, and bank robbers, in a saloon brawl, exciting as it may be, but stories devoid of idealism, and selflessness, characteristic of Samurai’s Bushido code movies, as we used to call them, how can we forget the Judo Saga 1965 by Seiichiiro Uchikawa, first made by Kurosawa in 1943 the story of Sanchiro Sugata but not available until much later (1974), or Hiroshi Inagaki’s superb Samurai Trilogy 1954-1956, and his Chushingura Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki. 1962. just to mention some of the few most memorable Japanese movies I recollect, as writing this, from the many I saw.
There is many Japanese movies I watched worth writing about it, however for today I will talk about Masaki Kobayashi who impressed my young mind by some great movies he made, and now looking back for his great social vision somehow overlooked in the West, by our lack of sympathy rampant at the time, with a fear of communism, fresh out of Senator McCarthy reign of terror, McCarthyism was a widespread social and cultural phenomenon that affected all levels of society and was the source of a great deal of debate and conflict in the United States, Kobayashi despite the prices, and nominations he won, is work now days lay forgotten, but for a few cognoscenti of this great director.
Masaki Kobayashi (小林 正樹 Kobayashi Masaki?, February 14, 1916 – October 4, 1996) was a Japanese film director, best known for the epic trilogy The Human Condition (1959–1961), the samurai film Seppuku (1962), Ghost Stories (1964). And Samurai rebellion (1967)
An art history student, Kobayashi decided to take up film making when the Pacific war broke out, convinced that cinema was a more urgent medium for a time of crisis. Mere months after securing an apprenticeship at the Shochiku studio, he was conscripted into the Japanese Army in Manchuria, where, as an act of resistance, he refused to rise above the rank of private. He was eventually interned at a prisoner-of-war camp in Okinawa.
Kobayashi’s experiences in that war, which he called “the culmination of human evil,” directly inspired his grueling magnum opus “The Human Condition” (1959-61), a three-part, 9 1/2-hour epic about a principled soldier who decries but becomes implicated in his country’s militarist aggression. Now known principally for “The Human Condition” and such later period films as “Harakiri” (1963), Kobayashi was a clear-eyed social critic from early in his career.
A Rebel, And a Critic
Masaki Kobayashi’s career started during, and through Golden Age of Japanese cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, and all the way to the mid 1980s . Kobayashi has been largely forgotten but for a few cinema lovers around the World, even in Japan interest in his work is much lower than it is for the films of his contemporaries, such as Akira Kurosawa. Despite the fact that some of his films such as the war trilogy Ningen no jōken (The Human Condition, 1959-1961) and Seppuku (Harakiri, 1962) had won international critical acclaim,1 the centenary of his birth in February 2016 passed almost unnoticed in the Western media. The reason for this unpardonable oversight by film goers, and critics alike, it’s easy to understand, some, or I should say many may find his movies, dark, and depressing, others may feel uncomfortable about his political views, and too critical for its day, from a time like the early fifties, specially in Japan, you basically conformed to the establishment of the day, or you were not even be able to work, or even to speak your mind, without risking retribution, and boycott, to Kobayashi’s credit not only he created great cinematography, but condemn Japan Imperial war past, and the uncritical authority from the ruler class of medieval Japan, over their serfs, that didn’t Historically ended, until quite recently, and even today not quite totally extinct in modern Japan, the Daimyo (Lord), now day supplanted by the Company boss.
Andrea Grunert on Kobayashi
“Kobayashi’s politically and ethically uncompromising and economically risk-taking attitude put him in conflict with the studios he worked with, Shōchiku and Toho: this might explain the fact that he made only 22 films. Moreover, his critical view of militarism in Japanese history and the entanglement of politics and the economy in Japanese society are topics that are not attractive to young Japanese people. However, they are still burning issues in Japan and in the modern world, more meaningful than ever before. The Human Condition is not only a landmark film putting a harsh light on Japanese imperialism during World War II, it is a remarkable and universal statement against war. Harakiri, Kwaidan (1964), Jōi-uchi: Hairyō-tsuma shimatsu (Samurai Rebellion, 1967) or Inochi bō no furō (Inn of Evil, 1971) – all bearing the director’s unique signature – reveal the complex interplay between content and form, morality and aesthetics. They show in a most original way how traditional forms can be used as a tool for political criticism and ethical reflection.
Kobayashi was one of the finest depicters of Japanese society in the 1950s and 1960s, and explored the war and post-war situation by addressing controversial topics such as corruption, economic exploitation and the denial of war atrocities. The Human Condition was such a great international success in the 1960s that a remake was produced for television in 1963 directed by Takeshi Abe. It is not the film’s harsh and uncompromising realism which makes it outstanding, but its approach to Japan’s imperialist policy. As film critic Setogawa Sōta pointed out, it “was the first Japanese film that frankly depicted ‘Japanese devils’ in China in great detail.”3Kobayashi dared to criticize openly Japanese militarism and to show the brutality of the Japanese occupation policy in China. His humanist message is close to Kurosawa’s, but his political attitude and his interest in aspects that concern Japanese society are more clearly expressed than in the work of most of his contemporaries. Not unlike Kurosawa, he was a risk-taking filmmaker who was interested in challenging formal aspects and rejected compromise, an attitude which made his position more and more insecure in the 1970s when Japanese film industry experienced a period of drought. His last film – Shokutaku no nai ie (Family Without a Dinner Table aka The Empty Table) – was released in 1985, twelve years before his death. However, his anti-violence stance and his personal style with its combination of aesthetics, historical research and emotions are as vibrant as ever.”
The Human Condition
Trilogy made between 1959 and 1961, based on the six-volume novel published from 1956 to 1958 by Junpei Gomikawa. It was directed by Masaki Kobayashi and stars Tatsuya Nakadai. The trilogy follows the life of Kaji, a Japanese pacifist and socialist, as he tries to survive in the totalitarian and oppressive world of World War II-era Japan. Altogether, as a single film it is 9 hours, 47 minutes long, not including intermissions, making it one of the longest fiction films ever made.
Many years later still impressed by the movies, tried to read Junpei Gomokawa books, I couldn’t find them in English, despite the novels being a great success in Japan, I ignore if the novel was ever translated, this in itself speaks volumes as in to what regard we are interested in America in to anything but ourselves.
The Human Condition sits closest to Kon Ichikawa’s contemporaneous, equally unforgettable and urgent firecracker. Ichikawa’s film was based on Shôhei Ôoka’s 1951 novel, Kobayashi’s upon Junpei Gumikawa’s six-volume bestseller of 1958. The source novels derive much of their force from their authors’ haunting experiences as soldiers and prisoners of war. The films were similarly cathartic exercises that helped their directors and their nation come to terms with the emotional carnage of anger, despair and crippling guilt. Ichikawa and Kobayashi tend to be bracketed within the ‘humanist’ tendency of Japanese cinema’s post-war golden age. They would combine, in the late sixties, with two others from that ‘school’, Keisuke Kinoshita (who taught Kobayashi his craft) and Akira Kurosawa, to form a loose collective, Yonki-no-kai (‘The Club of the Four Knights’).
Possible the best known Kobayashi’s movie here in America, and everywhere else but for Japan itself.
In brief Harakiri it’s a grisly movie, not for the faint of heart. It tells the story of Hanshirō Tsugumo, a warrior without a lord, about the revenge of a lonely samurai against the Li clan, who it’s responsible for the death of his son-in law , and indirectly from his daughter, and grandson. He expressly goes and humiliate, and punish those responsible, exposing their haughtiness , and hypocrisy, by playing within the rules of Bushido code which governs the conduct of all samurai, he lures the powerful leader into a situation where sheer naked logic leaves him humiliated before his retainers. A condemnation of the whole feudal system, and the inhumanity of it.
Bushido And Hagakure
The movie of great interest for those aficionados of “Bushido” and endless source of discussion, and disagreements about the Bushido code of Samurai conduct, who in fact lacks a written code, for those somewhat familiar with it in the West, it’s important for them to know that Hagakure (Hidden by the Leaves or hidden leaves) by Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s is a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior, drawn from a collection of commentaries by the clerk Yamamoto Tsunetomo, former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third ruler of what is now Saga Prefecture in Japan. Tsuramoto Tashiro compiled these commentaries from his conversations with Tsunetomo from 1709 to 1716; however, it was not published until many years afterwards. Hagakure is also known as The Book of the Samurai, Analects of Nabeshima or Hagakure Analects. Held in great respect by many in Japan, however it’s not a code of ethics for the Samurai, and there is no doubt many of Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s contemporaries, may had held views of their own, who could differ somewhat, on what it’s expressed on Hagakure.
So to take Hagakure as ‘the code’ it’s erroneous, just like there is not a total, and final written rule of courtesy, regardless of the may books on etiquette. Nitobe wrote on his Bushido:
“Bushidō, then, is the code of moral principles which the samurai were required or instructed to observe […] More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten […] It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career. In order to become a samurai this code has to be mastered.”
The code of etiquette in Japan governs the expectations of social behavior in the country and is considered very important. Like many social cultures, etiquette varies greatly depending on one’s status relative to the person in question. Many books instruct readers on its minutiae.
Some conventions may be very regional practices, and thus may not exist in all regions of Japan. Some customs have changed over the course of Japanese history. The above apply as well to Bushido, in Japan it’s common to say there is almost impossible for an individual, not to commit a faux pas at any given time, due to the numerous unwritten rules of behavior that dominate Japanese Culture. So there is little use to many arguments, few others may be valid, on the end the movie, was the work of one man; Masaki Kobayashi, and despite criticism, he was one hell of a director.