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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

THE BLIND SWORDSMAN


the final scene


Today's samurai movie was another Zatoichi the blind swordsman. This is the third one I've seen. All three equally good films and each time the story is told, it is a tour de force role for the lead actor. Zatoichi is blind and walks from place to place, is known all around as a deadly swordsman and anybody that challenges him ends up on the ground bleeding to death. Of course, any samurai that thinks he's a match for the best goes at him. They lose. He's faster than anybody. From time to time when he cut somebody down he said before he walked on his way, "You went for your sword first." Like Steven Seagal never kills anybody that isn't trying to kill him, Zatoichi is the same. Nobody can even fool him, like ambush, surprise. He has an uncanny sense of everything going on around him. He has better than sight. And he's humble. Children love him and he saved a baby from a samurai attack. His story is evidently an old Japanese legend.



This particular version was written by, directed by, acted by Shintaro Katsu. It says on the sleeve the disk came in this was his final film,1989. It definitely speaks well for him as all of the above. The last one I saw of Zatoichi was written, directed and acted by Takeshi Kitano, the next wave of Japanese film,a kind of post-modern version. I don't remember who did the other one, but I do remember it was made as well as both of these. It's a powerful story. Being a popular legend that went down through time, it has its heroic elements that are comical in this age of sophisticated story telling after a century of film. But they're not depicted in a corny way. Like when Zatoichi rescued the baby it was something by then believable, because we see how the kids love him and he loves the kids. Of course, he's going to rescue the baby. Like Steven Seagal would save the baby.



These particular samurai films are not of the corny kind that pop into mind first. They're kind of post-Kurosawa in that way, taking the samurai film to a new level as an art form. These Zatoichi films I'd say are of the more interesting order of samurai films. I got the impression the story of Zatoichi is something like a Shakespeare play, Lear for example, the Russian version of KING LEAR made around 1970,a new, unexpected way of telling the story. Every once in awhile a director feels he's ready for Shakespeare in a new way. Peter Greenaway's PROSPERO'S BOOKS was from Shakepseare's THE TEMPEST. Evidently, when a director takes on the story of Zatoichi, it's such a beautiful story and radically unusual character he doesn't have the option to take it lightly when every film made from the story is masterfully done. The picture above is from the last scene in the film. A samurai who had meant to challenge Zatoichi all through the film, though posing as a friend, walked up on our friend from behind, and like a cat having a hissy-fit, Zatoichi bent down low to avoid the other man's swing and sliced him across the belly in one move. The picture above is mid-swipe, the loser's sword in the air useless as it can be.



This Memorial Day Weekend brought friends from afar, long enjoyable visits with friends seldom seen. Yesterday Eric turned up in a brand new rented Camaro, driven here from Baltimore on the way to Greenville SC to see his uncle, then to Charleston to see his grandfather, Ted Stern, then retrace the route back to Baltimore, then by plane back to Portland, Oregon. He took me for a ride on the Parkway to show me how well it takes curves with electronic shocks that adjust to keep the car on the road. One of the thrills of growing old is when the children of my friends grow up and want to show me how good they can drive. I always look to see if there's an air bag. When I see the words I relax. No problem. I know somebody who drove into a tree at 70mph without a seatbelt. The air bag in the steering wheel caught him. It knocked him unconscious, but when he woke up he was ok.



Eric I've known since he was 9. He now has gray hair, 42. All along the way he was at loose ends until he found Portland. Portland nurtured him. He has good friends, good work, a good woman. I was struck the whole time he was here how much he looks like a middle aged Baltimore Italian man like you see at baseball games wearing a ball cap for the home team. I had a good dose of city for several hours. Eric comes from the culture where they like to talk all the time. I enjoyed all he talked about, much of it arcane in curious ways, bringing me up to date on his intellectual and spiritual growth. Though he talked all the time, for hours, he could listen to. Whenever I had something to say he listened. So it wasn't like he was ego-tripping talking. He had so much he's been wanting to tell me about for so many years, it all came out in a long string. I didn't object. Could have if I wanted to. I was liking hearing him talk, Eric, the kid whose face I flattened on the back window of a pickup when he was 16 being a smart-mouthed little wise-ass. I saw him in the rear view mirror, a pancake with a face, and big surprise in the eyes.



It wasn't as bad as it seems. I was rolling in the laundromat parking lot about 3mph. He had been aggravating me all day, pushing me to do something about him. I couldn't hit him. He insisted on standing up in the back of the pickup. I wouldn't go until he sat down. We compromised he could stand on his knees. Rolling away from the parking space, I touched the brake. Actions speak louder than words. The day before, first day on the farm visiting with mom, he wanted to help put up hay. I wanted him to stay in the house and watch television. We let him stack it on the trailer behind the tractor, and he did a good job. When it was up about 7-8 feet from the ground, I'd lay the bales at his feet. He started running his mouth at me that I can't throw one up there, it's too high, I can't do it. He caught the next one and it took him over the other side all the way to the ground. He was an irritant of a kid. The kind you want to tie up and lock in the barn with duct tape over his mouth.



At the same time, Eric was a neat kid. I always saw it in him. It was just that the nature of his life through childhood was harem-skarem, without any discipline or direction. I held out over a lot of years hoping the Eric I saw inside the crazy kid crying for attention. I always liked the little chickenshit despite him being impossible. When he grew up I couldn't see much sign he'd grown up. Then he found Portland. He found home. Since then, I've gone back to paying attention to him, because I see him unfolding into a rather remarkable human being guided by a sound set of ethical considerations he discovered on his own. By the time he arrived at the door yesterday, I was looking forward to seeing him, hearing about his life now, knowing the Eric I knew was inside the child pest. I feel content to see that the real Eric made it through and rose to the surface. Now he's living by the real Eric, and I feel like whatever happens, he'll be all right. We didn't stop jabbering until 1am. I decided to let the day's entry go. Couldn't stay up any later and didn't want to rush Eric away, because I appreciate now who Eric is, and actually have for several years.







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