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Thursday, September 30, 2010


The foreign film of the week is Blood and Bones. Japanese, the story of a Korean peasant family that left Korea for Japan when north/south tensions were boiling, fascism vs communism, the story beginning with the crowd on the deck of the transport ship Koreans were taking to Osaka where they believed they'd find their fortunes. We follow the story of one man's family, Kim something or other. It turns out he was the kind of person summed up by his son at the end of the story, he was here for nobody's pleasure but his own. He was severely cruel to the people closest to him, at home, like his wives, one at a time, his kids, making all their lives miserable. Some people killed themselves and attempted it because of his behavior. Everybody whose lives intersected his suffered. He started a small factory, made a bundle of money working his employees too hard, paying too little, violent temperament, carried a club with him all the time. He became a loan shark and was ruthless. His wives tended to die. He only raped them, beat them, berated them. He ended up dying of old age in his own bed, mutual abandonment by the various members of the family. One of the boys went back to Korea never to be heard of again.

I saw it because the man was played by Takeshi Kitano, the director who made a string of excellent films. A feeling that the director of this film, Blood and Bones, must be on a par with Kitano for him to be a leading role in this director's film, Yoichi Sai. One I saw yesterday that Kitano directed, Scenes At The Beach was the same as a silent film. It was the story of a young guy whose job was trash collection, he's deaf and finds a broken styrofoam surfboard. He takes it home, fixes it and sets out to figure out how to surf. At the end of the movie he wins a trophy at a tournament. He has a little girlfriend who goes with him everywhere he goes. He can't talk. He can't hear and it is nearly a silent movie but for the sounds of the ocean. No soundtrack, just silence. Sometimes you hear people talking, but little of it is necessary but as sounds going on at the moment. Beautiful, quiet film. Surf about like the South Carolina coast. The most interesting part about the film was having no soundtrack or dialogue by its characters. A very great deal of communicating went on in that silence.

In the midst of my own private film festival of Kitano films, I like everything I see by him. Each one is off the wall in its own way. They tend to be way off the wall, like out in the middle of the room. He plays lead role in several of them, usually a man who is something of a loser, sometimes a yakuza mobster who goes too far, a loose cannon who tears up everything and in the end himself included. His one film that stands out from the others is Zatoich the Blind Swordsman. A Japanese samurai legend figure like Hopalong Cassidy is in television culture in America, though nothing similar as characters. Zatoichi is a blind man who has advanced senses as a result of his blindness. He was a humble man, always saves women, children and old people.

He has extrasensory knowing is the only way I can define what it is he has.

Zatoichi is the origin of Stephen Seagal's character who continues from film to film, usually with different names. Seagal, like Zatoichi, never loses. When I saw the connection, I understood. Seagal grew up in Japan with American parents, school there, his life there, then they moved to LA when he was 18. He studied martial arts since childhood. Zatoichi was a weekly television show when he was a kid, like the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers here. Seagal understands Asian ways. He brought the legend of Zatoichi to America with him and has given it now to all the world. He doesn't kill anybody not trying to kill him. Leave him alone and he goes in peace. Pull your sword on him and you're dead, that quick.

Kitano made a good Zatoichi. The other actor in Japan who made a Zatoichi film is just as good as Kitano's version, in its own way. Both of them beautiful films that happen to be samurai films. I don't remember the name of the other man who played Zatoichi, but he also played him in the weekly television series Seagal grew up seeing. The making of them was at as high a level as the making of the film. They might have inspired Seagal in those years to take an interest in film making. They stood out in their time, certainly for television. Beautifully made, and a man of action who has the uncanny ability to disappear. Some of his adversaries call him the Ghost. Seagal's character is also like Zatoichi's in that he is portrayed as a devout believer who visits temples. The monks and other believers are his people. They're home base. Out on his travels by foot is where adventures flare up. Seagal's character works out there on the fringe when he's with The Company where something happens to him they never heard of him. Men with guns. Men with swords. Roosters with spurs.

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