CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Friday, November 30, 2007


I've seen a lot of movies in the past two months, and amazingly, the one that has most stuck with me is Lars von Trier's The Idiots. I'm still trying to decide whether or not that means the movie's actually any good.

Aping a documentary style, The Idiots tells the tale of a woman (Bodil Jorgensen) who abandons her normal life to live with a commune of people who spend their time trying to find their "inner idiot." Jorgensen's character, Karen, only dominates the action at the beginning and end of the film, leaving the middle to the Idiots and their pranks. Their leader is Stoffer (Jens Albinus), a man utterly shameless in his childishness.

Stoffer is the key to understanding The Idiots, right down to his name. We learn at one point that his full name is Christopher, but he has shortened it to Stoffer instead of Chris. This backwards mentality dominates the film, right down to its style. If von Trier had used the same style as in Festen, the first Dogmen film, the subject matter would have clashed with the aesthetics, creating a giant mess.

Thomas Vinterberg made a very traditional movie with Festen, even though he followed the Vow of Chastity to the letter. von Trier, on the other hand, made a film that challenged traditional realistic filmmaking. It confronted the audience with its falsity by claiming some semblance of truth. The hand-held camera automatically gives the viewer the feeling of actually being there to witness the events on screen. von Trier goes a step further with the documentary angle by forcing us to realize that we are not mere flies on the wall. The camera is a real presence, and these are people reacting to it. Instead of a more realistic feeling, which should naturally come from Dogme's rules, we are more detached than ever.

This sort of anti-logic extends throughout the story. The only person who actually commits to the Idiots' philosophy is the one who should have no part in their actions. The leader is a coward, afraid to act like an Idiot before his family and friends. There is an entirely unexciting orgy, shown in all its graphic glory, yet the only true moment of sexuality features both participants fully clothed. Nothing is what it seems, and the most sympathetic characters change all too quickly. von Trier turns everything on its head, leaving the audience baffled and abused. Is that a good thing? Who knows, but it makes for some fascinating cinema.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Black Sundae Monday

This past week marked one of the most important dates on the calendar. That's right, Black Friday has come and gone again. The official start of Christmas Season (I still saw chocolate Santas out before Halloween, sadly), Black Friday is a magical time when half the radio stations in America begin playing 24 hour Christmas music, the supermarkets start stocking egg nog, and I start growing my traditional Chanukah shrub. As I am currently in England, I didn't get a chance to properly participate in the most important part of the Black Friday celebration. I hope you did.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Art of Documentary?

I guess it's only appropriate that the week when this year's Oscar documentary shortlist was released and heavily criticized is the week when I finally got to catch up with the Academy's best doc of 2003. The Fog of War is an undeniably intriguing look at Robert McNamara and his role in WWII and the Vietnam War. Was it the best documentary of the year? Possibly. I personally preferred Spellbound, but that matter is entirely up for debate. What I want to know is: what makes a good documentary?

As I read AJ Schnack's passionate attack on the Academy's choices, I was forced to confront my own knowledge (or lack thereof) concerning the art of documentary filmmaking. I barely know any history of documentary and the Academy, but Schanack, who is at this point the de facto online source for documentary info, talks about the 90s as a dark era when the only docs even nominated had to be about the Holocaust. Of course, I'm exaggerating Schnack's thoughts, but his recent post talks about a return to the Bad Old Days, which of course indicates that the Old Days were indeed bad. And then there's the matter of Errol Morris and Michael Moore.

These men were, until 2002, routinely overlooked by the Academy for their "groundbreaking" documentaries. I put quotes around groundbreaking because I haven't seen a Morris film besides The Fog of War, and even if I had, I wouldn't know what makes it groundbreaking. I've seen multiple people talk about Morris' aesthetics as new and original for documentary, but there has never been any proof. Is there a book on Morris or Moore that could help explain what makes these men such legends in their field? Are there any essays that help explain their place in documentary history and their accomplishments? Of course I plan to see Roger and Me and The Thin Blue Line, but until I get that chance, I would like to know where I can inform myself and be able to participate in any discussions on docs. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Sundae Monday Kurosawa Style

Part 3 of my contribution to the Kurosaw-a-Thon over at The list keeps growing over there. Well worth a look.

It seems to be very popular now for major film directors to make commercials. From Wes Anderson to Michel Gondry to Michael Mann to David Lynch, directors love adding a unique touch to the world of commercials. And wouldn't you know, Akira Kurosawa did a few commercials too. During the making of Kagemusha, Kurosawa made these ads for Suntory Reserve. Each one features Kurosawa, and a few show off the presence of Francis Ford Coppola on the set. My personal favorite is the fourth one, the one with the least voice-over. Enjoy.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007


This is the second half of my contribution to the Kurosaw-a-Thon over at Lots of good reading over at the hub. You should check it out.

This is the second story upon which Kurosawa's Rashomon is based. You can read the first one, "In a Grove," here. Enjoy

"Rashomon" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

It was a chilly evening. A samurai's servant stood under the Rashomon, waiting for a break in the rain.

No one else was under the wide gate. On the thick column, its crimson lacquer rubbed off here and there, perched a cricket. Since the Rashomon stands on Sujaku Avenue, a few other people at least, in sedge hat or nobleman's headgear, might have been expected to be waiting there for a break in the rainstorm. But no one was near except this man.

For the past few years the city of Kyoto had been visited by a series of calamities, earthquakes, whirlwinds, and fires, and Kyoto had been greatly devastated. Old chronicles say that broken pieces of Buddhist images and other Buddhist objects, with their lacquer, gold, or silver leaf worn off, were heaped up on roadsides to be sold as firewood. Such being the state of affairs in Kyoto, the repair of the Rashomon was out of the question. Taking advantage of the devastation, foxes and other wild animals made their dens in the ruins of the gate, and thieves and robbers found a home there too. Eventually it became customary to bring unclaimed corpses to this gate and abandon them. After dark it was so ghostly that no one dared approach.

Flocks of crows flew in from somewhere. During the daytime these cawing birds circled round the ridgepole of the gate. When the sky overhead turned red in the afterlight of the departed sun, they looked like so many grains of sesame flung across the gate. But on that day not a crow was to be seen, perhaps because of the lateness of the hour. Here and there the stone steps, beginning to crumble , and with rank grass growing in their crevices, were dotted with the white droppings of crows. The servant, in a worn blue kimono, sat on the seventh and highest step, vacantly watching the rain. His attention was drawn to a large pimple irritating his right cheek.

As has been said, the servant was waiting for a break in the rain. But he had no particular idea of what to do after the rain stopped. Ordinarily, of course, he would have returned to his master's house, but he had been discharged just before. The prosperity of the city of Kyoto had been rapidly declining, and he had been dismissed by his master, whom he had served many years, because of the effects of this decline. Thus, confined by the rain, he was at a loss to know where to go. And the weather had not a little to do with his depressed mood. The rain seemed unlikely to stop. He was lost in thoughts of how to make his living tomorrow, helpless incoherent thoughts protesting an inexorable fate. Aimlessly he had been listening to the pattering of the rain on Sujaku Avenue.

The rain, enveloping the Rashomon, gathered strength and came down with a pelting sound that could be heard far away. Looking up, he was a fat black cloud impale itself on the tips of the tiles jutting out from the roof of the gate.

He had little choice of means, whether fair or foul, because of his helpless circumstances. If he chose honest means, he would undoubtedly starve to death beside the wall or in the Sujaku gutter. He would be brought to this gate and thrown away like a stray dog. If he decided to steal ... His mind, after making the same detour time and again, came finally to the conclusion that he would be a thief.

But doubts returned many times. Though determined that he had no choice, he was still unable to muster enough courage to justify the conclusion that he must become a thief.

After a loud fit of sneezing he got up slowly. The evening chill of Kyoto made him long for the warmth of a brazier. The wind in the evening dusk howled through the columns of the gate. The cricket which had been perched on the crimson lacquered column was already gone.

Ducking his neck, he looked around the gate as he drew up the shoulders of the blue kimono which he wore over his thin undergarments. He decided to spend the night there, if he could find a secluded corner sheltered from wind and rain. He found a broad lacquered stairway leading to the tower over the gate. No one would be there, except the dead, if there were any. So, taking care that the sword at his side not slip out of the scabbard, he set food on the lowest step of the stairs.

A few seconds later, halfway up the stairs, he saw a movement above. Holding his breath and huddling cat-like in the middle of the broad stairs leading to the tower, he watched and waited. A light coming from the upper part of the tower shone faintly upon his right cheek. It was the cheek with the red, festering pimple visible under his stubby whiskers. He had expected only dead people inside the tower, but he had gone up only a few steps before he noticed a fire above, near which someone was moving. He saw a dull, yellow, flickering light which made the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling glow in a ghostly way. What sort of person would be making a fire in the Rashomon ... and in a storm? The unknown evil terrified him.

Quietly as a lizard, the servant crept up to the top of the steep stairs. Crouching on all fours and stretching his neck as far as possible, he timidly peered into the tower.

As rumor had said, he found several corpses strewn carelessly about the floor. Since the glow of the light was feeble, he could not count the number. He could only see that some were naked and others clothed. Some were women, and all were sprawled on the floor with their mouths open of their arms outstretched, showing no more sign of life than so many clay dolls. One would doubt that they had ever been alive, so eternally silent were they. Their shoulders, breasts, and torsos stood out in the dim light; other parts vanished in shadow. The offensive smell of these decomposed corpses brought his hand to his nose.

The next moment his hand dropped and he stared. He caught sight of a ghoulish form bent over a corpse. It seemed to be an old woman, gaunt, gray-haired, and nunnish in appearance. With a pine torch in her right hand, she was gazing into the face of a corpse which had long black hair.

Seized more with horror than curiosity, he drew no breath for a time. He felt the hair of his head and body stand on end. As he watched, terrified, she wedged the torch between two floor boards and, laying hands on the head of the corpse, began to pull out the long hairs one by one, as a monkey kills the lice of her young. The hair came out smoothly with the movement of her hands.

As the hair came out, fear faded from his heart, and his hatred toward the old woman mounted. It grew beyond hatred, becoming a consuming antipathy against all evil. At this instant if anyone had brought up the question of whether he would starve to death or become a thief -- the question which had occurred to him a little while ago -- he would not have hesitated to choose death. His hatred of evil flared up like the piece of pine wood which the old woman had stuck in the floor.

He did not know why she pulled out the hair of the dead. Accordingly, he did not know whether her case was to be judged as good or bad. But in his eyes, pulling out the hair of the dead in the Rashomon on this stormy night was an unpardonable crime. Of course it had never entered his mind that a little while ago he had thought of becoming a thief.

Then, summoning strength into his legs, he rose from the stairs and strode hand on sword, right in front of the old creature. The hag turned, terror in her eyes, and sprang up from the floor, trembling. For a moment she paused, poised there, then lunged for the stairs with a shriek.

"Wretch! Where are you going?" he shouted, barring the way of the trembling had who tried to scurry past him. Still she attempted to claw her way by. He pushed her back to prevent her ... They struggled, fell among the corpses, and grappled there. The issue was never in doubt. In a moment he had her by the arm, twisted it, and forced her down to the floor. Her arms were nothing but skin and bones, and there was no more flesh on them than on the shanks of a chicken. No sooner was she on the floor than he drew his sword and thrust the silver-white blade before her very nose. She was silent. She trembled as if in a fit, and her eyes were open so wide that they were almost out of their socket, and her breath came in hoarse gasps. The life of this wretch was his now. This though cooled his boiling anger and brought a calm pride and satisfaction. He looked down at her, and said in a somewhat calmer voice:

"Look here, I'm not an officer of the High Police Commissioner. I'm a stranger who happened to pass by this gate. I won't bind you or do anything against you, but you must tell me what you're doing up here."

Then the old woman opened her eyes still wider, and gazed at his face intently with the sharp red eyes of a bird of prey. She moved her lips, which were wrinkled into her nose, as though she were chewing something. Her pointed Adam's apple moved in her thin throat. Then a panting sound like the cawing of a crow came from her throat:

"I pull the hair ... I pull out the hair ... to make a wig."

Her answer banished the unknown from their encounter and brought disappointment. Suddenly she was merely a trembling old woman there at his feet. A ghoul no longer: only a hag who makes wigs from the hair of the dead -- to sell, for scraps of food. A cold contempt seized him. Fear left this heart, and his former hatred returned. These feelings must have been sensed by the other. The old creature, still clutching the hair she had pulled from the corpse, mumbled out these words in her harsh broken voice:

"Indeed, making wigs out of the hair of the dead may seem a great evil to you, but these that are here deserve no better. This woman, whose beautiful black hair I was pulling, used to sell dried snake flesh at the guard barracks, saying that it was dried fish. If she hadn't died of the plague, she'd be selling it now. The guards like to buy from her, and used to say her fish was tasty. What she did couldn't be wrong, because if she hadn't, she would have starved to death. There was no other choice. If she knew I had to do this in order to live, she probably wouldn't care."

He sheathed his sword, and with his left hand on its hilt, he listened to her meditatively. His right hand touched the big pimple on his cheek. As he listened, a certain courage was born in his heart -- the courage he had not had when he sat under the gate a little while ago. A strange power was driving him in the opposite direction from the courage he had had when he seized the old woman. No longer did he wonder whether he should starve to death or become a thief. Starvation was so far from his mind that it was the last thing that would have entered it.

"Are you sure?" he asked in a mocking tone, when she finished talking. He took his right hand from his pimple, and, bending forward, seized her by the neck and said sharply:

"Then it's right if I rob you. I'd starve if I didn't."

He tore her clothes from her body and kicked her roughly down on the corpses as she struggled and tried to clutch his leg. Five steps, and he was at the top of the stairs. The yellow clothes he had wrested from her were under his arm, and in a twinkling he had rushed down the steep stairs into the abyss of night. The thunder of this descending steps pounded in the hollow tower, and then it was quiet.

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In a Grove

This is the first part of my contribution to the Kurosaw-a-Thon over at Head on over to the hub for some great Kurosawa writing.

Instead of writing yet another interpretation of Rashomon, I have decided that it would be much more informative to reprint here the two stories upon which Rashomon is based. Both of these stories can be found in the Criterion DVD for Rashomon.

"In a Grove" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

The Testimony of a Woodcutter Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

Yes, sir. Certainly, it was I who found the body. This morning, as usual, I went to cut my daily quote of cedars, when I found the body in a grove in a hollow in the mountains.

The exact location? About 150 yards off the Yamashina stage road. It's an out-of-the-way grove of bamboo and cedars.

The body was lying flat on its back dressed in a bluish silk kimono and a wrinkled headdress of the Kyoto style. A single sword stroke had pierced the breast. The fallen bamboo blades around it were stained with bloody blossoms.

No, the blood was no longer blowing. The wound had dried up, I believe. And also, a gadfly was stuck fast there, hardly noticing my footsteps.

You ask me if I saw a sword or any such thing? No, nothing, sir, I found only a rope at the foot of a cedar nearby. And ... well, in addition to the rope, I found a comb. That was all.

Apparently he must have made a battle of it before he was murdered, because the grass and fallen bamboo blades had been trampled down all aroudn.

A horse was nearby? No, sir. It's hard enough for a man to enter, let alone a horse.

The Testimony of a Traveling Buddhist Priest Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

The time? Certainly, it was about noon yesterday, sir. The unfortunate man was on the road from Sekiyama to Yamashina. He was walking toward Sekiyama with a woman accompanying him on horseback, who I have since learned was his wife. A scarf hanging from her head his her face from view. All I saw was the wife. All I saw was the color of her clothes, a lilac-colored suit. Her horse was a sorrel with a fine mane.

The lady's height? Oh, about four feet five inches. Since I am a Buddhist priest, I took little notice about her details. Well, the man was armed with a sword as well as a bow and arrows. And I remember that he carried some twenty-odd arrows in his quiver.

Little did I expect that he would meet such a fate. Truly, human life is as evanescent as the morning dew or a flash of lightning. My words are inadequate to express my sympathy for him.

The Testimony of a Policeman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

The man I arrested? He is the notorious brigand called Tajomaru. When I arrested him, he had fallen off his horse. He was groaning on the bridge as Awataguchi.

The time? It was in the early hours of last night. For the record, I might say that the other day I tried to arrest him, but unfortunately he escaped. He was wearing a dark-blue silk kimono and a large plain sword. And, as you see, he got a bow and arrows somewhere.

You say that this bow and these arrrows look like the ones owned by the dead man? Then Tajomaru must be the murderer. The bow wound with leather strips, the black lacquered quiver, the seventeen arrows with hawk feathers -- these were all in his possession, I believe.

Yes, sir, the horse is, as you say, a sorrel with a fine mane. A little beyond the stone bridge I found the horse grazing by the roadside, with his long rein dangling. Surely there is some providence in his having been thrown by the horse.

Of all the robbers prowling around Kyoto, this Tajomaru as brought the most grief to the women in town. Last autumn a wife who came to the mountain behind the Pindora of the Toribe Temple, presumably to pay a visit, was murdered, along with a girl. It has been suspected that it was his doing. If this criminal murdered the man, you cannot tell what he may have done with the man's wife. May it please your honor to look into the problem as well.

The Testimony of an Old Woman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

Yes, sir, that corpse is the man who married my daughter. He does not come from Kyoto. He was a samurai in the twon of Kokufu in the province of Wakasa. His name was Kanazawa no Takehiro, and his age was twenty-six. He was of a gentle disposition, so I am sure he did nothing to provoke the anger of others.

My daughter? Her name is Masago, and her age is nineteen. She is a spirited, fun-loving girl, but I am sure she has never known any man except Takehiro. She has a small, oval, dark-complexioned face with a mole at the corner of her left eye.

Yesterday Takehiro left for Wakasa with my daughter. What a misfortune that things should have come to such a sad end! What has become of my daughter? I am resigned to giving up my son-in-law as lost, but the fate of my daughter worries me sick. For heaven's sake, leave no stone unturned to find her. I hate that robber Tajomaru, or whatever his name is. Not only my son-in-law, but my daughter ... (Her later words were drowned in tears.)

Tajomaru's Confession

I killed him, but not her.

Where's she gone? I can't tell. Oh, wait a minute. No torture can make me confess what I don't know. Now things have come to such a head, I won't keep anything from you.

Yesterday a little past noon I met that couple. Just then a puff of wind blew, and raised her hanging scarf, so that I caught a glimpse of her face. Instantly it was again covered from my view. That may have been one reason; she looked like Bodhisattva. At that moment I had made up my mind to capture her even if I had to kill her man.

Why? To my killing isn't a matter of such great consequence as you might think. When a woman is captured, her man has to be killed anyway. In killing, I use the sword by my side. Am I the only one who kills people? You kill people with your power, with your money. Sometimes you kill them on the pretext of working for their good. It's true they don't bleed. They are in the best of health, but all the same you've killed them. It's hard to say who is a greater sinner, you or me. (An ironical smile.)

But it would be good if I could capture a woman without killing her man. So I made up my mind to capture her, and do my best not to kill him. But it's out of the question on the Yamahina stage road, so I managed to lure the couple into the mountains.

It was quite easy. I became their traveling companion, and I told them there was an old mound in the mountain over there, and that I had dug it open and found many mirrors and swords. I went on to tell them I'd buried things in a grove behind the mountain, and that I'd like to sell them at a low price to anyone who would care to have them. Then ... you see, isn't greed terrible? He was beginning to be moved by my talk before he knew it. In less than half an hour they were driving their horse toward the mountain with me.

When he reached the grove, I told them that the treasures were buried in it, and I asked them to come and see. The man had no objection -- he was blinded by greed. The woman said she would wait on horseback. It was natural for her to say so at the sight of a thick grove. To tell you the truth, my plan just as I wished. So I went into the grove with him, leaving her behind alone.

The grove is only bamboo for some distance. About fifty yards ahead there's a rather open clump of cedars. It was a convenient spot for my purpose. Pushing my way through the grove, I told him a plausible lie that the treasures were buried under the cedars. When I told him this, he laboriously pushed his way toward the slender cedars visible through the grove. After a while the bamboo thinned out, and we came to where a number of cedars grew in a row. As soon as we got there, I seized him from behind. Because he was a trained, sword-bearing warrior, he was quite strong, but he was taken by surprise, so there was no help for him. I soon tied him up to the root of a cedar.

Where did I get a rope? Thank heaven, being a robber, I had rope with me, since I might have to scale a wall at any moment. Of course it was easy to stop him from calling out by gagging his mouth with fallen bamboo leaves.

When I disposed of him, I went to his woman and asked her to come and see him, because he seemed to have been suddenly taken sick. It's needless to say that this plan also worked wll. Ths woman, her sedge hat off, came into the depths of the grove, where I led her by the hand. The instant she caught sight of her husband, she drew a small sword. I've never seen a woman of such violent temper. If I'd been off guard, I'd have got a thrust in my side. I dodged, but she kept on slashing at me. She might have wounded me deeply or killed me. But I'm Tajomaru. I managed to strike down her small sword without drawing my own. The most spirited woman is defenseless without a weapon. At last I could satisfy my desire for her without taking her husband's life.

Yes ... without taking his life. I didn't want to kill him. I was about to run away from the grove, leaving the woman behind in tears, when she frantically clung to my arm. In borken fragments of words, she asked that either her husband or I die. She said it was more trying than death to have her shame known by two men. She gasped out that she wanted to be the wife of whichever survived. Then a furious desire to kill him seized me.

Telling you in this way, no doubt I seem a crueler man than you. But that's because you didn't see her face. Especially her burning eyes at that moment.

As I saw her eye to eye, I wanted to make her my wife even if I were to be struck by lightning. I wanted to make her my wife ... this single desire filled my mind. This was not simply lust, as you might think. At that time if I'd had no other desire than lust, I surely wouldn't have minded knocking her down and running away. Then I wouldn't have stained my sword with his blood. But the moment I gazed at her face in the dark grove, I decided not to leave without killing him.

But I didn't like to resort of unfair means to kill him. I untied him and told him to cross swords with me. The rope that was found at the root of the cedar is the rope I dropped at the time. Furious with anger, he drew his thick sword. And quick as a wink, he sprang at me ferociously, without speaking a word. I needn't tell you how our fight turned out. The twenty-third stroke ... please remember this. I'm impressed with this fact still. Nobody under the sun has ever clashed swords with me twenty strokes. (A cheerful smile.)

When he fell, I turned toward her, lowering my bloodstained sword. But to my great astonishment she was gone. I wondered where she had run to. I looked for her in the clump of cedars. I listened, but heard only a groaning sound from the throat of the dying man.

As soon as we crossed swords, she may have run away through the grove to call for help. When I thought of that, I decided it was a matter of life and death to me. So, robbing him of his sword, and bow and arrows, I ran out to the mountain road. There I found her horse still grazing quietly. It would be a waste of words to tell you the later details, but before I entered town I had already parted with the sword. That's my confession. I know that my head will be hung in chains anyway, so give me the maximum penalty. (A defiant attitude.)

The Confession of a Woman Who Has Come to the Shimizu Temple

That man in the blue silk kimono, after forcing me to yield to him, laughed mockingly as he looked at my bound husband. How horrified my husband must have been! But no matter how hard he struggled in agony, the rope cut into him all the more tightly. In spite of myself I ran stumblingly toward his side. Or rather I tried to run toward him, but the man knocked me down. Just at that moment I saw an indescribable light in my husband's eyes. Something beyond expression ... his eyes make me shudder even now. That instantaneous look of my husband, who couldn't speak a word, told me all his heart. The flash in his eyes was neither anger nor sorrow ... only a cold light, a look of loathing. More struck by the look in his eyes than by the blow of the thief, I called out in spite of myself and fell unconscious.

In the course of time I came to, and found that the man in the blue silk was gone. I saw only my husband still bound to the root of the cedar. I raised myself from the bamboo blades with difficulty, and looked into his face; but the expression in his eyes was just the same as before.

Beneath the cold contempt in his eyes, there was hatred. Shame, grief, and anger ... I don't know how to express my heart at that time. Reeling to my feet, I went up to my husband.

"Takehiro," I said to him, "since things have come to this pass, I cannot live with you. I'm determined to die ... but you must die too. You saw my shame. I can't leave with you alive as you are."

This was all I could say. Still he went on gazing at me with loathing and contempt. My heart breaking, I looked for his sword. It must have been taken by the robber. Neither his sword nor his bow and arrow were to be seen in the grove. But fortunately my small sword was lying at my feet. Raising it overhead, once more I said, "Now give me your life. I'll follow you right away."

When he heard these words, he moved his lips with difficulty. Since his mouth was stuffed with leaves, of course his voice could not be heard. But at a glance I understood his words. Despising me, his look said only, "Kill me." Neither conscious nor unconscious, I stabbed the small sword through the lilac-colored kimono into his breast.

Again at this time I must have fainted. By the time I managed to look up, he had already breathed his last -- still in bonds. A streak of sinking sunlight streamed through the clump of cedars and bamboos, and shone in his pale face. Gulping down my sobs, I untied the rope from his dead body. And ... and what has become of me since, I have no more strength to tell you. Anyway, I hadn't the strength to die. I stabbed my own throat with the small sword, I threw myself into a pond at the foot of the mountain, and I tried to kill myself in many ways. Unable to end my life, I am still living in dishonor. (A lonely smile.) Worthless as I am, I must have been forsaken even by the most merciful Kwannon. I killed my own husband. I was violated by the robber. Whatever can I do? Whatever can I ... I ... (Gradually, violent sobbing.)

The Story of the Murdered Man, as Told Through a Medium

After violating my wife, the robber, sitting there, began to speak comforting words to her. Of course I couldn't speak. My whole body was tied fast to the root of a cedar. But meanwhile I winked at her many times, as much as to say, "Don't believe the robber." I wanted to convey some such meaning to her. But my wife, sitting dejectedly on the bamboo leaves, was staring at her lap. To all appearances, she was listening to his words. I was racked with jealousy. In the meantimes, the robber went on with the clever talk, from one subject to another. The robber finally made his brazen proposal. "Once your virtue is stained, you won't get alone well with your husband, so won't you be my wife instead? It's my love for you that made me violent toward you."

While the criminal talked, my wife raised her face as if in a trance. She had never looked so beautiful as at that moment. What did my beautiful wife say in answer to him while I was sitting bound there? I am lost in space, but I have never thought over her answer without burning with anger and jealousy. Truly she said, "Then take me away with you wherever you go."

This is not the whole of her sin. If that were all, I would not be tormented so much in the dark. When she was leaving in the grove as if in a dream, her hand in the robber's, she suddenly turned pale, and pointed at me tied to the root of the cedar, and said, "Kill him! I cannot marry you as long as he lives."

"Kill him!" she cried many times, as if she had gone crazy. Even now these words threaten to blow me headlong into the bottomless abyss of darkness. Has such a hateful thing come out of a human mouth ever before? Have such cursed words ever struck a human ear, even once? Even once such a ... (A sudden cry of scorn.) At these words the robber himself turned pale. "Kill him!" she cried, clinging to his arms. Looking hard at her, he answered neither yes nor no ... But hardly had I thought about his answer before she had been knocked down into the bamboo leaves. (Again a cry of scorn.) Quietly folding his arms, he looked at me and said, "What would you like done with her? Kill her or save her? You have only to nod. Kill her?" For these words alone I would like to pardon his crime.

While I hesitated, she shrieked and ran into the depths of the grove. The robber instantly snatched at her, but he failed even to grasp her sleeve.

After she ran away, he took up my sword, and my bow and arrows. With a single stroke he cut one of my bonds. I remember his mumbling, "My fate is next." Then he disappeared from the grove. All was silent after that. No, I heard someone crying. Untying the rest of my bonds, I listened carefully, and noticed that it was my own crying. (Long silence.)

I raised my exhausted body from the root of the cedar. In front of me there was shining the small sword which my wife had dropped. I took it up and stabbed it into my breast. A bloody lump rose to my mouth, but I felt no pain. When my breast grew cold, everything was as silent as the dead in their graves. What profound silence! Not a single bird note was heard in the sky over this grave in the hollow of the mountains. Only a lonely light lingered on the cedars and the mountain. The light gradually grew fainter, till the cedars and bamboo were lost to view. Lying there, I was enveloped in deep silence.

Then someone crept up to me. I tried to see who it was. But darkness had already been gathering around me. Someone ... that someone drew the small sword out of my breast in its invisible hand. At the same time blood again flowed into my mouth. And once and for all I sank down into the darkness of space.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Knights of Sundae Monday

The western is dead, right? Didn't Unforgiven and Dead Man kill it once and for all? I guess not, with the recent success of 3:10 To Yuma. What's even more fascinating is the adaptation of the western into a sci-fi setting. Since the west has been conquered, the only direction we can go is up. This is an idea that should be used more than just in Firefly and Serenity. And so this week I submit another sci-fi western with a bit of kung fu thrown in for good taste.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Rossellini's Faith

This is my entry in the Film + Faith Blog-a-Thon over at Strange Culture check out the hub for some good reading on film, faith, and that grey area where the two meet.

Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis could have been a very boring film. St. Francis of Assisi (Brother Nazario Gerardi) has little contact with anyone outside of the group of monks he leads, and the stories which focus on him revolve around his advice and his meek nature. Thank goodness, then for Brother Ginepro (Brother Severino Pisacane). His stories involve his interactions with the world around him, and it gives the viewer an opportunity to witness what happens when the faithful meet the faithless.

The first time we meet Ginepro, he has given away his robe to a poor man. His reasoning? The poor man asked for it, and Ginepro couldn't refuse such a request. This is the perfect introduction, as it tells us everything we need to know about Ginepro's character. He is absolutely devout to his beliefs, but he is too simple to understand when he should limit his adherence for his own sake. He won't look out for himself unless specifically ordered by St. Francis. Of course, sometimes he even goes against that. Later in the film, Ginepro has given away a new robe to another poor man. This time he says because the poor man asked in God's name. Ginepro didn't give away the robe, as St. Francis specifically ordered against, but he didn't prevent the poor man from taking the robe off his back. His devotion to St. Francis' message is astonishing, but it pales in comparison to his actions before Nicolaio the Tyrant (Aldo Fabrizi).

Ginepro is an extremely naive character, as shown by his belief that Nicolaio's subjects would appreciate his sermons, even after they have severely beaten him. When Nicolaio asks who he is, Ginepro can only respond that he is a worthless sinner. That is what he believes, and it almost gets him killed. This entire sequence shows exactly where Rossellini stands on the matter of faith. Though Nicolaio almost kills Ginepro because of his faith, it is Ginepro's resilience that saves his life. A lesser man would have fought back against Nicolaio, sealing his fate. Ginepro only looks back with a smile on his face, taught humility and passivity by St. Francis. That saves his life, and reveals Rossellini's beliefs. Even if God does not exist, it is better to have faith in a falsity than to lack any faith at all. Ginepro is the filter through which we can see Rossellini's true feelings, and as such his part is the most important in the film.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Sundae Monday's Got Faith

Of the blog-a-thons coming up, the Film+Faith Blog-a-Thon over at Strange Culture sounds the most exciting, and is the only one I'm sure I'll be participating in. This also serves as a chance to remind all of you that I have my own Blog-a-Thon on December 16, which I have dubbed the It's a Wonderful Blog-A-Thon, because it will be a wonderful blog-a-thon.

This week's video ties into faith, or at least a kind of faith. Consider this an early entry into the Film + Faith Blog-a-Thon. This is an animated short called The Monk and the Fish. Following the trials of a monk as he tries to catch a fish, the film is about the monk's determination, which shows his faith in the ability to catch the fish. His determination is shown throughout the shot, but the part that really stands out is the monk's attempt at spending the whole night awake with candles by his side to catch the fish. Unlike most cartoons, where the fish would jump, causing the splash to douse the candles, the fish here is innocent. The monk's determination isn't forced by a hostile foe, but by his own drive and faith. His faith is only rewarded when he simply stops trying. Only upon admitting absolute failure can he and the fish move on. The monk is rewarded for admitting the limitations of his ability, though his faith goes unshaken.

The short is absolutely beautiful, and I was fortunate enough to catch it on the big screen with its full colors (the best approximation can be found here. The watercolors create an almost magical feeling, which is matched by the lighthearted action and the score. The score may be the best part of the film, as it matches the action beat for beat while still impressing on its own merits. It never grates on the ears and continually finds something new to add. Enjoy.

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