Onions. They give you bad breath but adds flavor to the food we eat. Have you ever peeled one? Peel the rough skin and reveal a fresh moist layer. Peel that and there’s another silky layer. On and on. In writing my book, I purposefully laid in layers to give it a sense of depth. On the surface, it’s a fast-paced, action packed, page turner (damn, I’m conceited). There’s sex. There’s mayhem. Want betrayal? You got it. Want love? You got it.
Slice under that superficial layer and you’ll find a deeper understanding of the story. Billowing clouds may reflect a character’s painful conflict within. Heat from a fire reflecting off someone’s clothes may echo the character’s anger. Wind may symbolize a character’s dominance over their lands.
In 1954 a renowned filmmaker released what’s considered one of the best films ever made: Seven Samurai. It's about a Japanese farming village, constantly beseiged and pillaged by an army of bandits, recruits seven independent samurai to defend it.
Akira Kurosawa’s films have influenced great directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. In fact, Star Wars was heavily influenced by The Hidden Fortress, a Kurosawa film.
I have to admit, when I watched Seven Samurai, I was like, “What da hell?”
I was caught off guard by the soundtrack, pacing and language (despite my slanty eyes, I don’t speak Japanese). I did drag myself through the length of the film, all three hours and forty-five minutes.
Luckily, I had bought The Criterion Collection of the film. There are tons of lectures on the DVD discs, and I listened to all of them, wanting to learn everything I could. What I learned had a profound effect on me and my writing. Or is it my writing and I?
Consolidating Kurosawa’s genius would be difficult and insulting. But here I go. He controlled everything because everything in his films had a purpose, a reason. Every word, action, shadow, even the swipe or fading to the next scene meant something. If someone broke wind, there was a purpose. Unless it was silent but deadly.
The most interesting character is Kikuchiyo, played by Toshiro Mifune. He doesn’t exactly look like a samurai, nor does he walk like one. So is he a samurai? He lugs his extra long sword on his shoulder instead of holstering it around his waist like the other six. What does this say about Kikuchiyo? Is he compensating for something? Or is there a deeper story within the character?
In his dramatic scene, Kikuchiyo admits he was once a villager and somehow found his way to samuraism. (Is that even a word?) This didn’t happen in those days of Japan. It was difficult enough to move up the ranks of the samurai. And admitting you were once a villager was like admitting you’re a woman, when you’re really a man, but without the operation.
The lectures in the special features stated Kikuchiyo symbolized the filmmaker, Kurosawa. His views were somehow reminiscent of Kikuchiyo and his rise in society and that Japan had moved into the modern era. This is further symbolized when each samurai is killed by a modern weapon: the gun. Once the villagers were saved, they continued their lives giving any thought to their saviors. We see the surviving samurai walk from the cemetery where their comrades were buried and out to the horizon, never to return.
I rewatched the film many times, and I grew to love it. The story density is amazing.
It’s interesting to see how we clamor to the magazine stands to find out the latest on celebrities. What atrocities have they committed? But if we were truly curious about who they were, all we'd have to do is turn to their art.
For art is the language of the soul.