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Life of a Samurai : Pride, Honour and Discipline

February 21, 2011 3 comments

This article has been written as a submission for the course ‘Management of Self in organisations’ at IIMC and is based on the movie ‘The Last Samurai’ by Edward Zwick. This is not a movie review but a general discussion.

I saw the movie a few months back. Before watching the movie, I did not have even the faintest idea of what the movie is about. After watching the movie, I felt very good about it, I felt very enlightened. I found many underlying themes running parallel in the movie. They were:-

1)      Doing what is right and the will-power to do it against all odds– The main protagonist of the film stands up for what he thinks is right

2)      Rules – Discipline – The Samurais conduct all their day-to-day activities with a high level of discipline.

3)      Repentance and self redemption – The protagonist of the film, Captain Algren displays these throughout the story.

4)      Pride and honour, Shame – The Samurai way of life is a described in a detailed manner. I found the fact that the Japanese placed their honour above everything else very moving. But again, honour sometimes becomes very subjective and culture specific. And this fact has been discussed in the movie.

5)      Bravery – The movie being a war film to an extent portrays the bravery and sense of self sacrifice of the soldiers. There are a number of instances when someone gives his life or who fights bravely and dies. The usual cinematic way of glorifying the hero is quite evident.

The movie begins with the following statement – “I say Japan was made by a handful of brave men warriors willing to give their lives for what seems to have become a forgotten word Honor” which more or less defines the essence of the movie.

Important Protagonists

Nathan Algren (TOM CRUISE) is shown as a man who has started hating his own life. He hates guns and still has to work for gun shows for the sake of money. Algren had to fight against an army of American Indians and in the process kill many of them. He had to kill innocent people who were not at war with him and thus according to him something extremely unethical. Contrastingly though, Colonel Bagley, his superior is shown to have no remorse whatsoever for what he has done. Thus we can see that Algren is a man of high integrity and does not believe in war just for the sake of it.

But as is shown in the movie, he is surrounded by ironies of his life and thus he was made to do what he hated the most. I also like the fact that he has great clarity of thoughts and is not a bit reluctant to go against his own people when asked to make a choice. He says that the WHITES or his own people come to destroy what he likes the most and hence he will fight them.

I feel that he hated his life so much after joining as the trainer that he even started taking his chances with death. He asks the soldier to take a shot at him and I am sure he wouldn’t have minded being killed by the soldier. But quite contrastingly, he fights hard to save himself from the Japanese when he captured at the end of the battle. This is perhaps because of his will power which is again displayed during his sword fight with Ujio. But this willpower has not helped him so far to change the course of his life. But later on in the movie, I see that when he is given an opportunity to set things right, his willpower helps him complete what he had promised to Katsumoto.

But in spite of all the good will and willpower shown by Algren, he is able to do this because of the recent events in his life where he had started practising the Samurai way of life. He had no trouble sleeping; he could stop alcohol consumption too.

Katsumoto (KEN WATANABE) is a very wise man and has lot of self control. He follows the samurai principles very much and conducts his activities without being very emotional. He is ready to help his old friend in SEPUKKU (The ritualistic suicide), where he cuts off his head. At the same time, he was intelligent enough to understand the sensitivities of another culture and he did not kill Algren as it is not necessary that a person from another culture would be having the same values of shame and defeat. He is patient with Algren and makes him his guest even though Algren has killed his brother in law.

I also see Katsumoto as extremely dedicated to his task. He is a keen learner and student of war and wants to keep improvising. Katsumoto is also a great thinker and is always mindful of the larger good of the society. He is a very experienced person and finds out the reason behind Algren’s nightmares – the fact that he is ashamed of himself. The only point I did like about Katsumoto is the fact that he appreciated bravery even though it means foolhardiness. Algren was much more sensible when it comes to this aspect.

Taka (KOYUKI KATO) is faced with the dilemma of treating the murderer of her husband as her guest and she feels very perturbed about it. She having brought up the samurai way understands that her husband got killed in a war and it was only karma. And she is honest enough to acknowledge that even though she should not have thought ill of Algren, she does so and she is not mentally strong. She is also very forgiving and when Algren apologizes for having killed Hirotaro, she accepts his apology which I think was a great deed on her behalf. She is also brave, though not a skilled samurai and takes up the sword to protect her children. She also sees a father figure in Algren later on in Algren and is ready to accept her husband in spite of him having killed her husband.

From the perspective of the above characters, the story ends on a positive note. These characters are able to achieve what they were striving for and at the same time Omura is punished for his evil ways. Thus the story gives a sense of completion which makes the whole experience of watching the film even more fruitful.

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Mind over Matter or Mind over Machine?

June 25, 2010 10 comments

Welcome back. The post again is about movies and here I am going to discuss three seemingly very different movies but which according to me have a common thread. It is about those movies which go into a virtual world, access to which is through our own brain. And this access is by connecting the brain to a particular machine or system. The movies are THE MATRIX (1999), VANILLA SKY(2001) and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004). All the three movies belong to different genres altogether. While the Matrix is a science fiction – action thriller, Vanilla Sky is a science fiction – psychological thriller. Now comes the most interesting combo. A science fiction – Romantic film. Seems unlikely? Well, Eternal….is indeed one of its kind.

The question arises – ‘Why this particular type of movies ?’. Being a Nolan fan, am waiting with bated breath for the release of ‘Inception’ featuring Leonardo. It is again about getting into the dreams and sharing dream space though I am not sure about the passage through mind – is it through a machine or is it telepathic? Thus I am tempted to do a comparison of these films. Also, two of the movies feature in Pratik’s suggested list as a reply on the last post.

Coming back, lets discuss the plotline of the three movies. Matrix – The movie is set in 1999 where the main protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) who is computer programmer is approached by some hackers who want him to understand ‘The matrix’. It turns out that matrix is a virtual system built by machines for controlling the humans and all that Neo is seeing is the virtual world. Outside the matrix, it is a post 2199 era where the bodies of all humans are being used by the machines for their body heat and bio electrical energy.  The hackers – Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are people in the real world who help unplug Humans from the matrix. Morpheus believes that Neo is the ‘ONE’ (word play of NEO) who is capable of saving the humans from the matrix. Over the course of the movie and the two sequels, NEO helps save the world not before we see a lot of mind blowing action sequences. These scenes were first of their kind and are still being aped the world over in many action movies.

Vanilla Sky talks about David Aames (Tom Cruise), a rich spoilt brat who starts seeing Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). His previous partner Julianna (Cameron Diaz) becomes jealous of them and crashes the car (carrying David and Julianna) on intent because of which David’s face is disfigured . Jullianna dies in the car crash. David loves Sofia but she does not seem to have the same feelings for him. Though eventually she comes to him and helps him recover and have a successful plastic surgery. But later on, he starts seeing weird things, starts seeing Julianna replacing Sofia sometimes. He is also stalked by a strange man who keeps giving him warnings. I won’t be revealing any further, go figure out the rest of the movie for yourselves…..

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind  – The story starts on a train where Joel Barish (Jim Carrey)  and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) meet for the first time. They have an instant liking towards each other. We are slowly taken to flashback, where it is revealed that both were ex-lovers and Clementine had hired the services of Lacuna Inc to erase memories of Joel permanently. Joel is heartbroken and is left with no other choice but to erase his own memory. He goes to Lacuna Inc and applies for a selective memory removal – all memories of Clementine are to be removed permanently.  The employees of Lacuna connect a computer to Joel’s brain and start the procedure. The story then revolves around how once the process starts, Joel is reluctant to part with his memories mind and how he fights back to retain some of their sweet moments together.

All the three movies are complex to a great extent but some of them try and explain the logic to the viewer.  While in Matrix and Eternal ….., the concept of mind-machine interface is introduced early on in the movie, vanilla sky does a great job by holding back the explanation till the very end. It’s a different thing altogether that rather than letting the viewer decipher things himself, he is spoon-fed the whole logic in the last 5 minutes. The matrix is pretty simple to understand and Keanu’s hairstyle gives us a fair idea whether it’s the real world or virtual world. In Eternal, one is expected to be on his toes while watching because of the non-linear style of narration and the continuous movement between the real world and the world of memories.

Though Matrix might seem the oldest of the three, Vanilla sky is the remake of Spanish movie OPEN YOUR EYES(1997) (Abre los ojos) starring Penelope. Also movies like DARK CITY (1998) and THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (1999), though not very popular had started exploring the virtual world.

Talking about success of the films, ‘The Matrix’ as everyone knows has achieved a cult status, has a high ranking of 26 in IMDB and has also won 4 Academy awards – for film editing, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects. Eternal….has reached a high 59 rank in IMDB and film won the Academy award for Best original Screenplay. Kate Winslet got an Academy award nomination once again (She’s got 6 till now and she won at the 6th attempt for THE READER).Vanilla Sky has not got many good reviews (a number of negative reviews by top critics on rotten tomatoes) and it got an average IMDB ranking. But nevertheless, it was a commercial hit.

Few words on casting. None of the main actors were the original choice in The matrix. While many actors were approached before Keanu (one of them was Will Smith), Sean Connery  and Sandra Bullock were approached for the role of Morpheus and Trinity respectively. Vanilla Sky featured all top actors and in a sense was a sure hit. Penelope had just begun her career in English films and Cruise’s affair with Cruz ( J) helped generate a lot of publicity. And finally for Eternal…, both feature in my top 5 list of favourites. While Carrey did a stupendous job, performing in a serious role (not doing his rubber faced comedy, his forte), Kate Winslet stole the show completely. In fact, this role helped Carrey establish himself as an ‘actor’ in the real sense of the term for the first time and not just a comedian.

Personally, I liked Eternal Sunshine … the most. Only thing I did not like about the film is ‘oh so long’ title. I liked this movie the most probably because I am biased towards Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. On a serious note, it’s really difficult to bring science fiction into a romantic theme and the effort was totally worth it. The results are there for you to see.

PS: I had planned to write a post on RAAVAN. But now that the film has bombed, may it RIP.

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