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No Regrets for Our Youth: Kokuten Kōdō, the silent character

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    Fabien

    I watched this film two times, two times I was impressed by the performance of the old man, but I went really aware of a strong impression only after reading, writing and wondering here about the film.

    First, we can certainly say, by watching his filmography (78 roles, it seems), that Kokuten Kōdō is a seasoned actor and that his perfectly laid out resigned-and-grumpy-old-man-face is familiar to us at least in the latter half of his career, being a staple of Kurosawa’s films.

    That’s why I’m so surprised not being able to find more than a few lines about this adorable face on reference sites like imdb or japanese wikipedia.

    Would some experts here know more about him or could explain the use of the pseudonym?

    (Not sure to understand the translated japanese wikipedia article: his real name would be Ichiro Hasegawa Tasuku? What is the last name? And his pseudonym would mean something like High Sanctuary, Country Custom?)

    Our fellow Jeremy already had noticed Kokuten as a remarkable mumbling old man in Seven Samurai, and had shared a theory according to which the old man sentence would summarize the essence of the film, at the very beginning.

    Without going this far about No Regrets, and stressing the point that his words come at the end in this film, I can but take note of the fact that, for a character who remains silent all along, the few words he finally says might be pondered like no other.

    And, here, japanese experts could be handy, once more: are the four curses of Noge’s father correctly translated into english? What do they really imply in japanese?

    I believe that the contrast between long silence and short words has been consciously designed as a violence burst, not only to mark an important step in the story, but also to oppose the verbal violence of the victim (curses) to the physical violence of the oppressor (killing, stone throwing, field plundering).

    Another point which came to my mind, with the help of Vili’s quotes in the women propaganda related topic, is the curious symmetry between the two families.

    While Yukie’s father is an expert at discoursing and Yukie’s mother a rather discreet or unobtrusive wife, Noge’s mother speaks for the pair and Noge’s father is silent as the grave.

    Which leads us, obviously, to another to-be-confirmed symmetry and grave question: is Yukie’s mother mute about the future of her daughter (she asks her husband to speak for the two of them) like Noge’s father would have been muted by the past of his son?

    Thus, between other questions, has Noge’s father always been a silent man, or has he been muted by Noge’s death?

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    Vili Maunula

    Fabien: Would some experts here know more about him or could explain the use of the pseudonym? (Not sure to understand the translated japanese wikipedia article: his real name would be Ichiro Hasegawa Tasuku? What is the last name? And his pseudonym would mean something like High Sanctuary, Country Custom?)

    Machine translation is quite hopeless with Japanese names since there are often numerous possible ways to read them. The article gives tanigawa saichiroo (谷川 佐市郎, たにがわ さいちろう) as the reading for his real name (Tanigawa being the family name).

    As for the name that he actually used, the family name koodoo (高堂) apparently means “you” or “your beautiful home”, and kokuten (国典) “a nation’s laws” or “national rites and ceremonies”. Or that is what my dictionary program tells me. It’s a rather peculiar choice for sure!

    According to the article, between 1939 and 1946 when he didn’t work for Toho, he used an alternative spelling for his pseudonym: 高堂 黒天. It is pronounced the same, the kanji in the family name is the same, while the first name is a combination of “black” and “sky”. Interestingly, the use of this arguably gloomier version also pretty much corresponds with the war years.

    Fabien: are the four curses of Noge’s father correctly translated into english? What do they really imply in japanese?

    Unfortunately, I am unable to decipher his mumbles. I managed to locate the scene in the script that is at the Kurosawa Archives, but it does not seem to correspond with the filmed version, as there are only two curses written (as far as I can see — I might also be totally mistaken). One of the two, 阿呆 (ahoo), seems to be in the film. It means “fool, simpleton, idiot”. The curse after that in the film seems to be some variant of the very common 馬鹿 (baka) “fool, idiot”. I don’t get the rest, but based on these two there doesn’t seem to be much additional depth to the insults. I’d love to hear someone else’s take, though!

    I sometimes wonder if I should throw some money into a complete Japanese collection of Kurosawa’s movies, just for the sake of Japanese subtitle files that would help tremendously in dealing with questions about translation.

    Fabien: has Noge’s father always been a silent man, or has he been muted by Noge’s death?

    My guess is that it’s because of the way Noge brought shame, or at least uncalled for attention, to the family. Maybe he has nothing to say to Yukie because of that.

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    Ugetsu

    I don’t know anything about Kokuten Kōdō, but he’s terrific in this film and Seven Samurai, a real gem of a character actor. I’m afraid my Japanese is non-existent so I can’t comment on your questions! But I’d echo what Vili says, it would be wonderful if we had a fully translated set of scripts and transcripts from the films, suitably annotated to deal with wordplay. Somewhere there must be someone looking for a PhD topic…

    Thus, between other questions, has Noge’s father always been a silent man, or has he been muted by Noge’s death?

    I certainly got the impression that his silence was the result of shock at Noge’s death. I would have assumed his wife would have been much less tolerant towards his behavior if he’d always been like that. And we have to assume that someone like Noge couldn’t have become a Kyoto University student from a peasant background unless he had at least one parent that was out of the ordinary, in the sense of encouragement and support.

    .

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    Garen

    My take on Noge’s father’s silence (from my single viewing of the film) was it being a result of the way they were being treated by their once-fellow villagers, causing him to become depressed and withdrawn, with maybe some conflicted emotions towards his dead son as being the cause of the situation.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hi Fabien. Kokuten is in so many films, and is a joy to see always. Fun to find him Mushashi Miyamoto II! Fun to see him in Gojira!

    I think Kurosawa mentioned that he used to take his teeth out to look older. Or maybe it was in Prince. Can’t look up now, anyone have the answer?

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    lawless

    Kokuten is also in Scandal – he’s one of the witnesses the lawyer finds and uses after putting off the search for them. I think his character was silent due to shame over Noge’s activities and death, though I suspect that he’s not very talkative even under the best of conditions.

    I agree with Vili’s suggestion that he has nothing to say to Yukie. He may also have been restraining himself. It’s likely that if he spoke, he would castigate her for what Noge did — remember, Noge said that if he visited his parents, his father would just yell at him — which would be impolite and ungrateful considering the way Yukie was extending herself. In Japanese society, wives are considered part of their husband’s families. If Noge had been more traditional, he and Yukie would have lived with his parents and helped with the farm and she would have remained there after his death. By visiting and insisting on staying to help them, she was in her own way trying to heal the breach his having left them in the lurch caused.

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