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Sanjuro: The old lady and the Samurai

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    Ugetsu

    One thing thats always puzzled me about the plot of Sanjuro is why it is that the Samurai, who throughout the film shows complete contempt for both his allies and his enemies in the film, is so thoroughly intimidated by the old lady. He both insults her (calling her an old woman rather than using her honorific title) and tries to ignore her. In the haybarn scene, we seem him squirming in what looks like embarrassment as he sits behind the two women. Although he complains later, he does exactly what she tells him to do (not executing the prisoner), and then for the sole occasion in both films, degrades himself by allowing himself to be used as a human stepladder.

    Is there some significance to this? Or is it just a reflection that an apparently silly old dear sees right though him to the man beneath (the unsheathed sword) and that Sanjuro recognises this immediately? Or is it implied that this tough, rough Samurai is really terrified of the domestic (i.e. female) world?

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    lawless

    I thought this was both a status and gender thing. I don’t think he’s so much terrified as respectful and possibly a little intimidated. After all, it was the women who held the purse strings and ran the household, and in this case, he’s ronin whereas she’s true aristocracy and acts that way. She’s completely self-assured. Plus I suspect men, particularly fighting men, were socialized to protect the women of the household they were affiliated with.

    Also, as the relative of some intimidating older Asian women myself (though Korean, not Japanese), I can tell you that you don’t mess with them unless you want to hear about it!

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    Jeremy

    Yeah, I’ll have to go with Lawless with this one. Although, I don’t think the consideration that she was aristocracy, or even the string puller plays a major role in Sanjuro’s thought, but certainly it was there. If items like aristocracy were of importance, I don’t think the verbal insult would take place, they were used instead as a lame, perhaps desperate attempt to protect himself from her.

    Indeed she as Sanjuro could feel, is able to peer right through the front, that he, and most men present. This is no doubt, a weakening effect for the man, and it’s ultimately embarrassing. This however leaves a simple respect, respect, from her being so self-assured, and unamused by Sanjuro, he has no room to navigate, and falls to the mercy of her command.

    Behind the timid, fragile persona of an old Asian lady, often lays a terrifying fury, Godzilla in size behind close doors. Sometimes even the young ones can put up a fight. 😯

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hmmmm, your second paragraph, Jeremy: that’s what I think.

    A woman of experience with any wits about her probably has seen enough of men’s ways and wiles to understand bluff, bluster and bull potatoes. Sanjuro’s discomfort and respect are tied just exactly in the way you beautifully described.

    I think also we are meant to understand that genuine aristocracy of the spirit has nothing to do with birth, but everything to do with kindness, and adherence to the principles of ahimsa (harm not).

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    Jeremy

    Just dont take away my bull potatoes, I got nothing else going for me.

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    lawless

    Jeremy: LOL.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hey Jeremy, don’t make me laugh out loud in my office-people will wonder what’s going on!

    I am surprised at how actually complex the film’s attitudes toward violence are: we see the moral superiority of the long-faced clan elder in the denouement-the penultimate scene of the film before the blood spurt when he expresses regret at the violence done on his behalf.

    On the other hand, the violence Sanjuro uses seems necessary.

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    lawless

    Coco – Perhaps the point is that one may use violence when necessary but one should still regret it and not glory in it? Lao Tzu (or whatever his name really is) says something to that effect in the Tao Te Ching. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to lay my hands on my copy. Basically, you should never gloat over the defeat of your enemy because violence and war are terrible things.

    Not that I”m suggesting Kurosawa is making a Taoist filme, just that the thought behind it is the same or similar.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Yes, lawless, the ahimsa-like view or moral is basically Buddhist (or Taoist)-you choose your fave path!

    The complexity comes in that the long-faced clan head thinks that thinks might have been done differently. He believes that violence was not necessary. So, in this way, he is somewhat radical-particularly to a Western pragmatic mind!

    With the final blood spurt-Sanjuro really does regret! But still, it almost had to be done. I am curious. What do you think the long-faced clan leader would have done alternately? If he had been confronted just so, what would have been his response?

    Is Kurosawa criticizing the samurai way? He seems also to be admiring his character Sanjuro, as well as the long-faced clansman.

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    lawless

    Coco – I don’t remember enough of the film, which I last watched maybe eight months ago, to say how the official they rescued would have done things differently, but I thought he was suggesting that he had things under control and would have worked out a means of escape or bribing them to let him go on his own without everyone’s help.

    I agree, Kurosawa appears to admire Sanjuro as well as the long-faced clan leader. In part, he admires the latter for being non-corrupt but wise enough not to be obvious about it and therefore still in a position to observe the corruption and eventually do something about it. I get the sense that the clan leader functions somewhat like an undercover police officer in that he sees and has to tolerate lower level evil in order to bring down and eradicate higher level evil later on. Maybe the problem is that even Sanjuro is jumping the gun and bringing things to a premature conclusion, such that the clan leader is rescued but the corruption isn’t ended because there’s not enough evidence to make the charge stick?

    As I’m typing this I’m thinking the issue of corruption and who to trust should be a new thread…

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    Vili Maunula

    I, too, have wondered about Sanjuro’s reaction to the old lady. In addition to the ones already suggested, I have another one to offer: perhaps Sanjuro, who is apparently shortly turning forty, is not so comfortable with the fact that it is not the pretty and young one from the two women who he might have a chance with. The old woman reminds him of his age.

    Or, maybe he actually is attracted to the old lady, who herself seems to assume the type of relationship with him that you see between older Japanese couples. Maybe Sanjuro as a lone wolf type of character just doesn’t really know what to do with this newly suggested domestic role, and it terrifies him.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Wow, Vili, I must say that I never expected physical attraction to be any part of this discussion-that is: I just never consciously thought about it before. Now that you mention it, I was aware in a non-verbal way of the attractive young lady and the elder lying in the hay, breathing deep-and that it might be somewhat inappropriately free to do that in front of Sanjuro.

    Now that I think of it-it really is a rather astonishing thing-both women completely being so free in front of a stranger…and, their lying back in the hay is the kind of surrender to sensuality that might provoke some sensual thoughts in an onlooker. So, the message to Sanjuro is-he is not even on the radar of either woman as a man. How strange! Or, if he is being told that these are two feminine presences-why? What is the purpose?

    And, clearly, the young lady is aware that when she would steal away into the barn and fall asleep beside a male-that it was considered by the elder “quite rude”! But, the dynamic between the two females deserves some more thought. Is the elder’s succumbing to the softness and smell of hay a way of signalling her sensuality and “woman-ness” to both the young female and Sanjro-and asserting her role as the “number one” female? Of course the young male clansman will give sway to her, and he understands her position in the clan, her authority as a woman.

    The more you think about it, the curioser it seems. Also, the more amazing a little scene it is!

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    lawless

    Coco, that is a strange scene. I always took the older woman’s relaxing in the hay as a sign of trust and comfort, and only the younger woman’s doing so as sensual. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been so presumptuous.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco:

    The more you think about it, the curioser it seems. Also, the more amazing a little scene it is!

    It is an intriguing scene that continues to puzzle me. Vili’s idea that there is some sort of attraction between Sanjuro and the old lady is intriging, but I must admit I find it hard to see! One of the characteristics of the character is that he seems impervious to sexual desire (e.g. his refusal of a free prostitute in Yojimbo) – another reason (to beat this drum again) why he might be seen as a marabito.

    I assume the sensuality of the scene is deliberate, and surely there is a reference here to the slightly saucy haybarn scenes that were common in westerns? I do find it strange that the younger woman hints at the naughtiness of having spent time in the hay, but says its with her brother, not someone else. Are we to assume she lies about visiting with her brother in order to hint to the old lady that she is sexually experienced without saying it bluntly? Maybe, now that I think of it, the source of Sanjuro’s discomfort is his feeling that he is overhearing a very intimate conversation between two women, one which he isn’t supposed to hear – but to the women he is so low status it simply doesn’t matter if he hears it.

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