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Scandal: Is Hiruta a Kurosawa hero?

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    Ugetsu

    The concept of the ‘Kurosawa Hero’ probably deserves its own thread – but I assume we all have a fairly clear idea of who he or she is – from Sugata onwards to at least Kayama in Red Beard (you could argue that in the later films he has been dropped by Kurosawa). An individual who struggles against society to achieve some sort of self actualization through action.

    In some respects, Hiruta falls into this category. He is an intelligent but failed man (a little like Watanabe in Ikiru) who finally achieves some sort of redemption in an individual act of courage.

    But in other respects he is different to other Kurosawa heroes. For one thing, he is almost comically weak and indecisive. And, unlike almost every other Kurosawa hero, he talks far too much (except when he is supposed to, at the trial). He only achieves his victory under extreme shame and pressure, rather than due to a process of intellectual and emotional struggle.

    So, maybe he is something else? Rather than a hero, is he intended as the central metaphor for the film – representing post war Japan? Beaten, downtrodden, sentimental, subservient to America, lacking all self respect, and only standing up for himself when it is almost too late?

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    Vili Maunula

    I don’t think that I would go as far as to say that Hiruta is a direct representation of Japan, but he — or the battle that he fights within — certainly stands for something.

    I’m actually not sure if Hiruta is supposed to be the hero of the film, although he probably ends up doing so. It seems to me that the opposite of what happened on the set of Drunken Angel happened here. I think Mifune’s painter was supposed to be the main character in Scandal, but Kurosawa fell in love with Shimura’s lawyer, much like Mifune’s gangster stole the screen from Shimura’s doctor in Drunken Angel.

    I find Aoye’s words at the end of the film a little puzzling. He says that the victory in court was nothing compared to seeing “a star being born”. I must say that I fail to see that. If anything, I see a man so overcome by guilt that he finally betrays the person that he betrayed another person for. I’m not saying that Hiruta is a bad person, or what he did wasn’t a huge sacrifice (I would assume that he won’t be practising much law after this), but I still fail to see the “star”. But then again, Aoye is someone for whom mountains move and are red, so I guess we just see things differently. And perhaps one needs to be ready to forgive even the worst offenders — those who betray not only other but also themselves. Is that what the film is communicating?

    More than Watanabe, I see Hiruta as a failed version of Sanada from Drunken Angel. While in Drunken Angel Sanada could, despite his temper and drinking, at least attempt to do good, Hiruta is too weak to accomplish that. He fails to really prove the “innocence” of the couple that he is representing, and wins the case only by exposing the corruption on the other side of the courtroom. What has come out of the whole thing is not that the painter and singer have been shown not guilty for the “offence”, but that there is corruption everywhere, even amongst the most well-meaning.

    Also, do you think that Aoye would actually have pressed the charges had Hiruta (and his daughter’s story) not interfered? Hiruta originally offers his services because he thinks that the publisher may sue Aoye for the physical assault, but this doesn’t happen. And is physical assault less condemnable than an invasion of privacy, especially if the magazine is only printing what the readers, the real problem one might say, want to read?

    Much happens in the film, but the final scene is telling — as soon as the scandal is over, it has already faded away into oblivion, and all parties go their own separate ways. Life goes on. The only thing that continues to stand strong is that English sign post. Was anything actually gained (or lost) through the law suit?

    If I may continue on this extremely free-form train of thought, could we say that Hiruta hijacks the story from Aoye and Saijo? Even if nothing happened between them, Aoye is clearly interested in the singer, and the way in which she seems to look back at him appears to indicate that she wouldn’t necessarily be against another vacation retreat with him, either. Had Hiruta and his problems not taken centre stage, and the story remained Aoye and Saijo’s, would the “obvious” train of events have been for them to fall for one another? Although I doubt that Kurosawa would have actually made that movie, could we still say that Hiruta comes in between Aoye and Saijo’s happiness?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Great question, Ugetsu! Seems as if he is meant to be a hero, but that we are conflicted about whether or not he has achieved a victory. Vili has what I think is a good theory about the character getting away from Kurosawa. And, I might mention the strangeness of some of Kurosawa’s character’s conclusions and statements. Honestly, so many of Kurosawa’s characters state emphatic things that contradict my understanding- I’m with VIli in finding it odd that Mifune’s character

    …”says that the victory in court was nothing compared to seeing “a star being born”. “

    What? Is the judicial system so cavalier about attempted bribery?

    Shimura’s Sanada and Hiruta are both drunks, so I am confused as to Kurosawa’s anecdote about a film “needing something…” and suddenly remembering about the drunken lawyer with the tubercular daughter…which film does that refer to? I think it is Scandal…but cannot be sure. The fact is, neither Sanada nor Hiruta make heros about whom I feel unconflicted.

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    Vili Maunula

    Your memory serves you reasonably well, Coco. Scandal‘s Hiruta was indeed based on someone Kurosawa had met, years earlier, at a local bar. He did not, however, realise this until about half a year after the film was released — he had modelled the character after the real life person completely unaware of the influence!

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    cocoskyavitch

    That’s a wonderful story, Vili. Thanks for reminding me and sharing it. Dang, Kurosawa is really was the artist! That’s exactly how I think it often works in an truly creative person’s mind…all those layers of inquiry and thinking and feeling are being worked out sometimes beneath the conscious mind. Sir Kenneth Clark once stated a condition of a “masterpiece being

    …”a confluence of memories and emotions forming a single idea”

    (http://www.sdfas.org/blog/what-masterpiece-part-one)

    I feel as if that describes the successful content exploration that results in what Clive Bell called “significant form” .

    Ugetsu-the thread “what is a Kurosawa hero?” might be lovely!

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    Ugetsu

    Well, I think you are both right – the character seems to have taken on a life of his own – as such he is quite ambiguous. I’m wondering if the ‘star is born’ comment is a reference back to the Christmas/New Year scene? That this really is his ‘new years resolution’, and maybe he will really keep to it this time?

    he thread “what is a Kurosawa hero?” might be lovely!

    I did read somewhere a good definition of the Kurosawa hero, but I can’t remember whether it was Richie, Mellen, Prince, or someone else entirely…..

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu, I hope you find the definition!

    I think the “hero” in Kurosawa has incredible range. I mean, Yojimbo is not the same hero as Wattanabe in Ikiru. For that matter, Seven Samurai we have Gambei and Kikuchiyo, and Kyuzo…

    I’ll bet you guys could wax on eloquently about the topic. I would be interested!

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    Ugetsu

    Vili:

    Also, do you think that Aoye would actually have pressed the charges had Hiruta (and his daughter’s story) not interfered? Hiruta originally offers his services because he thinks that the publisher may sue Aoye for the physical assault, but this doesn’t happen

    I’m pretty sure it would never have gone to court if it hadn’t been for Hiruta. Aoye is a fascinating character – I never got the impression he wanted to win the case, once HIruta entered the door he had other ideas – he became fascinated by the man and his daughter and wanted to see what would happen if he got close to them. In a way, everyone else saw Hiruta as a blue mountain, he say him as a red mountain. He wanted to know which one was true. I think Kurosawa (presumably deliberately), undercuts the importance of the ‘scandal’ at this point, and turns it into a familiar Kurosawa study of whether human beings are really capable of change.

    In a way, Aoye was doing what Kurosawa was subconsciously doing when he met that man in a bar. He was curious as to whether there is a hero hidden inside the loser.

    As for Aoye and the Saigo, it did seem to me as if there had been a different storyline there – a more familiar one – that after the scandal they really do fall in love – but it got left behind as Kurosawa got more interested in Hiruta. But that would have been far to neat and obvious for Kurosawa, so we just have those little hints (which I think are much more satisfying than some sort of big scene where their feelings all tumble out). But then again, it may be that Kurosawa just wasn’t comfortable with love stories (although One Wonderful Sunday is a pretty good stab at one of course).

    Coco

    Ugetsu, I hope you find the definition!

    Still looking! I’ll come up with something for a new thread – yes, it would be interested (although as I think about it I think the notion of the ‘Kurosawa hero’ is pretty shaky.

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    lawless

    Vili:

    I find Aoye’s words at the end of the film a little puzzling. He says that the victory in court was nothing compared to seeing “a star being born”. I must say that I fail to see that. If anything, I see a man so overcome by guilt that he finally betrays the person that he betrayed another person for.

    Ugetsu:

    I’m wondering if the ‘star is born’ comment is a reference back to the Christmas/New Year scene?

    The ‘star is born’ comment is a reference back to what Aoe says to Hiruta by the fetid swamp in which the stars appeared at the end of the drunken Christmas scene and Aoe compared them to Masako: Aoe tells Hiruta “Someday even you may turn into a star. You may shine too.”

    In other words, Hiruta redeemed himself by acting nobly, as his daughter had predicted he would, even though he did it by dragging himself into the gutter and exposing himself as a crook, whereas his daughter always acted nobly and in an angelic fashion. Aoe was moved and perhaps even a little astonished at watching Hiruta’s transformation from a weak person to someone who did the right thing even at great cost to himself.

    Btw, before moving on to the next point, is there some reason why Kurosawa seemingly had a fixation on fetid swamps? They play a prominent role in three of his movies: Drunken Angel, Scandal, and Ikiru. In fact, I think of the swamps in Drunken Angel and Ikiru as being the same swamp, only all Sanada can do is complain about it, while in Ikiru, Watanabe cleans it up. Did this echo some personal experience of Kurosawa’s, or something he read or heard?

    Before I watched the movie, I assumed that Hiruta didn’t admit to his corruption until after his daughter died because the reason he was susceptible to a bribe was due to the financial burden of his daughter’s illness, but the movie suggests that it was a combination of his desire to make her death mean something by acting in accordance with her final words and the defense attorney’s statement about the publisher’s belief in his innocence that set him off. I wonder whether Hiruta would have confessed if the defense attorney had taken a different tack in his closing argument.

    Vili:

    Hiruta … fails to really prove the “innocence” of the couple that he is representing, and wins the case only by exposing the corruption on the other side of the courtroom. What has come out of the whole thing is not that the painter and singer have been shown not guilty for the “offence”, but that there is corruption everywhere, even amongst the most well-meaning

    That’s not how it came across to me. I didn’t get the sense that the defense attorney’s attack undermined the witnesses’ credibility; he implied that Hiruta acted incompetently by not finding and interviewing the witnesses to begin with and presenting them right away to bolster his client’s position. He questioned Hiruta’s motives and his ethics by implying that the case was a ‘nuisance suit’ used to shake down the magazine for a quick and (usually) small or token settlement, as evidenced by his devoting as little time and effort as possible to it before filing suit. .

    I don’t know if Japan permitted contingency fees then or whether it does now, but this type of behavior is not uncommon in run of the mill tort actions in the US, where the the usual rate of a one-third contingency fee menas that an attorney who settles quickly stands to pocket a decent fee considering the minimal investment of time.

    Shorn of the implications about Hiruta’s motives, the locals’ testimony demonstrates that Aoe and Saigo didn’t travel there together, but met by accident, thus undermining the claim that they were lovers on a secret tryst. Since that was the gist of the accusation against them, I’d say that the plaintiffs proved that the article and the spin put on the photo were untrue and thus proved they were defamed. More about that in another post.

    Vili:

    Even if nothing happened between them, Aoye is clearly interested in the singer, and the way in which she seems to look back at him appears to indicate that she wouldn’t necessarily be against another vacation retreat with him, either. Had Hiruta and his problems not taken centre stage, and the story remained Aoye and Saijo’s, would the “obvious” train of events have been for them to fall for one another? Although I doubt that Kurosawa would have actually made that movie, could we still say that Hiruta comes in between Aoye and Saijo’s happiness?

    I think one reason Saigo might have been reluctant to join the lawsuit was that maintaining the lawsuit would require that they not pursue a relationship. I agree 110% that both of them were interested in the other on the basis of both body language and behavior. That’s my interpretation of, for example, her singing nothing but the song she’d been singing when she happened upon Aoe and his kibitzers ever since her visit to the mountains and her request to purchase the painting he’d been working on when they met (and possibly his reason for wanting not to sell the painting as well).

    I even saw mutual interest in their body language when they sat on her balcony; the way the whole thing looked on film, with her moving backward, practically into his chest, while he pointed out the swamp, was far less innocent looking than the still photo itself turned out to be.

    I think one possibility, had Hiruta and Masako not hijacked the movie, would be for Kurosawa to show Aoe and Saigo falling for each other (something I think is already present in a milder, unrequited form in the movie as it is) but holding off from acting on it because it will hurt the lawsuit and/or their reputations. That would be more interesting than a straightforward story about them falling for each other.

    As for Hiruta’s heroism: I agree that it is of a different nature than, say, Sanada’s. He actually reminds me more of Watanabe, except Watanabe was more accomplished and less of a worm beforehand and was able to act without sacrificing his reputation. Both, however, come across as beaten down by life. They even resemble each other physically.

    Sanada is, if anything, obnoxious and carries himself haughtily. The only point of contact bewteen Sanada and Hiruta (other than that they’re played, marvelously, by the same actor) is that they’re both alcoholics, but for different reasons: Sanada to cope with the frustrations of being a doctor in a less affluent neighborhood where environmental conditions sicken people but nobody does anything to remedy them and most of his patients have so much else to cope with that they don’t listen to him either, Hiruta to cope with his feelings of helplessness and contempt over not being able to do anything for his saintly dying daughter other than sell out.

    I have other thoughts about the lawsuit qua lawsuit and the movie as a whole but will save them for a separate post, either in the existing thread regarding Scandal as a critque of the West and the occupation or in a new thread.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless:The ‘star is born’ comment is a reference back to what Aoe says to Hiruta by the fetid swamp in which the stars appeared at the end of the drunken Christmas scene and Aoe compared them to Masako: Aoe tells Hiruta “Someday even you may turn into a star. You may shine too.”

    Thanks, lawless! I had actually completely forgotten about that. 😳 Having said that, it still doesn’t quite explain to me why Aoye sees Hiruta’s actions as so noble and praiseworthy.

    lawless: is there some reason why Kurosawa seemingly had a fixation on fetid swamps?

    I have always assumed it to be a metaphor, as well as a concrete visual of the destruction suffered by Japan both morally and in terms of its infrastructure. Something lurks under that muddy surface, and it poisons the residents around it. It needs to be cleared out, but ultimately the only one who can do so is a dying man who has nothing to lose. No one else is ready to touch it.

    lawless:Shorn of the implications about Hiruta’s motives, the locals’ testimony demonstrates that Aoe and Saigo didn’t travel there together, but met by accident, thus undermining the claim that they were lovers on a secret tryst. Since that was the gist of the accusation against them, I’d say that the plaintiffs proved that the article and the spin put on the photo were untrue and thus proved they were defamed.

    Now, that’s exactly what Hiruta should have said as his closing remarks! 🙂 Perhaps from a judicial point of view, we could indeed say that Hiruta succeeded in what he was paid to accomplish.

    However, I very much wonder if the evidence brought to the court by Hiruta was enough to make the reading public understand that the story was a lie? Because, ultimately in a case like this, isn’t the public the real jury? Of course, I wonder if there was at this point any way to take away what the paper had printed. Michael Jackson will forever be remembered as a child molester by many, even if he was never convicted of such behaviour.

    In any case, I would really love to hear about your thoughts about the lawsuit and the whole legal process depicted in the film, lawless!

    Also, reading everyone’s comments, I’m glad to hear that it is not just me who assumes a suppressed romance between Aoye and Saijo. I think that it is actually quite a masterful stoke by Kurosawa to include the hints. As with his other films of the era, he once again refuses to give us a straightforward good/bad setup. Not only does Hiruta break the boundary between these two domains, but we are also questioning whether something actually was going on between the two supposed “lovers”, if not physically then at least in their heads.

    Maybe the two characters’ reactions to the publication could also be attributed to this? When he found out about the story, Aoye was confused, then somewhat embarrassed, and finally violent. Saijo, meanwhile, seemed to have surrendered to the tabloid reality. Whether this is because she already knows what life in the tabloids is, or whether she is questioning how much of the story really is true, could be asked.

    In any case, this (the chorus) I suppose could have been Aoye’s defence speech. Then again, I’m no lawyer and I don’t know if late 80s synthpop-funk is allowed in the court room.

    Anyway, now that I have managed to slip in both a Michael Jackson and Prince reference, I feel that my work here is done. 😛

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    cocoskyavitch

    Lawless said,:

    “Btw, before moving on to the next point, is there some reason why Kurosawa seemingly had a fixation on fetid swamps? They play a prominent role in three of his movies: Drunken Angel, Scandal, and Ikiru. In fact, I think of the swamps in Drunken Angel and Ikiru as being the same swamp… “

    I actually think of the swamps in Drunken and Scandal as the same-and, in fact, sometimes confuse other features of these two films.

    Vili mentions the symbolism, and I believe he has most of it right…I also have a feeling that there is a post-war post-Buddhist symbolism. Once the swamp no longer brings forth the lotus (you know the traditonal symbolism of muddy water bringing forth the pristine blossom-symbolising Buddha being brought forth from the sludge of this world) we are in the modern post-war age of post-religion, post-miracle, post-faith.

    So, how is the swamp redeemed? By the efforts of a human choice for redemption.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    Btw, before moving on to the next point, is there some reason why Kurosawa seemingly had a fixation on fetid swamps? They play a prominent role in three of his movies: Drunken Angel, Scandal, and Ikiru. In fact, I think of the swamps in Drunken Angel and Ikiru as being the same swamp, only all Sanada can do is complain about it, while in Ikiru, Watanabe cleans it up. Did this echo some personal experience of Kurosawa’s, or something he read or heard?

    I was wondering about that too. They even look a little like each other (maybe they had one close by the studios?) I don’t think there is anything in his autobiography to suggest an obsession with swamps. I assume that its a simple reflection of the reality of urban Japan immediately after the war. I don’t know if the USAF used the blockbusters that the RAF used in Germany, which were deliberately designed to destroy water pipes and drains, but I imagine the bombing did do a lot of damage to underground infrastructure which, along with the chaotic and poorly organised rebuilding, would have meant that such swamps would have been a feature of poorer areas after every rainy season. I’m not sure it was anything more than a pretty good visual metaphor representing official neglect of poor people.

    Shorn of the implications about Hiruta’s motives, the locals’ testimony demonstrates that Aoe and Saigo didn’t travel there together, but met by accident, thus undermining the claim that they were lovers on a secret tryst. Since that was the gist of the accusation against them, I’d say that the plaintiffs proved that the article and the spin put on the photo were untrue and thus proved they were defamed. More about that in another post.

    Great comment, I’d like to hear more about this from you. The court scenes did confuse me a little, as I couldn’t quite understand what the defending lawyer’s points were sometimes. He seemed to be professionally affronted by the lack of any real challenge.

    I think one possibility, had Hiruta and Masako not hijacked the movie, would be for Kurosawa to show Aoe and Saigo falling for each other (something I think is already present in a milder, unrequited form in the movie as it is) but holding off from acting on it because it will hurt the lawsuit and/or their reputations. That would be more interesting than a straightforward story about them falling for each other.

    Nice – I’ve been trying to make up my mind as to whether the film would or not have been better if the idea of a love affair between the two had been followed up. But I think its good that Kurosawa avoided the easy option of a big romantic ending. You also make a very interesting (and I think correct) insight that Saijo was influenced by her feelings for Aoye in not wanting to support the lawsuit. I think you are right in saying that her body language indicates she liked him a lot, while Aoye was maybe a little too wrapped up in himself to recognize his own attraction to her. I suspect there are subtleties there which us non-Japanese speakers are missing.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    In any case, this (the chorus) I suppose could have been Aoye’s defence speech. Then again, I’m no lawyer and I don’t know if late 80s synthpop-funk is allowed in the court room.

    Nice one! If they allow those silly horsehair wigs, then surely 80’s synthpop-funk should be allowable.

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    lawless

    Thanks for the thoughts about the signficance of the fetid swamp, everyone. I should have made it clearer that I was wondering why he used a fetid swamp as a metaphor for the state of post-war Japanese society instead of some other visual representation. I thought maybe there was a well-known case of an epidemic of a disease, such as dysentery, typhus, or malaria, that broke out that could be traced back to such a swamp that gave him the idea.

    At any rate, from now on, I’m addinig fetid swamps (it really does look like the exact same one in all three movies, doesn’t it?) to the list of visuals typifying his movies from the 40s and 50s set in contemporary Japan, just it wouldn’t seem like a Kurosawa movie without weather effects (wind, heat, but especially rain).

    Perhaps one’s response to Hiruta’s change of heart depends on one’s sensibilities. To me, it seems like a big change, so I empathize with Aoe’s amazement – so much so, indeed, that I teared up at that point in the film. Perhaps it’s in part because he’s condemned himself to looking for another career; in the US, such an admission would certainly result in disbarment, and I can’t imagine that it would be any different in Japan.

    I’m hoping to get around to my other post about the legal aspects of Scandal and my general reaction to the film, but part of what puzzles me about the legal aspects, and the movie in general, is this: Is Hiruta a basically competent lawyer who’s been drained and rendered lazy and susceptible to corruption because he’s beaten down by circumstances, or was he always less than competent and just out to make easy money — what would be called, in the US, an ‘ambulance chaser’?

    The location and state of his office and his not realizing off the bat that he needed both parties to mount a strong case suggest the latter, but he shows flashes of eloquence and logic while speaking to Aoe and Hori, and it’s possible that he started out in a better office and had to move to this one because of the resources being devoted to the care of his daughter. To this end, it would be interesting and helpful to know if he was always a drunkard and gambler or if those were activities he took up as a means of coping with or escaping from an unpleasant reality after she became ill. Or perhaps he drank and gambled before, but recreationally and not to excess.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    Perhaps one’s response to Hiruta’s change of heart depends on one’s sensibilities. To me, it seems like a big change, so I empathize with Aoe’s amazement – so much so, indeed, that I teared up at that point in the film.

    But is it really such a big change? He was clearly conflicted the whole way through – its not like he was enthusiastically following his instructions to blow the case. And we are to assume that Aoye always had faith in him – or were we to believe that Aoye was a bit of a fool to think Hiruta would come good – he basically just got lucky that he did?

    Is Hiruta a basically competent lawyer who’s been drained and rendered lazy and susceptible to corruption because he’s beaten down by circumstances, or was he always less than competent and just out to make easy money — what would be called, in the US, an ‘ambulance chaser’?

    I think the only real clue we’re given is that he arrives on the first day in a very archaic set of clothes. This implies I assume that he hasn’t even stepped into a courtroom since before the war. And of course he wins in the end not by making a show-stopping speech, it is only through his honesty. If he was meant to be a formerly great lawyer fallen on hard times, that would, I assume, be the Hollywood choice of ending. So I’m inclined to think he was never meant to be much of a lawyer.

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    NoelCT

    coco: …I also have a feeling that there is a post-war post-Buddhist symbolism. Once the swamp no longer brings forth the lotus (you know the traditonal symbolism of muddy water bringing forth the pristine blossom-symbolising Buddha being brought forth from the sludge of this world) we are in the modern post-war age of post-religion, post-miracle, post-faith.

    Which instantly brings to mind the sequence in Kurosawa’s debut, SANSHIRO SUGATA, where the hero spends a night standing in a swamp, taking solance in the sight of a blooming flower (lotus?). It’s almost a perfect contrast between the naive films of forced war propoganda and the harsh realities following that system’s collapse.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu:

    I think the only real clue we’re given is that he arrives on the first day in a very archaic set of clothes. This implies I assume that he hasn’t even stepped into a courtroom since before the war. And of course he wins in the end not by making a show-stopping speech, it is only through his honesty. If he was meant to be a formerly great lawyer fallen on hard times, that would, I assume, be the Hollywood choice of ending. So I’m inclined to think he was never meant to be much of a lawyer.

    I think you’re right; that’s the most likely solution. But it’s remotely possible that his turning up in an outdated outfit was part of his throwing the case.

    This illustrates one of my difficulties with the movie. It’s fine to leave some things open-ended for the audience to fill in, such as what the magazine article accompanying the photo actually said, but here a different interpretation affects how one views Hiruta and to some extent Aoe, as well as the arc of the movie as a whole. Even though the various interpretations are not all equally plausible, this bothers me. Since which one is right affects my view of the characters and the movie, having a provisional theory still leaves me up in the air.

    As for Aoe’s belief that Hiruta would pull through in the end: I think Aoe was going with his gut feeling. In a sense, though, Aoe’s belief in him was part of the reason he comes clean in the end. Masako’s faith stemmed from Aoe’s assuring her earlier that her father would do the right thing in the end. Without that, she might not have said what she said just before she died; without that, Hiruta might have continued to play along with Hori right up to the end.

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    cocoskyavitch

    NoelICT

    …Which instantly brings to mind the sequence in Kurosawa’s debut, SANSHIRO SUGATA, where the hero spends a night standing in a swamp, taking solance in the sight of a blooming flower (lotus?). It’s almost a perfect contrast between the naive films of forced war propoganda and the harsh realities following that system’s collapse.

    Right on! nicely noted.

    lawless, I am intrigued by your musings over the character of Hiruta

    …”Is Hiruta a basically competent lawyer who’s been drained and rendered lazy and susceptible to corruption because he’s beaten down by circumstances, or was he always less than competent..?

    I’m truly not sure. I almost wish that Kurosawa’s extension of compassion and redemption goes out to even those who were always second-rate, bottom-of-the-barrel…because when they speak the truth to power, they become honest men-and that’s heroic…

    (BTW, I keep thinking I see a lot of Hirutas walking the streets of my town…)

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    lawless

    Coco:

    . I almost wish that Kurosawa’s extension of compassion and redemption goes out to even those who were always second-rate, bottom-of-the-barrel…because when they speak the truth to power, they become honest men-and that’s heroic…

    But I think it does. Hiruta may not be a hero, but what he does is heroic.

    And even though he’s conflicted all along, I see the transformation from a dishonest man (in all senses of the term – dishonest to the court, to his clients, his family, and to himself) to an honest one as a major one. Were it not for his later redemption, all his humble shuffling and abasement would be meaningless.

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    cocoskyavitch

    lawless said:

    Hiruta may not be a hero, but what he does is heroic.

    Exactly! Just one of those beat-downs unable to rise to the occasion-not even to his daughter’s impending death. That is hard-core hurting, hard-core failure, and Kurosawa, in putting Hiruta outside the Christmas scene of warmth and love makes him such a self-loathing outcast!

    What we would have considered as normal, ordinary decency and honesty is like a “star being born”. From someone living in the foetid sump, to someone who speaks truth is like the birth of a star-or a lotus from the mud.

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    lawless

    Coco – Wouldn’t normal human decency mean turning down the bribe in the first place and giving the case his best effort and his clients his honest services to begin with? Now that he’s enmeshed in it, turning honest costs him far more than being honest in the first place would have been. Not only does he lose the money he betrayed his client for, but he’s going to lose his livelihood and he exposes his chicanery and weakness for everyone to see, disgracing his whole family (which at this point only consists of his wife, but still…)

    He wouldn’t have been able to give his daughter the fancy presents if he’d refrained in the first place, but he never uses the real bribe that the check represents — though if I’m remembering correctly that it was 100,000 yen, in today’s terms that’s only approximately $1,000, but it still would go further then than it does now.

    What gives his act its resonance, though, is the realization that many, if not all of us, would be willing to do something dishonest to help a loved one – fudge a tax return, commit insurance fraud, whatever. Here, it’s not clear how much what he gains helps – we don’t see him struggling to pay her medical bills, but that may be implied — nevertheless, his reasons for selling out are not petty. We’re hardwired to value our family and friends – the people closest to us – above all others and to think that loyalty to them is sometimes more important than moral purity. This happens whenever a family member covers for a relative who has committed a crime or some other wrong, or when personal loyalty is valued over more systemic values, such as fairness, as arguably occurred in the Bush Justice Department when Alberto Gonazles was Attorney General.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless:

    What gives his act its resonance, though, is the realization that many, if not all of us, would be willing to do something dishonest to help a loved one – fudge a tax return, commit insurance fraud, whatever. Here, it’s not clear how much what he gains helps – we don’t see him struggling to pay her medical bills, but that may be implied — nevertheless, his reasons for selling out are not petty.

    But isn’t it implied that his decision to sell out wasn’t a conscious decision – he was lured into it on the keirin racetrack? I don’t see him as corrupt (or accepting corruption as a necessary evil to save his daughter), just a very weak man who was entrapped by the more worldly magazine editor.

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    Vili Maunula

    It’s really interesting to read about your takes on Hiruta, his heroism or lack thereof. I think that I agree with lawless in that Hiruta is never a hero, and while what he does at the end is sort of heroic, it still doesn’t make him a hero. It is interesting how little motivation the film actually gives for accepting the newspaper editor’s corruptive offers.

    It is indeed plausible that Hiruta takes the bribe to somehow help his daughter, but it could also be that he is, like Ugetsu characterises him, simply “a very weak man”, something akin to an alcoholist, who doesn’t necessarily need any specific reason to start drinking. It seems to me that gambling is Hiruta’s poison, and Ugetsu is right that the race track serves as the newspaper editor’s way to lure Hiruta in. Had Hiruta been offered the cheque right away, he could have refused. However, after he has already been corrupted by the money given to him at the race track, it may well have been easier for him to accept the cheque.

    The meaning behind the English idiom “Give an inch and he’ll take a mile” is expressed in Finnish as “Give the devil your pinky finger and he’ll take your whole hand”. I wonder if that’s exactly what happened with Hiruta here?

    lawless: he never uses the real bribe that the check represents — though if I’m remembering correctly that it was 100,000 yen, in today’s terms that’s only approximately $1,000, but it still would go further then than it does now.

    I tried to find some sort of an answer to how much 100,000 yen was, but couldn’t really find anything definite online. However, this study (pdf) indicates in Table 5 (page 72) that the average annual Japanese wage income in 1950 was 872,000 when converted to 2002 yens. It is unfortunate for our purposes that the numbers have been standardised to the 2002 rate, but if I use this tool, it suggests that 872,000 yen from 2002 equals to 25,000 yen in 1950 money, if measured with the “average monthly wage” setting. Which, if true, would mean that Hiruta has effectively been offered no less than four years’ average wage. Which begs the question — is that realistic? Can the legal case have been that important for the tabloid paper?

    It should probably be noted that the online converter’s other option, based on Consumer Price Index, values 872,000 yen in 2002 as 109,000 yen in 1950. In that case, Hiruta’s bribe would have been one year’s wages. Still quite a lot, I would say.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu, you and I may be tending toward a very dark idea of humanity…all under the umbrella of being “realists”.

    It really is not clear to me that Hiruta took the bribe for any other reason than that it was offered. If it really was all that much money, as Vili suggested-then he wasted it on what…? A stuffed animal?

    That asks the question: “Were there not sanitariums in Japan for TB vicitims?”

    I just think Hiruta is weak, confused, rudderless, oppressed, depressed-a mess of a human being. His redemption really is from the very very bottom of the barrel-and that, for me-is remarkable.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    Ugetsu, you and I may be tending toward a very dark idea of humanity…all under the umbrella of being “realists”.

    Possibly very true! I think my interpretation of the film may have been coloured by an article I was reading a few weeks ago about how the casino’s in Vegas like to suck in rich gamblers and how they lure them into spending far more than they intended. The way the publisher led poor Hiruta to the racetrack reminded me of that (once again, a tribute to the psychological realism in AK’s films, another possible subject for a future thread I think). I’ll have to watch the film again to see if I’m right, but all the way through I was seeking Hiruta as just a sucker, easily manipulated by others, not as someone fundamentally corrupt. His only saving grace for me (up to when he admitted his guilt) was that he was at least fully aware of his own weaknesses.

    As for sanitariums – thats a good point, although I would suspect that in post war Japan there wouldn’t have been much money for public sanatariums, and Hiruta clearly wouldn’t have been able to afford a private one. I don’t know if Japan had laws allowing for the incarceration of TB victims – perhaps not, as a quick google shows that the main wave of TB infection in Japan was slightly later than the film, in the mid 1950’s.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu,you said:

    …”there wouldn’t have been much money for public sanatariums, and Hiruta clearly wouldn’t have been able to afford a private one.”

    Yes, he was even ineffectual at being corrupt. If he had put some effort into it, perhaps he might have saved his daughter. Instead his response is drink and low-level last-minute opportunistic corruption. I think, as you seem to think, that Hiruta was a sucker, a born loser. He’s really one of the saddest characters of all.

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