Child or Father?
12 July 2012
13 July 2012
This is an interesting and I think also insightful way to look at the Kambei-Kikuchiyo dualism, Amnesty.
I would definitely say that I respond more to Kambei (although if pressed, my favourite samurai would probably be Heihachi). I have never liked children, and this goes back all the way to when I was one myself. Their unpredictability, loudness, dirtiness and general lack of social or intellectual skills, among a myriad of other things, both annoy me and make me uncomfortable. In many ways, I make an effort to minimize my contact with children.
Which, now that I think of it, probably explains why I don’t really like Kikuchiyo. While he is a little more bearable towards the end of the film, I quite dislike the character, as well as Mifune’s portrayal of him, for most of the film. It’s not a very popular view, I know. 🙂
21 July 2012
I’ve often thought of Kikuchiyo as more of an animal, a calf or puppy (I assumed his pawing of the ground in the village was meant to represent this), but whatever animal he is, he’s definitely a youthful one. In another context I’ve said that I think one of the most underestimated qualities of Kurosawa’s films is their psychological realism and subtlety. Characters may be sometimes outlandish, but they are beyond cliché and often react in ways which are both unexpected, but also psychologically credible, much more so than I think in Ozu or Mizoguchi films where the characters seem more vehicles for the director/screenwriters personal concerns. I think some critics who accused Kurosawa of introducing anachronistic beliefs to the Samurai (‘its good to talk about your problems’) have it entirely the wrong way around – Kurosawa respected medieval Samurai as people just like any other, there is no reason to think they didn’t have the same hopes and fears of anyone walking around today, or the same ability to communicate this.
Kikuchiyo’s behaviour is exactly what you should expect from someone who was deprived of a proper childhood by the loss of his parents and who’s physical capacity outgrows his mental maturity. He is alternately boastful and bashful. Proudly self sufficient but also desperately clingy. He tries to ingratiate himself but also behaves in irrationally aggravating ways. He could come out of any modern social workers casebook for a ‘difficult’ foster child. He also, I think, desperately wants the approval of both the father figure (Kambei) and the the potential acolyte Katsushiro which implies I think that he is quite jealous of Kyuzo’s self-control and discipline.
Kikuchiyo is of course quite a loveable character, like a wayward and annoying but well meaning relative, but I don’t think I could ever relate to him. Kambei has that resilience and stoic nature in the face of disappointment we’d all hope to achieve. But then again, I remember a few years ago idly wondering if Lord Hidatora in Ran was Kurosawa’s vision of what Kambei might have become if he’d had the luck to find himself on the winning side of his wars. It may be that Kambei’s stoicism and heroism is a product of his failures – if he had succeeded, maybe he would have become another deluded and paranoid autocrat.
24 July 2012
A very interesting thought indeed, the corruption of success. I feel so strongly attached to Kambei that it’s hard for me to envision him as a “deluded and paranoid autocrat,” if his life had been full of victories. But I believe that losing (or not winning) is a very strong character builder indeed, and Kambei embodies the altruist through and through, so should we conclude that as a result of all of his “not winning” he has become a very sage and thoughtful man? Or what about the idea that he was born this way? Kambei may have been born thoughtful, incorruptible and a disposition towards sageness.
Your observations of Kikuchiyo’s childhood (abandoned orphan through tragedy) are excellent and Kurosawa (and writing team) have got it just exactly right. Toshiro did a wonderful job of this – though slightly over the top. But you know, I forgive him his flaws — (I also forgive Sinatra his flaws! I mean genius is genius).
Vili, I admire your honesty!
I have never liked children, and this goes back all the way to when I was one myself. Their unpredictability, loudness, dirtiness and general lack of social or intellectual skills, among a myriad of other things, both annoy me and make me uncomfortable.
My family is full of siblings and cousins who chose not to go the route of parenthood and are not particularly comfortable around kids – choosing careers that require lots of mileage every year or 80 hour work weeks instead. (Although some do a good job of pretending to love my darling children – who by the way are never, annoying, loud, demanding or unbearable… – 😉 )
24 July 2012
But I believe that losing (or not winning) is a very strong character builder indeed, and Kambei embodies the altruist through and through, so should we conclude that as a result of all of his “not winning” he has become a very sage and thoughtful man?
When I originally thought of the notion that Hidetora was the flip side of Kambei, i was thinking in terms of Kurosawa’s increasing pessimism as expressed in the later films. But I don’t have anything to support the idea, it was just that early in Ran, Hidetora seemed to genuinely think he was doing the wise, humane and sensible thing in entrusting his kingdom to his sons. His successes had blinded him to human reality. I suppose I was thinking that a Hidetora who had not had the luck to win his kingdom would have ended up with a more emphatic view of humanity – i.e. like Kambei.
But on reflection this is somewhat contrary to what I think is a repeated theme of Kurosawa’s – that we are in control of our own behaviour and that while we can understand someone who does evil because of their personal circumstances, we can never excuse it. He makes this explicit in Red Beard where he refuses to excuse the Mantis’ behaviour by reference to her abuse as a child. Kurosawa I think rightly identifies that excusing someone’s acts because of their background is a veiled insult to those who suffered abuse but did not in turn become abusers. I think Kurosawa always prized personal self control in the face of adversity. In Seven Samurai we see Kikuchiyo trying, and partly succeeding in overcoming his unfortunate upbringing. Kambei has maintained his nobility despite his wretched luck as a warrior. Kyushu maintains his humanity despite his near obsessive desire to become a perfect zen warrior. The other Samurai accept their fates without self pity. This is what makes them heroes.
Yes, I totally agree. I believe this is one of the most excellent monologues in all of filmdom. Kurosawa speaks directly to the heart of each one of us. I feel Mifune’s voice reverberating in my bones – his rage and emotional pain are so moving.
For me, another aspect of this scene and the precursor to it that I’m fascinated by, is the visual of the homage the farmers are paying to the Samurai. Kurosawa uses this convention of lining up to offer something sacred (life itself, rice!) is moving because it touches us (or me at least) psychologically. And it sets us up emotionally for Kikuchiyo’s devastating monologue.
Like the farmers and their stash, every one of us has something hidden deeply in their hearts – the gift one is never willing to give to anyone without true trust – and that trust sometimes takes great sacrifice to earn. Until it’s earned, one keeps that secret stash of themselves locked up so deep in the caves of one’s soul that to offer it up, to bring it out of hiding, is to be willing to be humble, willing to be vulnerable, and willing to show deep gratitude.
The farmers and their homage represent that truth. But Kikuchiyo’s raging monologue takes it to the next level, actually revealing what that secret is. We can be grateful, we can give of ourselves in the way the farmers did without ever truly revealing what is ours alone to know. But someone like Kikuchiyo can give it all, can dig deep and lay it out there. He can tell the story of his life (after quite a few jugs of alcohol – but I bet you the other samurai, when hopping drunk still don’t reveal their secret soul to one another.) He can risk ridicule in front of great honorable men by tagging on to their band (and banner) even if it comes at a great great price – ultimately, his greatest sacrifice for giving all is his very life.
I mentioned in a different post that I believe Kikuchiyo to embody the child in us. And Kambei the father/maturity. I often wonder in our own world which is the more enlightened? I work with children every day. I work with adults too of course. Kikuchiyo in his ability to give it all, to give absolutely 100% doubled, his ability to spill it completely and be so terribly and wonderfully vulnerable, all walls down (in both the monologue scene and later in the heartbreaking scene when he holds the baby while the home burns behind him and he reveals that this is exactly what happened to him) makes him, in my mind, someone I would actually aspire to be. Full on, live life, play hard, be open to possibilities, have huge confidence in myself and go for it at every turn before I die. It’s an archetype I know, (and one that I see played out every day with the many children in my life) but I love all of that about him and mostly wish it for myself. Even his nakedness is a metaphor for no walls, no posturing, no ceremony. There’s no emblem to tell the world more about this man than what is right in front of them.
Kambei in his fatherly, mature, wisdom and goodness is the opposite of Kikuchiyo. He holds it in, doesn’t let emotions rule his universe and never acts out of turn. We trust him, where we can’t trust Kikuchiyo exactly, and for good reason. (Though Kikuchiyo thinks we can and should, but he has impulse control issues, like many children).
Between these two characters and archetypes, which one do you respond to more? Aspire to?