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Ikiru: The Yakuza Boss

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    Ugetsu

    This is more of a question than a comment or something for discussion (although I think it would be worth discussing the importance of ‘meaningful looks’ in Ikiru, there are many of them).

    I’ve always been puzzled by the scene where Watanabe faces down the Yakuza thugs – I don’t really get the dynamic there. Why were they so intimidated by him? In particular, the look on the Yakuza boss (who looks confusingly like the pulp novelist, although I see they were different actors) as he shuffles out – he seems perplexed and even a little scared of Watanabe. What exactly was going on in that scene?

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    Vili Maunula

    I would say that Watanabe represents an obstacle which the yakuza is not equipped to deal with. This certainly puzzles them, and perhaps even scares them somewhat.

    After all, I would say that within the film’s didactic space, the only way for men like the yakuza to get what they desire is through intimidation. So, the scar-faced thug, in first getting no response from Watanabe, reminds him that he is risking his life. This threat now gets him a response from Watanabe, but instead of submission it is a smile. For Watanabe, the thug’s threat bears no weight.

    Perhaps, seeing Watanabe, the gang boss realises that Watanabe cannot be dealt with, and that it is therefore a lost case for them and their restaurant plans.

    It may also be worth noting that Watanabe’s methods are almost the polar opposite of those of the yakuza. Although he is just as determined to get what he wants, never in the accounts that we get does he threat anyone or even go as far as to suggest that what he wants should be done. He just asks, pleads, requests… and waits until he gets the response that he needs.

    It is the approach that Kurosawa’s heroes so often take — think of Sanada in Drunken Angel (not only with Mifune’s gangster but also with common objects like the door that doesn’t keep open), Niide in Red Beard (for instance when feeding Otoyo her medicine, which she keeps pushing away), or Murakami in Stray Dog (throughout the movie, but perhaps most straightforwardly when he follows the woman around who stole his pistol). Many if not most of Kurosawa’s heroes share that type of single-minded determination, which involves either waiting, or the repetition of something until you get what you want.

    It is in many ways a very Gandhi-like approach to solving problems. And that practice of nonviolent action is of course, with its principles, the exact opposite of the yakuza’s practice of violent action.

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    Jeremy

    I think Vili got this one prefect.

    To me is the Yakuza, operate on the ideal that people will submit to them out of fear. However, when that fear is not there, and they face resistance, they are unable to react effectively or in some cases not at all.

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    Vili Maunula

    I just watched Ikiru with Prince’s commentary (yes, I’m a little bit behind), and Prince’s take on the matter is that instead of being scared of Watanabe, the head gangster sees something special in Watanabe’s determination, respects it, and chooses not to interfere with him.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili, in this case you observations have a lot more punch than Prince’s. You said:

    “So, the scar-faced thug, in first getting no response from Watanabe, reminds him that he is risking his life. This threat now gets him a response from Watanabe, but instead of submission it is a smile. For Watanabe, the thug’s threat bears no weight.”

    That’s exactly how it goes down. There might also be some thuggish admiration of Watanabe’s demeanor, but that is secondary to the fact of the thugs being “un-manned” so to speak, by the unexpected coolness of Watanabe in the face of intimidation.

    (And, no offense to Prince, but could he possibly have a more annoying voice?)

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    Vili Maunula

    Indeed, I would actually also agree more with myself than I would with Prince in this matter.

    As for Prince’s voice, I think that I still prefer it over Richie’s. Having said that, though, Prince does often sound annoyingly much to me like an academic reading his notes rather than an engaging lecturer getting me excited about the topic. This, of course, is not a problem as such since the content of Prince’s talks is always fascinating listening, even if I don’t always agree with him.

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    Ugetsu

    I haven’t heard the Prince commentary, but I can’t agree with that interpretation at all, it seems at odds with the confused look on the boss’s face. I’m pretty sure Vili is entirely correct.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili, Ugetsu, it is a little mean-spirited of me to complain about Prince’s voice, since he does his homework. I retract any complaint.

    But, Ugetsu is right-in this case, Vili hits the mark much more closely than Prince.

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    Vili Maunula

    Just to be fair to Prince, I think that I should mention that Prince himself prefaces that comment by noting that he considers his comment “perhaps … a little fanciful”.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Looking at the yakuza scene over the weekend, I was struck by the fact that Seiji Miyaguchi who plays Kyuzo in Seven Samurai is the Yakuza boss! He looks so evil in this scene! I love seeing hte faces of our old friends show up!

    And, the really creepy thug who threatens Watanabe right outside the door saying “Your life is in danger”? Ha! It’s Daiksuke Kato!!!! He’s our Shichiroji in Seven Samurai!

    Didja notice also that the writer on the night of dissolution is our “horse-faced” chamberlain in Sanjuro, Yunosuke Ito!

    And, didja notice that Kamatari Fujiwara is one of the bureaucrats? I like him especially well in the wake scene, and think his two great pieces are in Hidden Fortress and The Lower Depths. I also get a big kick out of Bokuzen Hidari at the wake…the voice of that man..that face! (He’s our Yohei in Seven Samurai and he’s brilliant in The Lower Depths!

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    Anada Wannabi

    What happens is – well, first we have the bluster of the minions who were waiting in the hallway. When the boss comes out, and he and Kanji look straight at each other, two things happen with the boss. (1) He perceives promptly that this man has no fear of death – nothing amazing about that; reading people is the boss’s life-blood, and being able to tell if, and/or how, another man can be dominated is his minute-to-minute job, and (2) that being the case, he feels a kinship* with Kanji – because the boss is the only other guy in the hallway who does not fear death. (Being able to read people, and not fearing death, is what makes him a yakuza BOSS. Did you take a good look at that face? That’s a killer, who maybe also writes poems. I am sure you are aware that Seiji Miyaguchi was number seven, the hatchet-faced “samurai’s samurai” in Seven Samurai.)
    * When I first watched this, what I said to myself was: “He (the boss) recognizes Kanji as his brother.” Not in the sense of agape ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agape ) but as, we might say, a fellow-soldier.
    So, with that in place, the boss needs no particular time to weigh his options; it’s not complicated: since he has decided he’s not inclined to clip this guy — and, to be fair, it is possible that putting a red-light district, where the park might have been, was not, anyway, as high up on the boss’s list as to include “And, yes, I will authorize murders for this” — then, all that is really left for the boss to do is to disengage while ensuring that he does not Lose any Face.
    No problem – Kanji has not said anything, or escalated the confrontation, he is just mute: so, Mr. Boss can just stroll away, for now. And, he’s walking away permanently, for this story – his thuggies just don’t know it yet. They may be wondering what’s gonna turn out from this, but the boss calls the shots, and if eventually any of them ever wonder aloud, Mr. Boss will just tell them: Enh, the way the overall picture was shaping up, this thing was turning out to be too much of a bother; we’ve got other fish to fry. (Which, assuredly, they do.) And they’ll just shrug, and wonder what’s for lunch.

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