Sansho the Bailiff

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In exile

Directed by master director, Mizoguchi Kenji, Sansho the Bailiff is based on a Japanese folktale. I wasn’t familiar with the original tale, but got caught up in the film. It’s the story of a family of noble station. The father, who’s an official, gets into trouble for prioritizing the peasants. He’s taken away and his wife and young children, a daughter named Anju and son named Zushio must leave their home and go into exile. En route to their destination, a priestess meets them and tricks them so that the mother is taken to a brother and the children are separated and sold into slavery.

The principled father taught his children to always be merciful to the needy. Yet as he grows, Zushio forgets this lesson and as a slave brands another slave on the forehead to gain favor with the Bailiff. His sister scolds him for this heartless action, which is a catalyst for Zushio’s turn around.

best-kenji-mizoguchi-films

Mizoguchi

The mother laments the lost of her children and it’s amazing how they find she’s alive and how in the end Zushio finds her and does live by his father’s principles though it costs him dearly.

I didn’t realize that there was slavery in 11th century Japan. I found the film a wonderful history lesson as well as lesson in self-sacrifice. The film’s beautifully constructed and the Criterion Collection DVD comes with an enlightening commentary by an expert in film and Japanese culture. My only unanswered question was what was the role of a bailiff in medieval Japan. He held so much power compared to a bailiff today.

I highly recommend Sansho the Bailiff.

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The Human Condition, III

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I’m beyond blown away by The Human Condition. It’s not that the third installment outstripped, the two earlier films, it’s that as a whole this film moved me like no other. It’s a masterpiece and probably the best anti-war film made.

In the third film, routed by the Russians, Kaji and his comrades are the only survivors of their unit. They must stealthily get back to southern Manchuria from this northern wilderness where the Russians are hunting down stragglers and the Chinese, now free, are out for revenge. Along the way, Kaji and his two or three companions encounter a group of Japanese refugees, half-starved, this motley group consisting of emaciated, exhausted women, children and elderly, fight for the meager food Kaji and his mates have found. While Kaji leads, it’s an uphill battle to get people to cooperate or ration their food.

Later, after most of the refugees die or run off, Kaji and his friends are captured by the Russians. If you thought that since the war is over by now, there’d be some decent treatment, guess again. The Japanese soldiers are sent to a hard labor camp. They’re underfed and aren’t given any clothes for the coming winter. Kaji’s reprimanded for using gunnysacks over his tattered uniform. This ingenuity is considered insubordination. On top of that the Japanese-Russian translator sides with the Russians and misinterprets his countrymen’s statements. Again, there’s no justice.

HUMAN CONDITION

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say it’s sure powerful and not what I expected.

Why would anyone want to watch such a long trilogy of films about such horrible times? According to the film’s star Tatsuya Nakadai, who’s earned a spot in my actors’ hall of fame, in Japan they have annual marathon viewings of Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition and they always sell out. I watched the film to broaden my insight into a significant historical era and to see a master filmmaker’s work.

The Criterion Collection DVD set includes interviews with the director Masaki Kobayashi and the lead actor Tastuya Nakadai, for whom this was is first lead role. Nakadai mentions how much he learned about the film business from his cast members. He hadn’t much experience prior to this film, just Black River, in which he played a gangster. He really didn’t know much about film and hadn’t played such a pure-hearted character before. You’d never know from his performance.

Carrot Top (Poil de Carrote) 1932

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Written and directed by Julian Duvivier, Poil de Carrote or Carrotop (1932) will grab your heart. It’s the story of a boy whose mother has no love for him, while she spoils and adores his older siblings Felix and Ernestine, Carrot Top is the family’s Cinderella, who has to do all the chores and is the only person in the home, including the maid, who wears rags.

When the film opens, Carrot Top is getting scolded for writing a school essay stating, “A family is a group of people forced to live together under one roof who cannot stand each other.” His teacher tells him that all mothers and fathers love their children. The teacher clearly hasn’t met Mr. and Mrs. Lepic. Carrot Top has to call his parents Mr. and Mrs. Lepic and he’s absolutely right when he tries to convince his teacher that not all families are like Norman Rockwell paintings. Throughout this debate we see how smart and witty Carrot Top is.

Just as predicted, when Carrot Top arrives in his home town from boarding school, no one’s there to pick him up from the train station. When he gets home, the abuse and trouble begin. At every chance the stern Mrs. Lepic ridicules and overworks her son, who it’s well know was an “accident.” Mr. Lepic has withdrawn from home life and just doesn’t see what’s going on. He lives in his own world surviving by ignoring everything around him.

Only the new maid, Annette sees the injustice and hardship Carrot Top faces. His only other allies are the little girl he plans to marry and his good natured godfather who offers solace, but doesn’t intervene till the very end.

As the story progresses, Carrot Top’s upbeat attitude erodes. His shrew of a mother who looks for every chance to make life hard for Carrot Top is just too much. It breaks his spirit to see children his age in town who’re in nice clothes and are allowed to play.

Robert Lynen gives a realistic, sincere performance that shows amazing emotional range. Poil de Carrote was his first film. I learned from Criterion Collection’s essay, that Lynen joined the French Resistance in his 20s and was caught and executed by the Nazi’s.

I chose this film because I saw that Harry Baur of Les Misérables played the father. Again he provides an excellent, sensitive performance.

While I’d never heard of this story, Poil de Carrote began as a novel, then was a play, a silent film directed by Julian Duvivier, who made this film. Through the years, Poil de Carrote has been adapted numerous times into TV programs, cartoons and other films.

We’ve Come a Long Way

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At a presentation on writing Historical Fiction at my library, the speaker talked about Scold’s Bridles. In the 16th and 17th centuries women who were guilty of nagging their husbands, spreading malicious gossip and challenging the clergy could be punished by having to wear a scold’s bridle. The idea was to humiliate. Some bridles had little spokes that actually cut into the face or head. These were popular in Scotland.

Note: There were also humiliating punishments for men who were cuckolded. While both punishments seem cruel and unusual, punishing a man who’s wife had an affair seems even more unjust. The thinking seems to have been that scolds and cuckolds were unnatural.

For more see: Lancaster Castle, Scold’s Bridle

Interviews with North Koreans

A must see. Just incredible to go through these experiences.

Being a woman in North Korea is worse than I thought.

Thank you, Asian Boss, for these outstanding videos.

“Discharged”

I haven’t been very public about this but three weeks ago, after a wonderful culminating event at my summer volunteer teacher training, I opened an email from my job saying that they didn’t think they could get me a visa in time (hogwash — you can get one in 4 days or if you go to Hong Kong first 36 hours) so I wouldn’t be able to return to China to teach.

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It was quite a shock and while I’m not still reeling from this, it still is hard to take. What’s more I had a job offer in June, but I decided to stay where I was. Blasted! I should have changed. Now that it’s too late for that job.

I did email back (one day I’ll post the cold toned email I received) to clear up any “misunderstanding” about when I could submit my passport for the visa. I was able to do so August 7th, when last year they didn’t even ask for it till August 16th.

(Yes, last year there were delays and we were all late, but as I wrote you can expedite the process and get one in a few days as I’ve said.)

I asked about jobs at the home campus, but there are none and I asked if I could return to China in the spring, but never got a reply.

Considering that my colleague, who was an exemplary teacher, but vocal about the problems in our program was not asked back, I’m not surprised. I too was vocal and raised issues, like we need a curriculum. (Our program had a que sera sera curriculum where our employer left all the details of the courses up to us. That allows for a lot of creativity, but there should be some framework, not just a textbook. In October, when I asked about putting together a curriculum, I was told that my employer “didn’t have enough skin in the game.” Huh? It’s not a game. Besides, as one former colleague estimated, the university probably earns $1,000,000. So you think they could invest something in their China programs. It seems right.

As a colleague said, “How is X University even accredited?”) Other issues I’ll write about at a later date.

I have been busy job hunting and have focused on library jobs since I’m almost done with that Masters. I’ve also done a lot of writing, revising one project and starting others. I was bound to leave China at some point, but I wish I had more time to job hunt — and a chance to send all my valued belongings back to the US. I’ve got an apartment full of belongings, some meaningful and important and others household goods I can give away. I haven’t gotten around to figuring out when I can take care of that.

Prayers and good wishes are most welcome.