Harakiri is a slice of 1962 Japanese cinematic brilliance; the story of an old ronin (masterless samurai) who falls on hard times. Samurai were the masters of their craft, skilled in fighting techniques as well as the arts; during times of peace though, the fighting skills that earned them a living were useless. They were laid off, unemployed, and cast out into a world possessing a talent that was no longer needed. We are confronted with a challenged world at the moment, and the skills that we may have earned and acquired over the years could potentially be outdated, useless, or unneeded. Like the main character’s clear headed approach to this predicament, it’s important in times such as these to keep a clear, level outlook, and to be thankful for what we have and are able to do. So in many ways, this film hits home, and the overall message translates somewhat well.
In the film, lack of employment is a major factor and the driving force behind the motives and actions of the main character. He is a widowed former warrior who is forced to construct umbrellas as a means of supporting his daughter, son in law, and grandson. He is essentially destitute as a result of repeated attempts to make ends meet; the skills that he obtained through years of training are no longer of use, as there is no need for for them in a time of relative peace. In today’s world, I see a few loose similarities between having a degree and having warrior skills during peacetime; unemployment is so strikingly severe and widespread these days, that a degree provides no guarantee of employment. It didn’t matter how adept a samurai was back then, and it generally doesn’t matter how educated a job seeker is now. In the enclosed film trailer, the main character states, “This thing we call samurai honor is ultimately nothing but a facade”; is the tradition of collecting a university certificate indicating that one has completed a series of courses also a thin facade? Again, a very loose correlation, but still food for thought! Nonetheless, Harakiri is a very weighty, masterfully directed and acted film, more than worthy of your time.
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Enslaved African who, through courageous effort, became the first captain under service to the United States, distinguished politician, and entrepreneur.
In 1862, he was serving as ship’s pilot on the Confederate military transport vessel CSS Planter, when the ship’s captain and officers disembarked to spend the evening ashore. Smalls donned the captain’s uniform and a hat resembling the one that the captain wore, and with the help of various crew, managed to slip the vessel through Confederate lines and to the Union blockade. As a result, he was hailed a hero in the North, and was awarded $1500 as his share of the ship’s prize.
While serving in the US Army in 1863, the Planter came under fire in a skirmish; Captain Nickerson, in command of the vessel, was inclined to surrender the ship to the enemy. Wary of the potentially dangerous terms of surrender, Smalls instead assumed command of the ship and sailed the vessel out of harm’s way. For his action under fire, he was elevated to captain in place of Nickerson, becoming the first captain under service to the United States.
After the war, he continued to serve his country, having been elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, the South Carolina Senate, the South Carolina Militia (earning the rank of major general), and the US House of Representatives, serving multiple terms. He was also an entrepreneur of note, acquiring considerable holdings.
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Stanley Kubrick, a legendary filmmaker of great renown, has been at the helm of some of cinema’s most well-known and iconic pictures; who can forget Lolita (1962), Spartacus (1960), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Full Metal Jacket (1987)? His resume reads like a greatest hits list, the multitude of his work being critically acclaimed and pioneering in their own right. Quite possibly my all-time favorite Kubrick flick, though, is the utter masterwork that is Paths of Glory. Set in WWI, the film’s focus involves the trial of three men accused of cowardice in the face of the enemy after a failed assault on the enemy German positions. Kirk Douglas, a personal favorite, plays the role of French Colonel Dax, a visceral portrayal of a man tasked with defending the accused soldiers, who all face death by firing squad. His character faces the daunting task of proving the unwavering character of his men, while facing the impossible brutality that was WWI.
The film itself is wrought with a tension befitting the backdrop of one of the world’s most brutal conflicts, with themes of honor, duty, nationalistic pride, greed, betrayal, family, and idealism laced tightly within. The stark realism on display in the raw and gritty set pieces and the intricately placed details add to the brilliant performances of the actors. The grand scale of the set captured the sheer scope and intensity of the conflict, and the dramatic, solemn tension vividly captured the perilous plight of the condemned men. An outstanding achievement in film from a director and cast known for their remarkable performances.
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Recognized as the first foreign samurai, Yasuke was an African slave that arrived in Japan in 1579 with Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano. As Valignano’s servant, he was present when Valignano visited the capital in 1581; contemporary accounts record the initial meeting with Lord Oda Nobunaga, who met the foreigner with fascination and intrigue, and was the first African that any had seen. “On the 23rd of the 2nd month [March 23, 1581], a black page (黒坊主 “kuro-bōzu”) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26 or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men.” It is said that Nobunaga had the man wipe his skin, thinking that the black may have been paint. Yasuke gained favor and entered the service of Lord Nobunaga, where he was elevated to the rank of samurai, and later fought alongside Nobunaga’s forces against the invading forces of Akechi Mitsuhide. After Nobunaga’s defeat, he was given back to the Jesuits, where he disappeared from record.
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