The Last Samurai References and Annotations Thread: Week 2

Here’s the spot for any extra-textual matter you’ve seen referenced in pages 85 – 186 of The Last Samurai and want to share with everyone.

And a huge extra-textual question: How many of you have seen Seven Samurai? (I watched it for the first time just this July as part of a summer-long Kurosawa festival, in which I had the chance to see a number of his films.) And if you haven’t seen it yet, do you plan to watch it for this read?


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When Sibylla imagines Keats haunting her dreams on p. 113-4, she says he’ll be holding Chapman’s Homer, a reference to his poem “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer,” a sonnet about his love for a translation. Bartleby has the text.

I just watched up to the intermission in Seven Samurai last week, and I’m planning to finish it tonight. I hadn’t realized it was so long (although so far completely worth the time).

Ah, not only love for translation, but love for language!

Which is all translation, in a way….

Thanks for the link to the Keats poem, Dan. I also found the part of Chapman’s Iliad translation that Sibylla quotes on p. 138 (with “dumptys” filling in blanks). I hope this Google Books link goes to the right part.

I haven’t seen Seven Samurai, but I do intend to.

I’m curious: having seen Seven Samurai, do you think those who haven’t are missing out on important resonances in The Last Samurai? I haven’t seen the film, nor do I have a working knowledge of linguistics, and so I feel that I’m not getting the whole of DeWitt’s story. Damn.

Hey Pam: Undoubtedly, yes, although I’m sure that we’re all missing out on something, given that this book is so laden with textual references. (My knowledge of linguistic theory–noticeably lacking.)

Given Samurai’s placement in the novel (I think I’ve seen the film described in depth at least 3 times so far) you’d probably get more out of the book if you’ve seen it. But I’m not one of those people who insists that you need to go beyond the text–I’m sure there’s more than enough here for you to go on without ever bringing in a single extra-textual reference.

When Ludo begins to write his own diary, he claims that one of the reasons he likes Greek is because he like languages with dual. Though linguistics has never been something I have been particularly interested in, I realized that most modern day languages do not use a dual form. Even modern day Greek has discarded it. The only language with duals that I have learned is Sanskrit and because of its high level of distinction (Singular, Dual, Plural and Feminine, Masculine, Neutral), it was easy to pick up the grammar and form correct sentences.
Here is the Wikipedia entry on Duals.

Letter to those who are reading the novel in French tranlsation:

Like Zadie Smith, I feel inclined to change my mind. The cover of the French paper-back edition is perhaps better than anything I had imagined. It moves out of the realist framework of a bland young man looking out or into an imaginary world of awesome sumarai, to enter into the nitty-gritty realm of projection and plan where WE can imagine the case of someone who actually takes the leap into the way of the warrior.

I hope many of us will take time off to watch THE SEVEN SAMURAI. Not only because of its intrinsic interest, but because of its central but wierd role in THE LAST SAMURAI. According to Sibylla, it’s a movie about the cult of reason. This has to be the first time in the history of the film’s reception that someone has said that. (Maybe Richie does too?) The fact is she twists the film into a strange many-legged creature, as fascinating as it is unfair.

Several examples. She says that THE SEVEN SAMURAI is not about the seven samurai at all. (And certainly not about a band of trained fighters!) It’s about Rikichi. (“only one farmer wants to fight: without him there would be no story. Rikichi glared from the screen with burning eyes; his pale face glowed in the cold dark room.”) At least in memory, Rikichi doesn’t come off as a rational being. But perhaps he is the person who can set the rational process into motion. “Without him there would be no story.” So that’s why he’s number eight, and we have to keep our eye on this eight-ball. He’s the cornerstone of the entire edifice of the film.

“The master swordsman isn’t interested in killing people. He only wants to perfect his art.” Later we learn that the master swordsman is the only one of the band who has this strange goal. Does he get killed? We have to go the movie to find out. (I’m sure Sibylla brings this up someone, later on) The swords, in the meantime, come in handy in liberating the village. But everything Ludo brings away from the film concerns laying the sword aside, and parrying blows to the body and the mind. Is he is the last, and most perfected samurai? I would say yes: the reasonable thing to do is to lay down the sword, as the Emperor imposed upon the samurais to do. But here reasonable has little to do with the dark role Adorno and Horkeimer assign to reason. Ms. DeWitt’s book is a constant meditation on the best way out of situations, and best means most reasonable. I’m dubious of efforts to turn this into something post-modern.

Last textual reference to this novel, which might be entitled: “In Praise of Reason”: First the postmodern: “Kurosawa won a prize for a film he made before this one, called Rashomon, about a woman raped by a bandit; in that one he tells the stroy 4 times, and it’s different each time someone tells it, but in this one …” Now comes the modern, with the customary authority and high hopes, along with much less patience for different voices and different opinions: “but in this one he does something more complicated, he only tells the story once but you see it from about 8 points of view, you have to pay attention the whole time to see whetehr something seems to be true or is just what somebody says is true.”
So this is what happens to the katana once you lay it down with the eureka of having found another kind of arm. Reason is the sword that enables you to cut through appearances; the reasonable thing to do is to go and see for yourself, even if that means traveling to the ends of the earth.
I hope we’ll have a lot to say about this film once we’ve started seeing it again and again.

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