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There and almost back again: on the savage junctures between Eisenstein, Kurosawa and Lucas Dr Lola Martinez SOAS.

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Presentation on theme: "There and almost back again: on the savage junctures between Eisenstein, Kurosawa and Lucas Dr Lola Martinez SOAS."— Presentation transcript:

1 There and almost back again: on the savage junctures between Eisenstein, Kurosawa and Lucas Dr Lola Martinez SOAS

2 Background Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (The Hidden Fortress) 1958 dir. Akira Kurosawa (script by Hashimoto Shinobu, Kikushima Ryûzô, Kurosawa Akira, and Oguni Hideo) Star Wars 1977 dir. and script George Lucas Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (The last Princess) 2008 dir. Shinji Higuchi (script by Kazuki Nagashima based on the script by Hashimoto Shinobu, Kikushima Ryûzô, Kurosawa Akira, and Oguni Hideo)

3 Mzk DEw

4 Savage Junctures “If, as Eisenstein suspected, art communicated with its audience by means of unexpected images and juxtapositions, then the shocks that were to precipitate the spectator in an unexpected mental direction were applications not just of force, but also of force eroticized” (Nesbet 2003:3).


6 Savage Junctures 2 Eisenstein “mined Hegel, Engels, Lenin, Freud (and Stalin’s speeches, too) for their figures, their images, which he then threw into sometimes blasphemous conjunction with images borrowed from literature, folklore, popular culture and myth” (Nesbet 2003:2).

7 Alexander Nevsky 1938 Alexander Nevsky (Nikolai Cherkasov) The Teutonic Knights

8 The opening sequence of The Hidden Fortress 1958 A samurai (Takeshi Katô) is killed in front of Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara). Leading to their discussion: War is hell….

9 To what end? To estrange, not as Marxist alienation, but as Shklovsky carefully defined it, coining a new Russian term, ostranenie, to connote an experiential difference. As Boym sums it up: Not Marxist alienation (e.g. otchuzhdenie) Shklovsky’s theory of estrangement was intended in opposition to the economic and utilitarian discourse of efficiency and useful expenditure. The device of estrangement places emphasis on the process rather than the product of art, on retardation and deferral of denouement, on cognitive ambivalence and play. By making things strange, the artist does not simply displace them from an everyday context into an artistic framework; the artists also helps to “return sensation” to life itself, to reinvent the world, to experience it anew. Estrangement is what makes art artistic; but, by the same token, it makes life lively or worth living. ( Boym 2005: 586-7)

10 The fire dance sequence: what makes life worth living Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara) learns the value of enjoying life in the face of death during a village’s celebration of a fire festival where all is destroyed as they sing: “The life of man should burn as if on fire, the life of an insect should be thrown into the fire. Ponder and you will see that the world is dark and this floating world is a dream. Burn with abandon!”

11 Estrangement and the novum The sense of the new in film (especially science fiction) is often produced by diegetic estrangement (Spiegal 2008:374-5). This refers to the effect of ‘making things strange’ or by making the familiar uncanny through using it in futuristic or alternative reality settings.

12 The musicians in the Star Wars cantina scene The very title of the sequence, the cantina scene, points to its origins in the Western; framing Han Solo as a futuristic version of the gunfighter. By combining typical alien imagery with unusual instruments, Lucas achieved what Spiegel terms diegetic estrangement.

13 Success? Kurosawa makes use of savage junctures between image and idea to unsettle the ‘fairy tale’ like structure of the story: – the crude and greedy farmers, – end up travelling with a princess, who has been raised as if she were a boy and is disguised as a mute servant girl, – while being shepherded along by a noble general disguised as an ordinary footsoldier – All are unlikely junctures that are not just part of the narrative, but are visually illustrated: From the opening moments when a samurai dies in exquisite slow motion in a blasted landscape, to the scene where the princess peacefully sleeps while the peasants draw straws to see who gets to rape her first, or to the concluding scene where the massive gates of the castle close on a traditionally dressed Princess Yuki, cutting her off from her travelling companies, forever – Kurosawa’s visuals in Hidden Fortress are unsettling. That is: the conjuncture and then separation of the two realms, the high and low, throughout the film, undermines any feel-good aspect of the story, as does any serious thinking about the ending: is the princess about to wage war once more? Perhaps this explains why it was not so successful in the West.

14 Tahei and Matashichi leave Princess Yuki and General Rokurota behind The two men vow to be better friends in future, but will the world they live in change?

15 Success? The key Lucas link to Eisenstein exists, not just visually, but in terms of narrative. Recall the beginning of Battleship Potemkin (1925): “Revolution is war. Of all the wars known in history, it is the only lawful, rightful, just and truly great war…” (Lenin 1905). If Star Wars is a film about the Vietnam War it remains an odd one. Who are the revolutionaries meant to represent? Lucas has never given a straight answer, allowing audiences to imagine their own configurations. The narrative link, however, to the revolutionary spirit of Potemkin and Alexander Nevsky (1938) is clear not only in the first film, but in the Star Wars series as a whole. The Vietnam and Kurosawa references echo down the Star Wars films and with it some of Eisenstein’s visual style. It is the idea of a politically just war that seems to translate in from Eisenstein to Lucas to Higuchi even more strongly than the Russian’s aesthetics., and which contrasts with Kurosawa’s rather more mysterious war between three feudal states. Lucas may have taken the central story from Kurosawa and the idea of revolution as just war from Eisenstein,but his most savage junctures could be said to be of genres (war films, myth, science fiction) rather than of that of image and idea. Thus Lucas’ images undermine any possible subversive ideas since he falls back on the stock imagery of good and evil in the West. The film tidies up the moral ambiguities of being at war in a way which Higuchi picks up. As a result, any attempt to examine the grey areas that fascinate Kurosawa, fails to convince in Lucas’ work, although the potential is there and somewhat explored in his ‘prequels’.

16 Star Wars Opening: note reference to Civil War

17 The heroes and their Princess (Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) There is little romance in this ending, but a lot of glory. The reward for a war well fought.

18 Success? Comparing the 2008 Last Princess to The Hidden Fortress The moral ambiguities of the original film were many: for example, any of the leads could be one of the ‘three bad people’. Moreover there are various elements of the film that are mysterious: why are the three kingdoms at war? Will the princess and her general plunge everyone back into war with their new gold funding? For director Higuchi and writer Nagashima these appear to be questions that had to be settled in their twenty-first century version. – So in The Last Princess, Princess Yuki speaks of her compassionate father’s teachings; – The evil General is evil from the start; – The love interest, the peasant Takezo, provides many an explanation about the exploitation and oppression of the masses. – In the twenty-first century version, Yuki decides to return to her people rather than run off with Takezo; and this is driven by her compassion for them, a lesson she has learnt on the way. – The Princess’ cause in the original is never glossed over as just, but it is presented as such in the remake and this is also something owed to Star Wars.

19 A more romantic story: The Last Princess There is no subtly in the new relationship between Takezo (Jun Matsumoto) and Princes Yuki (Masami Nagasawa).

20 Concluding comments Kurosawa, not just a viewer of others’ films, but also a prodigious reader and former “sort of Marxist” (Mellon 1975[2008]: 57), perhaps understood the politics of Eisenstein‘s savage junctures best. In 1977 the diegetic estrangement, making the familiar seem new, that Star Wars managed to achieve, made it a feel good film in a way that The Hidden Fortress appeared to be but never really was; it erased the ambiguities of the original even as it remained ambiguous about Lucas’ political intent. The Last Princess, keen to be something more than the original Kurosawa version, is too in debt to Lucas to unsettle us at the film’s finish. The remake of The Hidden Fortress, plonks itself firmly on the side of American optimism about the possibility for social revolution and democracy’s triumph. Eisenstein’s savage junctures, explored in a much more unsettling manner by Kurosawa, whose work always asked if the cost of war was ever worth it, disappear in the remake to leave us with a music video version of the original. The shock of the new has been lost in the film’s second crossing of borders.

21 Matashichi and Tahei find gold.

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