Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sasaki Kojiro

In my favorite Bond film,"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" George Lazenby, then the
new Bond replacing Sean Connery, humorously says after a long fight scene,"This never happened to the other guy". In the history of Japanese sword fights, Sasaki Kojiro, who lost the famous duel to Miyamoto Musashi on April 13, 1612, is the other guy. Musashi is portrayed as the hero, the "Kensei" or sword saint who travels the path to enlightenment by way of the sword. The character of Kojiro is much less known.

After seeing the 3 part Samurai trilogy, starring Toshiro Mifune as Musashi,I must confess that I found the character of Kojiro more interesting than that of Musashi. He was played by the actor Koji Tsurata, who throughout the film is dressed more like an actor than a swordsman. Kojiro wielded an extra-long sword and was the master of a technique called the "tsubame gaeshi" or swallow cut. It was a technique that was based on the sudden way swallows can change directions during flight. Kojiro's extra-long blade would cut down but could reverse unpredictably anywhere during the down into a wicked and deadly uppper stroke. And the whole thing was as smooth and as unpredictable as a swallow in flight. Tsurata played him with a cool that sharply contrasted with the intense heat of Mifune's Musashi. It was that cool that I found fascinating. Whereas Musashi pursued the path of the sword for enlightenment, there was a sense that for Kojiro it was art for art's sake. A sense of devilish detachment. Kojiro never got his hands dirty, whereas Musashi seemed wedded to pain and frustration.

I think the character of Nemuri Kyoshiro is on some levels an attempt to honor Kojiro. Like Kojiro's swallow cut, Nemuri has his full moon cut. Nemuri has much more in common with his cool detachment and sense of mystery to Kojiro than to the character of Musashi. The irony is that when watching Koji Tsurata as Kojiro I said to myself he would make a great Nemuri Kyoshiro, and I found out later that he played the Nemuri character earlier in 3 pre-Raizo films.

In the history of Jazz Miles Davis is like Musashi and holds a very important place. Chet Baker is a bit like Kojiro, a lot less well-known. If history is any decider of greatness Davis gets it all. However, like Kojiro, Baker's cool and unforgettable lyricism are also worth remembering. I am including another video shot during my August stay in Sebastopol of another of my favorite Chet songs, this time "Polka Dots & Moonbeams" :


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