Sunday, February 19, 2012

Comica Obscura: Sword of Vengeance rebuttal

A full appreciation of the article that follows rests on one's familiarity with Bill's review of Sword of Vengeance.

The rebuttals from my end have, at this stage of the Comica Obscura marathon, felt inspired by the pictures upon which the discussions have been based. For The Rocketeer, who was a character that took his battles to the sky, the response article was characterized by some high and mighty pseudo intellectualism related to nationality and how one's attachment to country their of origin results in particular viewpoints on a film, an attempt to 'elevate' the discussion to another level just as the protagonist 'rose' to the occasion in his adventure. For Kenji Misumi's Sword of Vengeance, or, as you obsess in writing it, Kozure Ôkami: Ko Wo Kashi Ude Kashi Tsukamatsuru, the battle falls back to earth. In truth, I have re-read your review a couple of times and on each occasion its briskness has posed some problems for a rebuttal, which forces me to get into the nitty gritty of your analysis. Like the samurai, I shall approach your points delicately, with precision, and strike with a fury when the opportunity arises.

What seems to have impressed you most (at least based on your review) lies in the picture's technical merits, whereas the aspects which you shun were born out of some narrative-specific aspects. I wrestle with that reality while writing this article for I myself was not entirely enamoured with the narrative, although my issues related far more to its overarching structure as opposed to the details you explicitly reference. I wonder, in fact, what you thought of the overall structure, especially its needless reliance on going back and forth in time to reveal more and more background information. In any case, the main point of contention which irked you was the exploitative nature of film's sexuality. Well, all in all it can argued that Sword of Vengeance is specifically an exploitation film. Maybe it is because I have seen a decent amount of samurai films from a variety of directors, maybe it is just a hunch guiding me in my thought process, I don't know, but I feel as though I can recognize the difference between a samurai film which is aiming for something a little bit more artistically, a samurai film which aims to entertain in more mainstream fashion (Kurosawa made a lot of these) and an exploitation film that features samurai. It is true that we are not exposed to breast and sex very often samurai movies, but that just hit home to point all the further that this is indeed an exploitation film (just in case anyone hadn't clued in yet after seeing cartoony squirts of blood and bizarro score). The rape scene does seemingly emerge out of left field, I will agree with you that much. The more I think of it however, the more that scene actually makes sense however. How ironic is it that a whore, for all intents and purposes, is in a position where she is uncomfortable, sexually speaking. On the other hand there is Ogami Ito, a recently married man, who is forced upon a woman he would rather not bed. The scene exudes discomfort and it is purposeful. Titillation is not what I got out of that scene nor is it, I believe, what the filmmakers were hoping for either. One would have to be pretty weird to get excited by a scene like that. The bare breasts in the hot spa...I had almost forgotten about that, which speaks to how little that affected me. It's a bath, people get undressed before walking into the water, and one of the characters happened to be a woman. Moving on now.

The rest of the review concerned primarily Sword of Vengeance's technical aspects, most notably its playfulness with sound and the colour red whenever blood gushed. The first element, sound, is where I will disagree with you a bit more. Where you felt ill at ease (which seems to have heightened the sense of danger and tension in the fights for you), to me that is what came across as gratuitous (and not the breasts). Once again, maybe this is my background in samurai films speaking, but a samurai fight is typically very quiet, except when a character goes for the strike and yells, or the clanging of swords. Other aural stimuli might be careful foot shifting performed by the combatants as they find a suitable position that will give them, presumably, the advantage. Other than that, I have not seen a lot of samurai fights that popped with a lot of sound, unless it was a large scale battle, as in Ran or 13 Assassins. Taking away all the sound felt like overkill therefore. I certainly noticed, and it certainly made me feel something was afoot like you, but more because I wondered if there was something wrong with the sound in the film than any sense of increased danger. As for the blood, well, I assume that all depends on one's background with action and exploitation cinema, in particular from the Far East. As a comparison, I can refer you to a lot of Shaw Brothers films in which the deaths are pretty bloody and make use of what looks like red paint. A favourite of yours (I believe), Takashi Miike, makes exquisite use of beautiful blood in some of his movies, such as Ichi the Killer. Italians Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento are also famous, in part, for the exploitative violence in their respective films, in which death often sounds the alarm for the blood to gush. I am not making the case that the red in Sword of Vengeance was not cool. It was, I enjoyed just as you did, but it did not strike as vividly as you. It was another film that used it like came out of a water hose and it looked awesome, but it is far from the only movie to do that and there are plenty of films that do it better.

Another review, another rebuttal. It is interesting that we have not seen eye to eye as much this time around as we did in some of our previous joint marathons. I wonder if these divergences will continue.


Bill Thompson said...

At this stage there's really not much else to say besides, I respectfully disagree. I think we have both finely stated our points and have explored the contentious issues of the rather thoroughly. We still don't see eye to eye, and that's perfectly okay by me. :)

edgarchaput said...

I also have the sneaking suspicion we won't be finding common ground on some basic elements. I'm really curious to find out how our views compare with next week's film...