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    Volume 9 Issue 27| July 2, 2010|

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Ray and Kurosawa

The standard bearers of Asian Cinema

Syed Maqsud Jamil

Songs of the Little Road, an epic by Satyajit Ray.

The other day I was watching a Japanese cinema; director Yoji Yamada's Love and Honour. It was a captivating classic in celluloid. The story was from the Samurai period celebrated by the iconic style of Akira Kurosawa. It was not however, mired in the sanguinary contest of the Samurais. The characters were from the Samurai age but the story was about the pathos and pride of the injustices of life inflicted on ordinary people held in the bondage of servitude. The main character Shinnojo Mimura portrayed by Takyu Kimura with a humble station in life serving in the Chief Samurai's palace as his food taster had a loving wife in Kayo Mimura portrayed by Rei Dan. Mimura was sharing with Kayo his thoughts of giving up the life threatening job, and instead start a swordsmanship training school. Kayo disagreed favouring the honour of working in the Lord's palace. The same day Mimura fell seriously ill tasting a food item, which contained a wrong combination of ingredients that made the food poisonous. Mimura recovered but he became blind. The family was dependent on a monthly allowance of rice from the Lord's place. His uncle told Mimura to send Kayo to the Chief Inspector to plead on their behalf. Mimura's honour was against it because of the ill reputation of the Chief Inspector. But Kayo acted out of love for her husband and the family and approached the licentious Chief Inspector where she was raped. But she surrendered to the wicked royal official two more times to seek his support for her helpless husband Mimura and to save the family from falling into penury. However, as fate would have it, she was followed by Mimura's servant and he was informed of the dishononourable incident. Mimura divorced Kayo. Mimura was now resolved on recovering his honour and started taking greater lessons of swordsmanship from an accomplished swordsman. The aim in his life now, was to die. A duel was set in a desolate place and his wife's rapist lost his arm. Mimura did not kill him because he thought that the crime against Kayo has been avenged and his honour has been salvaged. Finally when Mimura'a servant brought back Kayo to work as a scullery maid without disclosing her identity he did not object. Love triumphed when ultimately Mimura could recognize Kayo by the touch of her hand.

The film had the mark of Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray's mastery. In particular the pastoral background transported me to Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon where the monsoon rain was pouring heavily over the tiles of a monastery, or in RAN where threatening dark clouds were gathering to foretell the imminent strife in the clan. Ray has followed a similar composition. My heart goes out to Durga from Pather Pachali when she drenches herself in pouring the rain during the harsh monsoon. The way she swirled around her flowing hair with glee presents the eternal image of Bengal. When Harihar the master of the family returns home to find his cottage devastated with the roof badly battered and a pool of water collected in the courtyard, the pathos does not come in theatrical style he exclaims ah! My fate! The calamity could not wait for few more days. The common thread between Ray and Kurosawa is lyrical reality. It is this lyrical reality in Yoji Yamada's Love and Honour that has overwhelmed me.

Kuraswa was a great fan of Satyajit Ray's films. He once remarked, 'to have not seen Ray films is to have lived in the world without having seen the moon and the sun'. There were also similarities in their physical stature, both were over 6 feet tall, quite rare for Bengalis and Japanese people. Physical statures aside, both were also painters.

Akira Kurosawa’s films depict humanism.

Ray was faithful to the subject he knew, his land, and his people. His critics pedantically observe that his movies plod. They however miss the point that poetic grace does not rush through. That is what Satyajit movies are, from Songs of the Little Road (Pather Pachali) to The Home and the World (Ghare Baire). It was a tragedy that he put his heart into Ghare Baire but it did not have the absorbing quality of Pather Pachali and Apu triology. Even Charulata and Simabadhdha did not earn the recognition they deserved. But Aparajita (Unvanquished) and Apur Sangsar (Apu's world) are memorable movies to find place among all time great hits. Kurosawa's tributes to Ray's films are life long facts. The only difference between Ray and Kurosawa is that unlike Kurosawa Ray never ventured in to world literature. While his Seven Samurai has been adopted by western cinema Kurosawa adapted Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' for Throne of Blood and at a later period 'King Lear' for 'RAN'. He also did a Russian language movie Dersu Uzala. Ray was invited in 1967 by Columbia Pictures to discuss about his new script. In 1967 he wrote a script for a movie entitled "The Alien". However, Ray received a rude shock to find that his original script has been appropriated and copyrighted. Understandably it was co-written. Ray returned home. The picture later came out as E.T., the Extraterrestrial in 1982, which bore striking similarities with Ray's script. Ray believed that the movie "would not have been possible without my script of 'The Alien' being available throughout America in mimeographed copies." Spielberg denied this by saying, "I was a kid in high school when this script was circulating in Hollywood".

New Asian film directors have joined the classic genre. They are from Japan, China, South Korea and Iran and to a lesser extent from West Bengal. Among them China's 'The house with Red Lanterns' famed Zhang Yimou, Iran's Abbas Kirostami, Majid Majidi. And of course Bahaman Ghobadi of Iran should be lauded for his remarkably touching movie 'Turtles can fly'. It is good to see that Asian cinema is carrying forward the standard set by Ray and Kurosawa.


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