Monday, September 04, 2006

The one in which Shoefiend admits to being culturally bereft

I was fresh out of college. It was the second week at my new job. I was a trainee copywriter. Making money that was not of the Monopoly kind. Thinking up film ideas for herbal anti-dandruff shampoo. Carrying a proper work bag. From Hidesign no less. All around me, unshaven men (and a few women) smelling of last nights take away and copier ink churned out ideas that went up around town and won awards. I was on my best behaviour. I called everyone Sir and Ma’am. Came up with lots of non-executable ideas(‘…and then the penguin tap dances all the way home’). And generally tried not to reveal what a cultural ignoramus I was. I managed to carry on doing almost all of this throughout my entire stint at the agency. Except the last one.

It happened during a ‘brainstorming’ session in one of the fishbowls we called a meeting room. A rather wild eyed writer and art director (who I shall refer to as crazy1 and crazy2) were discussing Kurosawa. A word that I was not familiar with.

Crazy 1 Kurosawa feast last night dude. It was amaaaazing.

Crazy 2 Why didn’t you call me over asshole?

Crazy 1 Dude, I thought they gave you headaches.

Crazy 2 Only the first time. Now I’m crazy about them.

Crazy 1(turning to me) Do you like Kurosawa?

Now I had two options before me. Either I admitted I had no idea what or who Kurosawa was and make a fool of myself before my very cool peers. Or I try and bluff my way through the whole thing and make an even bigger fool of myself before my very cool peers. Guess which one I chose?

Me Oh I love Kurosawas! Especially with sake.

As you can imagine I got two very blank stares, was promptly ignored for the rest of the evening and made to fetch water. Ah the joys of being a trainee.

You can imagine how stupid I felt when I found out that Kurosawa was indeed a film maker par excellence. I promptly mugged the names of some of his movies to tide me over till I got around watching any of them.

This of course happened about five years ago. And I’m glad to say I finally got a chance to see my first Kurosawa about two weeks ago. Well, almost.

After months of being on my Screenselect list, I was finally sent The Seven Samurai. Oh the joy! My husband who expressed doubts as to how it could be better than The Magnificent Seven, was given a lecture on broadening his horizons and not being a pleb. He was then promptly tied to his chair (only for the duration of the movie, I assure you) and forced to watch the film. Well, most of it.

As the opening shots appeared, my husband’s muffled pleas (I’d had to gag him as well. Again, only for the duration of the movie) reached my ears. I took out the sock (clean) from his mouth and he begged me to press the time/text button on the remote to see how long the movie was. I obliged. Shit! Three and half hours long. Was this guy some long lost relative of K-JO? My husband's loud protests were silenced once more and we settled down to a companionable silence.

Suffering Japanese peasants, marauding bandits, out of work samurais – I was expecting all of that. I mean I had seen The Magnificent Seven. But hello? Where was Shibuya’s answer to Steve McQueen? Where was the Yul Brynner of Okinawa? I mean sure I was expecting the peasants to be bad looking – they probably had scurvy from all the rice husk they were eating. But was the samurai’s excuse? I mean Ken Watanabe must have had a great grand daddy right?

So after about forty minutes of suffering and crying (my husband, both times) we switched to a rerun of Friends. I promised to watch the rest of the movie the next day. And the next. And the next. After a week, I still couldn’t face the thought of almost three hours of strife. So I slipped the DVD back in its sleeve and returned it. What can I say? I’m a fraud.

While I’m at it, I think I should confess to my other shameful secrets. I read Mills & Boon till I was in class x and only stopped when my mother threatened to burn my library membership. I used to like Roxette. When I was 12 my room was a shrine to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I even had the sneakers. Sob). I cried when I saw Forrest Gump and Titanic. I occasionally watch Baywatch reruns. When I’m at W.H Smith I read Heat and Hello but take the New Yorker and National Geographic to the check out counter. I enjoy watching films where Kate Hudson plays a struggling singleton raising her dead sister’s children and trying hard not to fall in love with the local Pastor. I am a popular culture junkie. So shoot me. (Oh, and I think Ben Stiller is hysterical)

I’m sure I’ve fallen greatly in your esteem. All my own doing I admit. So in an attempt to raise your opinion of me by a smidgen I leave you with this. Shostakovich. (Just don’t ask me what that is. Or who. Or… ah forget it. It’s almost time for Britain’s Next Top Model)


noon said...

Hee Hee Kurosawas with Sake - have to find some place that has that on the menu! :) Oh yes, I too used love "Women's era" magazine with the "tell us how you met your husband" section and I like looking at the celeb pics in "People" mag -why not?! I like to watch nice happy ending time pass movies - while eating hot Neitzsches! ;)
Although I have to say - crying for Titanic?! How come?! Bad day at work?!
So are you now friends with the people with whom you had the Kurosawa encounter?!

Szerelem said...

You havent seen Kurosawa?? Fie on you, Shoefie!...heeheee....
But seriously, can you imagine life without pop culture?? i think we all indulge in it...i like reading People magazine and watching Sex and the, light and nonsensical =D
M&B though - ewww...and isnt Ken Watanabe uttterly hot??

TomCruiseChellum said...

When I reached Delhi with a BA from Malluland, my Bengali hostel mates were very condescending on being told that my movie experience was confined to Sivaji,MGR,Gemini and Chemmeen. Did not qualify for their inner circle of Ray and east Europena art movies. I was llowed to stand near the threshold on being told that I have seen Raj Kapoor movies.

I used to pray "Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya" like my ancient forefathers

Swathi said...

Mills and Boon did u say, sheeesh , how could you? lol

ggop said...

The best thing to read on a stairmaster is In Style (ok maybe Elle/Glamour/Vogue are also ok)

I got to admit, I did not like Pulp Fiction or The Godfather. There, shoot me.

apu said... don't like the stuffed kurosawas, you haven't said a word about them....tch tch

Nee said...

Shoefie - I have never identified more with you than after this post! :-)
I bet even Crazy1 and Crazy 2 were in-the-closet Amitabh/Rajini fans. There's a reason why it's called "popular" culture damn it!

Jane Sunshine said...

I would say that this is really funny- but I have no time. I am running to catch a rerun of X-Factor myself.

anjali said...

Remember Adoor Gopalakrishnan's 'Elippathayam' that they used to show on DD on Sunday afternoons? I never made it through that movie either! But M&Bs, I had no trouble going through those. BTW, it is KurAsawa and not Kurosawa. :)

'was promptly ignored for the rest of the evening and made to fetch water' are hilarious!

anjali said...

OK, i take back the comment about Kurosawa. Just saw on a few websites that it is spelt the way you had it(now i am going to go fetch some water!)

Falstaff said...

Wait! You actually liked that pathetic excuse for a Western with its phony Hollywood plot, its disgustingly flat acting, its cheap grandstanding, its complete lack of emotional depth and its total disregard for logic or reality (plus its hollow social setting) over Kurosawa's visually enthralling, philosophically and psychologically complex, culturally nuanced, and phenomenally realistic original?!!!

Fallen in my esteem? More like plummeted. Think Lucifer in Book I of Paradise Lost, or something out of Blake

30in2005 said...

I always knew this day would come you closet pop cultur-ist!!!

However you were absolutely right. There is no way to 'have' kurosawa' without sake - you need to be drunk to watch his long and utterly inexplicable long movies!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Noon - :) About Titanic - I was younger. Cut me some slack here. And yes, five years later and their dope addled brains have forgotten a great deal :)

Szerelem - I agree! We need pop culture so that when we see more 'refined' (for want of a better word) things we appreciate them more. Or something like that.

TCC - Long Live Shivaji! Super star vazhga!

Swathi -Aw come on! you haven't read even one?

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Ggop - :D I thought the best thing to do on the stairmaster was watch morning talk shows!

Apu - Stuffed ones? With dashi maybe?

Nee - :)

Jane sunshine - We must compare notes

Anjali - Can I have some ice with that water please? :D

Falstaff - Awww! Come on. Cut me some slack now. I'm a cultural putz. You know, you should be trying to help me - lift me out of my cesspit of b grade Kate Hudson movies. Actually you have already, I've begun to enjoy poetry alot more after I started reading audiopoetry. Forgive me? Pretty please? (If it helps I saw Cache last week and saw Transamerica today)

30in2005 - :D Be warned. You may have just given the previous commentor an aneurism.

Ravi said...

Funny !
But I don't see why Kurasowa and FRIENDS have to be mutually exclusive. Comparing the two is like comparing the reassuring aftertaste of filter coffee with the immediate joy one experiences after a heavenly bite of mysurpa ( respectively).Both have their own pleasures.

Falstaff said...

Shoe-fiend: Hmmm...I might forgive you, but will have to enforce an embargo on Yul Brynner as penance.

I guess what surprises me is that anyone would consider Kurosawa 'highbrow'. I mean, if this were Godard we were talking about, I would understand (don't get me wrong, I love Godard - but every now and then I sit through his films thinking - what IS he on?) but I've always thought of Kurosawa as being the perfect example of a director who can take easily accessible, 'lowbrow' themes and turn them into high art. Watch Yojimbo, watch the Star Wars-inspiring Hidden Fortress. The point about Kurosawa isn't all camera angles and long, unbroken takes and jazz like that - the point about him is that he's uber-cool. Nothing Tarantino has ever made or Eastwood has ever acted in comes close to the intensity of Kurosawa's Mifune. Next you'll be telling me you don't like Hitchcock because he's too 'highbrow' (don't do it - just don't)

I'm particularly astounded that anyone could honestly prefer Magnificent Seven to the Seven Samurai. If I had to demonstrate why Kurosawa is as good as he is, I would get someone to watch those two movies back to back, on the assumption that it would make the superior quality of Kurosawa's work self-evident. Never mind that the performances are infinitely more nuanced (you can actually see what the characters are thinking from the expression on their face - they're not just a bunch of pretty men pretending to be cowboys); never mind the attention to detail (in MS you get a bunch of extras getting randomly shot, in Kurosawa every single enemy warrior is carefully accounted for, so can actually experience the slow overcoming of the impossible odds); never mind the superior depth of the plot, the way Kurosawa's movie is at once a thrilling adventure tale and lyrical elegy for the Samurai way of life. Are you seriously telling me you think James Coburn's tired, greasy old Britt is any match for the lethal expertise of his counterpart in Seven Samurai; or that you think Yul Brynner exudes a quarter of the wisdom, experience or sadness of the amazing Takashi Shimura. And where in Magnificent Seven will you find a character as wild as Mifune's Kikuchiyo? Hell, Seven Samurai is even funnier than Magnificent Seven.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Ravi - I agree. The two needn't be mutually exclusive.

Falstaff - So you've almost forgiven me. Phew. Brynner is off the list forever. Honest. And Hitchcock is God. Please, I will never have a bad thing to say about the man's movies.

Now that was a pretty convincing argument for Kurasawa. As always you were articulate and backed your argument with a sound knowledge of what you were writing about. All I can say is, perhaps it isn't time yet for me to appreciate Kurasawa. One can see, listen to and read art and film/music/literature any time one wants to. But I don't think we (or maybe it's just me) appreciate all of them immediately. At the risk of falling entirely off the precipice of (any) esteem you may had for me, let me admit I have been trying to read Catch 22 and The Grapes of Wrath for about 8 years now. But it was only this year that I managed to sit down, read them and really savour them. If I had ever forced myself through those books earlier, Heller and Steinbeck's genius may have just passed me by. And I would have hated for that to happen. Similarly, I hope that one day (hopefully before I'm old, whithered, blind, deaf and senile) I'll be able to sit down and appreciate Kurasawa. It may be next month, it may be next year. (Also, the MS is what I like to think of as just old fashioned time pass. Nothing more)

ggop said...

ok i am going to push my husband's kurosawa movies to the top of our netflix queue. Just because of Falstaff..I must see what the commotion is about. If it turns out to be one long episode of Gunsmoke, I know whom to blame :-D

Filmiholic said...


Shoefi, pay these people no mind.

James Coburn is God (albeit mine) and I will brook no critique of him.

Caché was a huge disappointment; my God, it would have been more engaging to watch Daniel Auteil sleep and wait to see if he drools.

There is no right and wrong; just differing opinions. Down with cultural bullying!

mumbaigirl said...

Don't worry-there are Phds being written on popular culture...;)

I have a tip about these long slow films. They're not meant to be watched on a TV. Either get a projector or go to a cinema to see them.

I STILL love Roxette-a hanger on from my adolescence!

Nilu said...

peter ekka telling something; antha 42 kulam kaaran intent on out-petering our ekka....sabash, seryana potti

F e r r a r i said...

Indha madhiri Peter padam ellam edhukku paakanum? :(
Captain Vijayakanth padam edavadhu paathu irukeengaLa?

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

GGop - :)not me i hope

Filmi - The man is good looking I admit. :D

Mumbaigirl - I should try my hand at one of those. And I always thought watching long movies was better at home. You can always pause when you need to make yourself some coffee.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

nilu - no potti and all

Ferrari - Of course! Captain Prabhakar, Chinna Gounder and another film very long ago where Captain acted as a road side Tailor (starred Radhika too).

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Ignore Falstaff, the man is mad. Prefers Toshiro Mifune to Clint Eastwood.

Me, I loved "Jodi No. 1". And oh, the Munnabhai sequel rocks!


dazedandconfused said...

Thank You! i was feeling so guilty at not being able to finish Citizen Kane!!

Anonymous said...


i love "Shostakovich" - pass me some with masala chutney please!

- s.b.

anjali said...

of course! i will add in some lemon and an umbrella too! (looks sheepish)

Neela said...

shoefiend: I had EXACTLY the same reaction after watching Seven Samurai. I fell asleep (it was me tied in the chair) halfway through. I couldn't stand any of them anymore and I was heartbroken not to see Ken or his ilk there. I think my last desperate thought before dozing was: Will Tom at least make an appearance? (and I HATE Mr. Cruise).

And please, don't give up Yul so easily to Falstaff's nagging. Falsie has zero aesthetic sense anyway. Brynner the magnificent to that nastylooking fellow who looks like he has a runny nose? I mean, strictly on an Male Aesthetic Samurai Scale, even Falstaff couldn't disagree.

Adn in my book, anyone who loves Shostakovich is pardoned fully. Kurosawa against Shosty? No contest. (if you like the lowbrow Rachmaninoff even more then we HAVE to arrange a transatlantic meeting in which we discover the identical "bhai" tattoos on our arms. Oh and I had my camera phone out yetserday to takea pic of Wyclef outside penn Station)


Gauravonomics said...

I understand. I bought the complete Kurosawa DVD collection last year, but haven't even watched one movie so far.