Shinya Tsukamoto said his stylish movie is a cry for peace in an age "in which more and more people think that violence is an answer" Photo: AFP

Japan's pacifist samurai film is 'scream' against violence

By Fiachra Gibbons and Franck Iovene

Cult Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto said Friday that his new film about a pacifist samurai who refuses to kill is "a scream" at the current state of the world.

The actor-director with a huge following for his cyberpunk horror movies like "Tetsuo: The Iron Man" and "Tokyo Fist" said he was exasperated with the spread of violence as he premiered his latest film, "Killing", at the Venice film festival.

Tsukamoto plays a samurai master who tries to recruit a young wandering ronin fighter in mid-19th century Japan as centuries of relative peace there are threatened by the arrival of the U.S. Navy under Commodore Perry.

But despite his master's insistence, the young samurai refuses to kill.

Tsukamoto, 58, said the stylish movie was a cry for peace. "As I took in the current state of the world, I had an urge to let out (the film) like a scream.

"The act of killing in the Edo period was quite normal. I found many connections with our age, in which more and more people think that violence is an answer," he told reporters.

"I asked myself how a young person today would react if they found themselves in that period -- would they be able to kill without hesitation?

"That's why I created a samurai that doesn't want to kill anymore," Tsukamoto said.

The film, which was greeted with prolonged applause and cheering at Venice, also features a remarkable performance from actress Yu Aoi as a peasant girl who makes her feeling known for the hero -- played by "The Last Samurai" star Sosuke Ikematsu -- by giving him the odd punch.

Historian Julien Peltier told AFP that the young man's apparently modern, humanist dilemma was a recurring theme in Japanese culture before the samurai myth became the stuff of action films.

"While samurais are often reduced in the West to pitiless killers in Japanese literature, they were more complex characters, often riven by doubt, particularly during the Edo period (which lasted up to 1868)," said the French author of "samurai".

"Killing" was screened after critics had raved about Chinese master Zhang Yimou's latest martial arts film, "Shadow", which the Hollywood Reporter called "stunning".

Zhang, the maker of such classics as "Red Sorghum", "Raise the Red Lantern" and "House of Flying Daggers", said the historical epic was inspired by the ying and yang symbol and Chinese ink-brush painting.

Critic Boyd van Hoeij said "this unexpected combination of constantly wondrous production design and lethal Chinese umbrellas... is probably the most beautiful film Zhang has made."

Zhang told reporters that had he has just finished an as yet untitled new film, which is a story of "small characters from the lower classes", in a similar realist style to his highly acclaimed "Coming Home", which starred Gong Li, the superstar actress he discovered in "Red Sorghum" in 1988.

© 2018 AFP

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

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As someone who can be called "old," and who has a lot of time on his hands, I realize that I do have opinions, and that I enjoy expressing them. To that end, I would say that I like my stories to be based on real, historical characters. A story about a warrior is not by itself an endorsement or a criticism of violence and war, but is just a story of how someone dealt with the violent circumstances they found themselves in. A made up story can be entertaining and even educational, but runs the risk of being dated and irrelevant. That said, I will probably see this new movie, and I certainly hope that it is worthy of our admiration.

There is an American movie about a real man who was a pacifist during World War II, "Hacksaw Ridge." Desmond Doss refused to abandon up his convictions against violence towards his fellow humans, but was willing to serve as an unarmed medic in the Pacific War. He attempted to save both American and Japanese lives in battle, often being injured himself. I may not agree with every decision he made in life, but I can read the book about him, and see the movie about him, and try to understand how a real person dealt with the violent times that he found himself in.

Alvin York was an American pacifist, during World War I, who ended up deciding to give up his pacifist convictions, and he went on to become a war hero.

These are stories that I find interesting.

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Indeed, the reduced characters of samurais are unfortunate. In fact, samurai is originated from China and deeply linked to Confucianism. Samurais are by no means violent and killing only. I hope Japanese artists and Chinese artists can joint hands to produce more movies based on common history to change the distorted image that between Japan and China there is only feud.

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Human history is filled with violence. We each have a dark side to our nature that can succumb to hatred and fear. We also have a real need to respond appropriately when faced with someone who wants to use violence against us, individually or collectively. One can hope that we humans are entering a new, brighter time in our evolution, but that is not assured. The subject of this film is very important and interesting.

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