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The flute that sets Kurosawa’s Kagemusha in motion

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- also the battle of Gaixia, 200 BCE, with an echo late in the Korean War -- and a tip of the hat to Emlyn ]
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Kagemusha, the flute call:

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There’s a sequence near the start of Akria Kurosawa‘s masterpiece, Kagemusha, when a flute player on the ramparts of a besieged castle belonging to Tokugawa Ieyasu so captivates the men of the daimyo Takeda Shingen‘s besieging force that everyone listens for the flute each night:

Our men are impressed. They can’t wait for night to come.

This flute, in turn, becomes the primary indicator of whether the besieged castle will or will not fall after the besiegers cut its water supply. The daimyo’s general and close confidant suggests whe asked:

The castle can stand longer. The garrison leader is a fine warrior. He lets us hear the flute at night. …

If we hear him tonight the garrison will hold. The castle will not fall. But if we do not hear the flute, the castle is doomed. Its fall is near.

To which the daimyo responds:

I want to hear if the flute is played tonight. Prepare my seat.

The daimyo’s seat is prepared, the flute plays, a shot rings out… the daimyo is mortally wounded… and the narrative of the film unfurls.

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I was watching Kagemusha with son Emlyn last night, saying how close the film seemed to come to my current interests, and remarked on the scene with the flute because it illustrates so perfectly the ideas that morale may prove more powerful than materiel, and the arts as valuable in coflict as ballistics.

Emlyn spent a short while at the computer, and found two web-pages he thought might interest me.

The first page pointed me to the battle of Gaixia in 202 BCE, in which Han Xin trapped Xiang Yu‘s Chu forces in a box canyon,

To further break the Chu army’s spirit, Han Xin employed the “Chu Song from Four Sides” tactic. He ordered the Han soldiers and captured Chu troops to sing Chu songs. The Chu songs made the Chu troops remember their families back home, greatly reducing their will to fight.

Increasingly homesick, the Chu soldiers began to desert, Han Xin’s brilliant tactic gave him the vistory, and the Han dynasty was established.

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The second page Emlyn pointed me to was titled The Use of Music in Psyops. In it, SGM Herbert Friedman takes a long (67 pp.) and detailed look at this general topic, and made a fascinating “DoubleQuote” style connection with the first in its near-final paragraph:

The Communist Chinese used music against American troops on several occasions during the Korean War. Soldiers from the U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division recalled that when the enemy played Joni James’ rendition of Hank Williams “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” on dark and foggy nights it gave soldiers some reason to pause and think of home.

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For your edification and delight, Joni James sings Hank WilliamsYour Cheatin’ Heart:

Here Liu Fang plays the celebrated pipa solo that depicts the stages of the battle, The Ambush from all Sides:

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For what it’s worth, the banner and motto of the Takeda clan, Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain — given in the subtitles as —

Swift as the wind
Quiet as a forest
Fierce as fire
Immovable as a mountain

— which adds much to the poetry of our understanding of Japanese warfare, is known as the Furinkazan, and derives from Sun Tzu‘s seventh chapter:

Therefore the army is established on deception, mobilized by advantage, and changed through dividing up and consolidating the troops.
Therefore, it advances like the wind,
it marches like the forest,
it invades and plunders like fire,
it stands like the mountain,
it is formless like the dark,
it strikes like thunder.

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Beautiful film, great film.

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Marx repeats itself

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an irresistible application of the DoubleQuotes method to a well-worn aphorism ]
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History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farceKarl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remediesGroucho

With appreciation of the wit and skill of artist David Levine and the New York Review of Books

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Sunday surprise #21 — Defiant Requiem

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the power of music -- Verdi's Requiem in the Terezin / Theresienstadt concentration camp ]
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Two minutes of your time will bring you the Dies Irae of Giuseppe Verdi‘s Requiem, conducted by Claudio Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra:

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Yes?

A little over an hour will bring you an astounding documentary, describing how the Jewish prisoners of the Theresienstadt camp ouside Prague rallied around conductor Rafael Schächter to perform that great Requiem, not once but sixteen times, inside the camp…

From the Defiant Requiem Foundation site:

Conductor Rafael Schächter told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.” … The performances came to symbolize resistance and defiance and answering the worst of mankind with the best of mankind. The performance is powerful, dramatic and inspirational, with a contemporary message of hope.

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You might wish to support a performance of this work in Detroit, currently being funded on Kickstarter:

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And the Requiem itself — played here by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Ricardo Muti — will take less than two of your hours — you can safely skip the introductory remarks and go straight to the 12 minute mark:

— less than two hours, yet timeless.

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Trumping even the horrors of the camps: the power of music.

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Shoma Choudhury talks to the CIA & Taliban, more or less

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two talks from India's THiNK2013 conference, one about the Taliban and US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the other a tale of India / Pakistan Partition ]
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Here, Indian journalist Shoma Choudhury interviews Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, one time Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and author of the book, My Life with the Taliban, and Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in Islamabad in 2001 and later Director of the Agency’s Counterterrorist Center, during the THiNK2013 conference held at the Grand Hyatt in Goa, in a session titled An Afghan Date: The CIA Talks To The Taliban on November 9th, 2013:

I haven’t found a reference to this event in the New York Times or Washington Post, and the video of the event has been viewed less than 1,250 times — so I hope that if any Zenpundit readers have in fact already viewed it, they will forgive me for posting it here. It seems to me to be a remarkable conversation, not least because of Choudhury’s skillful moderation.

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I only know about this conversation because blog-friend Omar Ali pointed me to the video of a reading of Saadat Hasan Manto‘s account of Partition in his satirical short story, Toba Tek Singh at the same conference. The reader is the actor Naseeruddin Shah whom I admire enormously for his stunning performance as “the common man” in Neeraj Pandey‘s A Wednesday — the story is told as written in Manto’s Urdu, with a principal character who “mutters or shouts a mix of Punjabi, Urdu and English” — and most of an English language translation is provided for those like myself who need it, by means of projected background slides.

But that voice, Naseeruddin Shah’s voice!

You can read Toba Tek Singh in Frances Pritchett‘s translation here.

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If these two presentations are anything to go by, the THiNK conference series may be what TED talks could and should have been…

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The Carrier Potemkin vs the Potemkin Carrier

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- who is of the opinion that word-order matters ]
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I look at it this way:

The Battleship Potemkin was indeed a battleship, as well as giving its name to one of the great films of all time, while a Potemkin village is at best just a façade — and may even be no more than the name for a façade, if as Cecil Adams reports at The Straight Dope, there weren’t even any Potemkin village façades built to please Catherine the Great in the first place…

So the first image above, which shows an actual Chinese aircraft carrier, the Liaodong Liaoning, can reasonably be called the Carrier Potemkin. The Chinese carrier may have “lousy engines, lousy air support, lousy convoy support, and lousy sub support” as Kevin Drum suggests, but it is an aircraft carrier. And if David Axe (or a graphics editor at Danger Room) calls it a Potemkin Carrier, in my view the two words are being used in the wrong order.

The real Potemkin Carrier — all façade and no bite — is the one depicted in the lower image above — a replica of the US aircraft carrier Nimitz, complete with the painted number 68 on its light deck, but only about two-thirds the length of its puissant original, and made largely of wood..

It’s simply a matter of terminological exactitude… and in its own way, puissance vs façade!

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