A Couple of Life Lessons from a Master Filmmaker
I don’t recall ever thinking of anything so deep as the force until I saw the original Star Wars. I was only 13 and super self-conscious.
I clearly remember being embarrassed waiting in line for the theatre to open. I was standing in the longest queue in history at the mall thinking everyone else was going to see The Shining. I was terrified. I thought people were looking at me and saying, “Look at that loser. I bet he is going to watch Star Wars”. I did my best impression of acting like, “Nah, me a sci-fi nerd. Heck no. I’m too cool for that”.
I was relieved to discover that almost everyone was there for Star Wars. Crazy! I didn’t think it would be that popular. When the movie was over — I believed in the force.
Be the Ball
Maybe the late Harold Ramis also believed. Ramis directed the 1980 comedy classic, Caddy Shack.
In Caddy Shack, Chevy Chase’s character, Ty Webb says to his caddy, “I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball“. Just before he nonchalantly places a golf ball a foot away from the hole. Oh, while blindfolded from 300 yards away.
“Be the ball” and “the force” are immortal. Ironically, for Star Wars, Lucas drew inspiration from Akira Kurosawa.¹ Kurosawa was a Japanese master filmmaker. Most people I know never heard of Kurosawa, let alone attribute any quotes to him or even list his movies. Kurosawa is most famous for the 1954 film, Seven Samurai. The interesting thing is, for me, it’s Kurosawa’s not so famous 1962 Sanjuro that holds a spell over me.
There are two life lessons that struck a chord with me while watching Sanjuro. These lessons are especially important to me because (a) their pitfalls have undesirable often dramatic consequences and (b) I need to be reminded regularly to watch out for them — I forget easily. Warning: spoilers ahead.
1) Looks are deceiving
Sanjuro’s opening scene shows a group of naive samurai in celebration mode. A vagabond ronin that is played by Toshiro Mifune stumbles upon the group. The leader of the group explains that they are waiting to meet with a ‘good’ government superintendent for help to uncover a conspiracy. The ronin, who is none other than Sanjuro, is suspicious. After Sanjuro asks the samurai a flurry of questions he figures it out. The samurai believe that a ‘horse-face’ Chamberlain is the head of a corruption ring. Sanjuro confirms his suspicion. He says to the samurai something like, “Let me guess, your goody-two-shoe guy is good-looking?” Just then, the naïve samurai and Sanjuro are ambushed by the superintendent’s men. Whoops, guess who the good guy is. The not so good looking Chamberlain is the good guy.
“Infants who are only a year old prefer to look at faces that adults consider to be attractive than at unattractive faces“. — Zajonc, Social facilitation
Why do we always fall for this? It turns out that we actually have a ‘built-in’ hack. We are conditioned to think so-called attractive people are good. It-is-what-it-is and as long as we are aware we can avoid being seduced (by the dark side). If we are aware of the hack, then we can manage it. Never judge a book by its cover as they say.
2) “The best sword stays in its scabbard.” — wife of Matsuta from Sanjuro
This has to be one of the most zen things I ever heard. It’s a perfect meditation prompt. In the spirit of being zen, I should just leave it at that. But I can’t leave you hanging.
Of course our hero, Sanjuro, is a master swordsman. In the movie, the Chamberlain’s wife criticizes Sanjuro for killing unnecessarily. Even though our hero is trying to save her kidnapped husband. Warning: another spoiler alert.
The movie ends in a climatic duel. Hanbei, the Superintendent’s gang leader, challenges Sanjuro to a duel to the death. Hanbei’s swordsmanship equals that of Sanjuro’s. Hanbei can’t be talked out of fighting — he must save face. After the duel, Sanjuro is saddened by the senseless killing of his nemesis. He states that he and Hanbei are the same; they are equals. He also admits that the Chamberlain’s wife was right about the best sword staying in its scabbard. The naïve group of samurai rejoice and applaud for the death of Hanbei. Sanjuro berates them for learning nothing.
1. Get your movie-on. Watch Sanjuro if you haven’t yet.
2. Go old-school and get some reading in. For the next two weekends, go to a bookstore or library at least once. At the bookstore or library, practice judging books by their content not their cover.
3. Meditate. Every morning for the next three days, silently contemplate for two minutes. Contemplate on, “the best sword stays in in its scabbard”.
1. The Hidden Fortress, The Criterion Collection, https://www.criterion.com/films/655-the-hidden-fortress
1. Lead photo: sunrise on a secluded beach in Phuket, Thailand by mark l chaves
2. Second photo: traditional Balinese kris sword Ubud, Bali by mark l chaves
Adapted for Diaforlife. Original article published on Medium.com.