Misumi: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

I’ve been in a rut lately. We both have. I suspect it has something to do with that quarter-life crisis everyone’s going through. There’s so much potential for action that always seems to manifest itself in decisive inaction. Shopping for dishes, putting books in thematic order, wondering how two people can create such an enormous pile of laundry, beginning and ending each day with a bowl of cereal. We have no idea where to turn, how to take another step.

I practiced music for seven hours yesterday. Mostly bass, but some piano and guitar, cramming Led Zeppelin as fast as I can. And about six hours into it my fingers suddenly came alive in a way that they haven’t done in perhaps a decade now, with a speed I remember having as a teen, but lost when I stopped performing. My fingertips aren’t blistered either. But we have a show tomorrow night and I’m terrified to put in any more time practicing today, an hour and a half, really pushing myself with strength and speed exercises, so scared that I’ll wake up to stiff fingers. Monday afternoon and evening I spent 11 hours working on a paper with my cousin, a paper on the structure of Frankenstein. It doesn’t take long before I’m pacing around expounding on “Mont Blanc” versus “Ancient Mariner” and Coleridge’s “high imagination” as Mary Shelley’s enemy, on some balance between this and that and trying to find busywork for my cousin before he throws me out at 1am, promising to paraphrase the paper I wrote for him and to return all my library books. I would love to be a student or a professor or something in academics, because I know I can sit there writing papers and feeling like it’s a game of rummy cue.

And then I’m stuck wondering if I should do the dishes, finish this beer, read for fifteen more minutes, practice, or what? I finished up all my medications for this sinus infection today, but I screwed up the schedule of steroids, prednisone, and I think I’m paying for it, I can’t tell, my instinctive solution to anything and everything is to drink a Red Bull and see what happens. I’m seeing what happens.

Before I began watching samurai-sorts of films, I assumed, as I expect most people do, that samurai films are like any other action or martial-arts sort of movie. They’re not. And here’s why: because there’s no action. Newer films like Kill Bill are at times true to this by dispatching speedily the fights with the greatest buildup. So Zatoichi carries this martial minimalism to a degree that could probably only be surpassed by sleeping characters dying peacefully. It’s the tale of a blind swordsman. He’s not a samurai, so there’s none of that pesky baggage of masters, ex-masters, shame, etc. to get beyond. He’s just an oafish blind guy who stumbles around like Mr. Magoo, gets himself into silly situations, and then kills everyone. Oh, and he also a real heartbreaker. The point is, the swords are beside the point. The main character has no objectives, conflicts are resolved via invisible violence, and you’re stuck with 90 minutes of morally ambiguous character-development.

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