A Fist Full of Yojimbo

Whereas Kurosawa built Yojimbo as its own thing, a mosaic with pieces and elements from other sources, Sergio Leone’s A Fist Full of Dollars is a straight up copy. It’s a good movie but it’s an inferior remake.

The additions and changes made to the story of Yojimbo are minimal and most are done for two reasons: cultural changes and shortening. The former are obviously necessary to make characters’ action make sense in a new setting. Minor and not harmful to the story. The latter, however…

A Fist Full of DollarsA Fist Full of Dollars is about 30 minutes shorter than Yojimbo. This isn’t bad in of itself but what is cut out directly affects the character of the Man with No Name. At the same point plotwise, the Man with No Name has been nothing more than a passive observer while in Yojimbo, Sanjuro had already made one attempt to get the gangs to kill each other.

Sanjuro seems to be getting a kick out his attempts at orchestrating a massacre. The Man with No Name has less development and thus his motivations are more ambiguous. Which actually makes him more like the main character from Red Harvest. I really enjoyed that book but I have no idea why the Continental Op acted the way he did.

YojimboWhile there’s room to argue that Yojimbo was an adaptation of Red Harvest, there’s no one to one correspondence between events in the book and events in the movie. It’s more of the over arching plot: man with no name enters town controlled by gangsters and gets them to kill each other. There’s no stand in for Dinah Brand nor murder like that of the newspaper publisher. In A Fist Full of Dollars characters are recognizable copies from Yojimbo. That guy’s Gonji, that guy’s Inosuke, etc. Events are the same down to the Man with No Name escaping in a coffin and and stopping to watch the massacre of one gang with the lid cracked open. The movie honestly doesn’t change enough to be really different. The similarities invite comparison with the original. A Fist Full of Dollars is a good movie, but Yojimbo is better.

The Samurai, Western, and Film Noir

It’s somewhat amusing how George Lucas stole from Akira Kurosawa when Kurosawa himself tended to swipe things.

I recently got around to watching the commentary of the Criterion Collection version of Yojimbo. Yojimbo has an interesting history of artistic stealing and being stolen from. It’s been remade repeatedly, most notably as A Fist Full of Dollars. But Yojimbo is often referred to as stealing from American Westerns and from The Glass Key.

gun vs swordThe historian whom the Criterion Collection has talk about the movie, Stephen Price, both points out and downplays the influences. He is rather dismissive of the influence of Westerns despite the obvious similarities of the layout of the town and the violent showdowns that take place in the street. Then at the same time he points out a theft that I had missed entirely (though I watched the other movie recently): the coffin maker hammering on the background, which comes from High Noon.

Sanjuro getting himself beat to a pulp is taken from The Glass Key and done almost the same. The plot of the movie, however, has more similarity to Red Harvest, a book written by Dashiell Hammett who also wrote the book The Glass Key. In Red Harvest, the Continental Op (who does not have a name) goes to a city beset by warring gangsters and manages to trick them into wiping each other out. In Yojimbo, a wandering samurai (who gives people an absurd made up name) shows up in a town beset by warring gamblers and manages to trick them into wiping each other out. Price completely dismisses this. Now perhaps this is an example of nothing new under the sun or maybe Kurosawa saw a similar element in The Glass Key (Ned’s pretend shifting loyalties) and played it up. I don’t know but the similarities are decidedly suspicious.

Saying that an artist took elements from something else doesn’t really damage the genius of that artist. It’s like pointing out that someone making a mosaic didn’t make the individual pieces. It makes a difference what he does with them. Yojimbo is a brilliant and beautiful film. It doesn’t matter if Kurosawa took pieces from Westerns and film noir to build it because what he built was its own thing.

Dog in the manger

Sarah Hoyt has an explanation of what happened to Sad Puppies and it is not a good one:

So, originally, we’d planned to do nothing, and let Sad Puppies ride into the sunset with Kate’s campaign, which did everything the left claimed to want and yet was still subjected to the same complaints as ever.

But the problem with a decentralized, almost leaderless campaign is that it’s prone to be high jacked, and we realized late last year that if someone didn’t announce then someone who was wholly (really) in the rabid camp was going to take it, and make it sound like the campaigns were always one.

Oh, I know. With Sad Puppies completely silent, the Puppy Kickers have been enthusiastically blaming us for the Rabid decisions. Pfui. They’re like a back law firm: Obfuscate, Lie and Project.

But there was no point lending color to this by having a self-proclaimed Sad Puppy leader who’d always been on the periphery, who’s barely competent to carry his own hat in a high wind, and who thinks the whole point is to back the Rabid selections. Yeah. No. So I announced.

By the time I announced, I knew we’d be “late” for the Hugos. Which was fine with me. VERY fine.

Saying that you are going to do something while intending not to do something just to keep someone else from doing the thing is disingenuous to say the least. Saying that she wasn’t going to ask people to throw “good money after bad” is one thing but she didn’t actually come out and say that until now because she’s too concerned about controlling what the Puppies are. Hoyt and co. have set themselves up as arbiters of who is good enough to be a Sad Puppy and are sitting on “Sad Puppies” as if it is a property that belongs to them. And they don’t want any of that nasty, rabid cooties on it.

Our intention was always to just create a page, in which those who register can post reading recommendations, not just of recent years, but of anything that struck their fancy. There will be a place where you can say when the book was published and if it’s eligible for an award — and not just a science fiction award — and a link to the award page for people to follow, if so minded. Yeah, we’ll include the Hugo, but probably with a note saying the award is in the process of self-destructing.
When we said this before and pointed out that PARTICULARLY indie books need some place to mention them, we were linked to/lectured by someone one the rabid side, because apparently they already have a site, so we don’t need one of our own.

Tips hat to the right. Thank you kindly. But you guys are aware your aesthetics and goals aren’t ours, right?

You just turned Marxist aesthetics on their head, and are judging books by being anti-Marxist and how much they don’t support the neo Marxist idea of justice. That’s cool and all. To each his own. And since, so far, your crazy isn’t being taught in schools, it’s slightly less annoying than the Marxist crazy.

Those bad Rabids! Just as bad as Marxists! Gimme a break.

The idea of a Sad Puppies recommendation site is all very well and good but maybe whoever is creating such a thing should be someone who actually has the time to do it. This is not to say that Hoyt and the other Mad Geniuses are not the people to do but as someone who has made and heard a thousand excuses like the ones she is making, let me tell you, if you’re too busy–or too sick–to do it, man up and admit it. Don’t keep stringing people along promising something “later” or “soon” when you haven’t got time or inclination to put the effort to make it what it deserves to be. The result is likely to be half-assed otherwise–provided it ever gets finished. Maybe she should find someone with the right ideological purity level to pass it on to.

I seem to have lost the pulse of some of this stuff though because I’m pretty much unaware of anything the Rabids are doing. Unless she’s talking about the Rabids who have moved on to other things.

The Hugos are done and the groups centered around them are done too. Other things are being built that are far, far more interesting than left over dredges from a corrupt award. Why does she even want to use the Sad Puppies moniker except as a way to cash in on name recognition? What would be wrong with a Mad Genius indie book recommendation site? (They are going to use it for self promotion regardless, aren’t they?)

Honestly, the Sad Puppies should have been allowed to die a quiet, dignified death. Hoyt probably would have been better off letting it slide off forgotten while she was lying in that manger. No explanations. Just never mention it again. Instead she’s stirring up bad feelings all around.

George Lucas and the Samurai

Say what you will about George Lucas, the man steals from the best. Both my ancient VHS copy and the Criterion Collection version of The Hidden Fortress brag that it inspired Star Wars.

The Hidden Fortress is one of Akira Kurosawa’s films. For anyone who is familiar with Kurosawa’s works, it goes without saying that it is a great film. For those people who have never heard of the greatest director of all time, is a Japanese samurai film from 1958. The story follows two greedy peasants, fleeing the aftermath of a clan war, who stumble upon treasure and are then forced by a very scary man to help transport it. Little do they know they’re actually part of smuggling the wealth of a defeated clan and helping its princess escape.

Tahei and MatashichiThe obvious similarity to Star Wars is a princess being added to escape by a general and a pair of comic relief characters. Lucas states, however, that the princess aspect more of a coincidence, although earlier drafts of Star Wars had more with the princess and an older Jedi/general type character.  What really influenced him was the idea of telling the story from the point of view of the lowliest characters. The peasants became R2-D2 and C-3PO.

As fun as C-3PO and R2-D2 are, Tahei and Matashichi are hilarious. Whereas R2 has more a straight man role to 3PO’s nuttiness, both Tahei and Matashichi are bumbling, comic, and exceedingly avaricious. They cling to each other in terror, but at the first chance of taking the gold for themselves, they’re at each other’s throats.

C3PO & R2D2

“I’ve just about had enough of you. Go that way. You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you near-sighted scrap pile. And don’t let me catch you following me begging for help because you won’t get it.”

The Hidden Fortress begins with Tahei and Matashichi stumbling along bickering.  They get into an argument over whether to loot a dead samurai’s body and split up only to be captured separately and finding each other again as prisoners–not unlike 3PO and R2 splitting up on Tatooine and coming together again in the Jawa’s sandcrawler.

It’s certainly interesting to see the similarities but the inspiration isn’t something that you would necessarily notice if you hadn’t been told about it first.

Another Kurosawa movie from which Lucas apears to have stolen, but one that I haven’t heard referred to, is Yojimbo. The theft is relegated to a single scene. Yojimbo is itself a strange mixture of elements stolen from western sources (good artists copy; great artists steal, etc.).

A ronin wanders into a town torn apart by warring outlaws and proceeds to wreak havoc on them.  In order to get one faction’s attention, he takes the advice of the obnoxious little constable and kills a couple hired swords. Watching the movie the first time, the scene was shockingly familiar. The main character stops in the street surrounded by outlaws. The yakuza brag about how he doesn’t want to mess with them because they’re so tough. They brag of having committed every crime in the book and how they’ll be executed if they’re caught. Sanjuro kills two and lops another’s arm off which falls to the ground in a splash of blood. It’s like the cantina scene.  And given that Lucas lists Yojimbo as one of his favorite Kurosawa movies it seems highly unlikely for it to be a coincidence.


Now imagine this with lightsabers

Writing advice sucks

I feel bad because this guy is selling a writing advice book and his post just reminds me of why I’m never going to read any writing advice as long as I live.

Yes, a few rules are needed. But the vast majority of rules which writers obsess over are either dogma, passing fads, or entirely misunderstood. What matters is story and the reader experience. Everything else is secondary.

Unfortunately, in their attempts to follow all the diktats laid down by their writing group buddies, the agent blogs they frequent, and the pricey workshops they’ve attended, authors lose sight of the reader, the person actually shelling out cash for their book. It’s a sad irony that there’s more and easier money to be made by writing Nail That Bestseller!-type books and haranguing people on how to make their novel the next blockbuster than there is by actually writing.

The problem of too many rules becomes quickly apparent to anyone considering writing a screenplay. You see, there’s a very precise formula all nicely laid out. Writing a killer script or a breakout novel is, we’re told, a simple science.

I’m not talking about three-act structure here. I’m not talking about—yawn—the Hero’s Journey. I’m not even talking about the (insert favorite number here) possible types of story. No, I’m talking Commandments From On High, the madness that reached its peak when screenwriter Blake Snyder’s little book, Save the Cat! became a cult among both screenwriters and novelists.

Apparently, for a story to succeed, everything has to be rigidly structured and happen right on the beat, down to the page. Miss one of those beats or try for originality, and your chance of success, the cultists will tell you, goes down exponentially.

I used to read a lot of writing advice, on blogs and forums, and listen to podcasts. I stopped about five years ago because I realized it was ruining my writing. How? I couldn’t write anything anymore. The constant never ending don’t do this, don’t do that left me thinking of nothing but that.

Don’t use passive voice, don’t use adjectives, don’t use adverbs, don’t use this kind of verb, don’t use said bookisms–the don’t go on forever and everybody has their own pet peeve for you to avoid. Then you’re supposed to get Strunk and White and follow all those rules. I was supposed to have bought that book back in college for my first English class. I didn’t on principle. Who are Strunk and White to tell me how to write?

In the Indie scene there’s a lot about how you’ve got to hit the genre tropes just right or the audience won’t like it. Got to keep to the genre formulas. Can’t have different things happen.

It’s not just that writing advice makes stories formulaic but it makes them styled similarly too. As if everyone should try to be Hemingway and no one should try to be Faulkner. What if I like Faulkner better than Hemingway? What if I like Lovecraft–and I mean actually like how he writes–better than most things being published today?

There are reasons that these rules came about but they’re now applied so dogmatically that there’s little room for originality or developing one’s own voice.

It no longer matters to me. Even the thing about writing to the audience doesn’t help. I have an audience of one–me. I’ve given up on the idea of publishing. If I write something that pleases me, that’ll be good enough. (It hasn’t happened yet.)

Wonder Woman

I was SHOCKED, SHOCKED I SAY that Wonder Woman is based on Greek mythology! No, I wasn’t. I had the misfortune to catch a bit of Steven Greydanus, Catholic film critic and larval SJW, on Al Kresta in the Afternoon where he wondered about how the Christian community would react to having Greek mythology as the basis of the story. As if Christians had never encountered such a thing before. (Makes me think that maybe I’m wrong about how sheltered I was being homeschooled. I mean, my parents let me watch Clash of the Titans as a kid.)

Tomas Diaz has a series of posts about the movie and he professes to be a Catholic. He didn’t seem shocked either. In fact he has something very interesting to say about the ultimate point of the movie:

It’s at this point where the movie both demythologizes and reaffirms the myth of the superhero in one fell swoop. Diana’s original assumption is proved as naive. You can’t fix the world just by beating the bad guy. Killing Ludendorff doesn’t halt the war. And killing Ares won’t fix the heart of men. Diana is confronted with an enemy she can’t beat into submission or slay with a sword – sin.

What has Jerusalem to do with Themyscira? we might ask. Even something based on mythology can contain pieces of the truth.

The movie succeeds in showing both the fallen nature of man and the goodness and valor which remains nonetheless. Diana, despite beating people up left and right, is innocent and compassionate. She isn’t the type of female character who angrily refuses help because she doesn’t need no man. In fact she makes a point to include the guys in her success of liberating a town.

Making a female action character work is somewhat difficult. If you give her superpowers or make her a literal goddess then that negates the annoying and unrealistic, twig-armed, able-to-beat-up-a-man-three-times-her-size action girl but then introduces the problem of how to put a man next to her that doesn’t look weak. During the climax, Wonder Woman is clever in this aspect by giving Diana a “god” sized problem to deal with and Steve Trevor and co. a human sized problem to handle concurrently. It’s not perfect but it certainly makes it better.

There are a lot of similarities between Captain America: First Avenger and this movie. Wonder Woman is what CA:FA should have been. The plot is better. No stupid montages. The sacrifice is more moving and makes more sense plotwise.

I had an unfortunately thought, however, halfway through the film. Watching one of the action sequences, I realized I just don’t like this. Not the movie as a whole but the style of fighting and the cinematography. Perhaps my biggest complaint about the movie was too much CGI and too much slow-mo. The action felt fake. Part of this may have been caused by the fact I’d gone a chanbara binge the previous week. I prefer cinematography which allows the camera to STAND STILL. Why does it have to move and move and move and move… The interesting thing about that though is that when it does stop, the moment is emphasized, more poignant, like the last lingering shot of Steve Trevor.

Despite my problems, Wonder Woman is really a breath of fresh air in a movie genre that’s starting to get tired. Diana is innocent and naive. The big bad isn’t going to literally zap the world into non-existence with his giant, glowing skybeam of doom; he’s using mankind’s own faults to make them destroy themselves.

The Lost World

It’s a shame that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t do more non-Sherlock Holmes stories. His sci-fi is fun. The Lost World, published in 1912, follows a scientific expedition who go to verify the wild claims of Professor Challenger. Challenger had gone to South America and discovered information about a place where dinosaurs still roam. He finds where the hidden plateau is but is unable to get up to it. Back in London, Challenger manages to convince Zoological Society to sponsor the expedition to prove him wrong. The members include Professor Summerlee, skeptic; Lord John Roxton, sportsman; and Edward Malone, reporter.

Malone, the narrator of the book, goes because his girl says she won’t marry anyone who hasn’t had some adventures. Roxton is a wonderful example of that old time real man, someone who has already had numerous adventures. Summerlee’s main purpose seems to be as a foil for Challenger, while Challenger himself is a hoot. Malone’s first encounter with him goes very badly when Challenger discovers why he is there:

It was at that moment that he rushed me. It was lucky that I had opened the door, or we should have gone through it. We did a Catharine-wheel together down the passage. Somehow we gathered up a chair upon our way, and bounded on with it towards the street. My mouth was full of his beard, our arms were locked, our bodies intertwined, and that infernal chair radiated its legs all round us. The watchful Austin had thrown open the hall door. We went with a back somersault down the front steps. I have seen the two Macs attempt something of the kind at the halls, but it appears to take some practise to do it without hurting oneself. The chair went to matchwood at the bottom, and we rolled apart into the gutter. He sprang to his feet, waving his fists and wheezing like an asthmatic.

While the story is not quite as action packed as it could be (the set up is rather long), our heroes are still men of action. Roxton, on a previous trip to South America, decided to free a tribe of Indians from slavery by starting a revolt and killing the evil half-breed slavers. Because he could.

”There are times, young fellah, when every one of us must make a stand for human right and justice, or you never feel clean again. That’s why I made a little war on my own. Declared it myself, waged it myself, ended it myself. Each of those nicks is for a slave murderer—a good row of them—what? That big one is for Pedro Lopez, the king of them all, that I killed in a backwater of the Putomayo River.”

“Sportin’ risk” he tells Malone is the “salt of existence…. We’re all gettin’ a deal too soft and dull and comfy. Give me the great waste lands and the wide spaces, with a gun in my fist and somethin’ to look for that’s worth findin’.” I love this kind of character.

Our heroes find the lost world and promptly get trapped in it. But it’s not just dinosaurs to contend with. The plateau is inhabited by warring races of primitive men and ape-men, a sort of missing link species.

The science aspect is mainly focused on evolution. A creationist may have trouble with is for this but the adherents of the theory probably won’t be able to read it without a roll of the eyes either since Doyle puts forth the notion that dinosaurs died out because they were too stupid to live:

The sloping wall of the pit was not difficult for an active man to climb, but I hesitated long before I trusted myself within reach of the dreadful creature which had so nearly destroyed me. How did I know that he was not lurking in the nearest clump of bushes, waiting for my reappearance? I took heart, however, as I recalled a conversation between Challenger and Summerlee upon the habits of the great saurians. Both were agreed that the monsters were practically brainless, that there was no room for reason in their tiny cranial cavities, and that if they have disappeared from the rest of the world it was assuredly on account of their own stupidity, which made it impossible for them to adapt themselves to changing conditions.

The book was made into a silent movie in 1925 which is interesting for the stop motion work of Willis O’Brien better known for his work a few years years later on King Kong.

It’s not in the book but who doesn’t want to see an brontosaurus run amuck in London?