Jan 09

Blind swordsmen are like football teams with ten men

Do You See + TMFD3 comments • 145 views

Hard to beat. Love and Honour the sadly generically titled final film in Yôji Yamada’s samurai trilogy is a sedate, old fashioned tale which features a blind swordsman. The ICA for some reason had to show it on DVD, whose reduced resolution made it look like a fifties Japanese film, which was exactly how it felt (like a low powered Ozu). This is no Zatoichi though. Instead we have a court food taster who ingests a bit of poison and it removes the power of sight. A few rumours and a wife needing to do what they can to survive and this peon finds himself committing to a battle for honour with a local samurai.

As we reached the climatic battle, and all the training sequences showed just how hard it is to fight someone when blind, I thought it might be the antidote to Zatoichi. The food taster wasn’t that handy with a sword in the first place, so by rights he should have been diced to pieces. SPOILERS:

He wins. Not in convincing heroic fashion, with a bit of a lunge and luck. Nevertheless I have never seen a blind swordsman lose a battle. Much like I have never seen a team with ten men lose a match of football*. The power of the underdog is a vibrant myth in human society, most usually demonstrated in the tenacity of teams reduced to ten men. Particularly if you think the sending off was unjust.

All that said, in reality blindness is a serious disadvantage in a swordfight, unless you can tap into the force or something. (Martin talks a bit more about this phenomenon here). Which reminds me of a Ruud Gullit quote when his Chelsea did not manage to beat a team who had had two men sent off. In his post match interview Ruud managed to croke out the following deathless quote: “You have seen how hard it is to beat a team when they are reduced to ten men. Imagine how much harder it is therefore when they are down to nine”.

*Unless the other team have ten men. Or if they were already losing. Or, well actually I probably have seen it but it wasn’t really all that notable. Well except in the World Cup when Beckham got sent off. Or Zidane come to think of it. But both of them deserved so there was no moral high ground.

Whatever. Leave me to my generalisations.


  1. 1
    Martin Skidmore on 19 Jan 2009 #

    Yes, that Gullit quote is a great one – clearly a team with no players at all would be unstoppable.

    You did well to remember that little piece – I just reread it and I barely remember it.

  2. 2
    Matthew on 19 Jan 2009 #

    The ultimate blind swordsman scene is surely Dodgeball, where as far as I can recall Vince Vaughn blindfolds himself for the crucial final play *for no other reason* than the fact that million-to-one chances pay out nine times out of ten.

    I quite liked “The Twilight Samurai” which I take it is another segment of the trilogy. (Is there an increasing-levels-of-darkness motif going on?) Unfortunately I watched that in the same week as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which was similar but ultimately I thought a considerably greater movie, so it suffered by comparison. You describe Love & Honour as “sedate and old fashioned”, so I’m anticipating more of the same really, very tasteful stuff likely to sweep the Japanese Oscars-equivalent, but not likely to change anyone’s life?

  3. 3
    pete on 19 Jan 2009 #

    I’d completely forgotten that scene in Dodgeball, but as he was in a film, his logic was flawless.

    Yes, Love and Honour is the third film after Twilight Samurai, which is considerably superior to it. Whilst not necessarily meaning old-fashioned as an insult, there really isn’t that much to Love And Honour except the simple pleasure of seeing a pretty basic story told well. But it does belabour many of its points and offers very little new in the way of surprises. It also has a coda which goes on for ever which everyone in the cinema had guessed and was battered into submission by.

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