Call that an ‘influence’?

It’s odd and unpredictable, the personal influences that can mar a film. I just watched Nasima Oshima’s Gohatto, a rather lovely and tense film of love and jealousy among a samurai corps. There’s some tremendous acting and beautiful photography, but there were several things that marred my enjoyment of it, my ability to keep focussed, to stay with its mood.

1. The TV schedule write-up I had read suggested that homosexuality raising its head in the macho world of the samurai was the subject of the film. This is a modern Western projection, and one that makes no sense at all in older Japanese times – the film gets this right, but the blurb had set me to looking for this, checking the film’s understanding and honesty.

2. ‘Sergeant’ Yamazaki kept making me think of a merger of motorcycle manufacturers.

3. ‘Captain’ (I’m shoving those quotes in because the translations are very inexact) Inoue is clearly intended as a slightly pitiful and hapless figure, but the strong resemblance to Duane Doberman of Bilko’s motor pool exaggerated that rather more than was desirable.

4. I don’t like to laugh at foreign names, but when a serious and tense talk between senior officers leads up to “Do they know who the murderer was?” “They think it was a Satsuma…” I can’t really help it. The image of a samurai warrior being assassinated by a small orange is too compelling.

I was quite keen to write this because my last FT piece (on the Brown Wedge) was about wholesale copying of someone else’s style, and really the above is the kind of ‘influence’ that I mostly find more intriguing: the influences on a work that were not in any way influences on anyone making it, ones that are more personal to a viewer – maybe because they show a lot of things about how art works and is read that isn’t included in the conventional accounts and analyses.