Analysing the Portrayal of Violence in Mad Max and Rashomon

In Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and George Miller’s Mad Max it is undeniable that violence is a key and extremely prevalent theme. The different ways in which violence is portrayed, however, is crucial to the plot, the narrative, the characters and, most importantly, the success of both of these films.

Rashomon

In Rashomon, Kurosawa uses lighting selectively to create an atmosphere of danger and to suggest or imply violence. Shadows are placed on the bandit’s face, immediately presenting him in a darkened light and, therefore, identifying him as the ‘bad guy’ and thus, the character most likely to be violent. Furthermore, the film is set in a dense forest. As a result, the steady beams of sunlight flicker and are disrupted by the trees, thus creating shadows that move continually over the faces of the characters. This renders “dense thickets as poetic metaphors…that entrap human beings”[1]. This disrupted image distorts the audience’s view of the characters, and therefore forbids an objective view being cast. In addition, this sets the violent moments of the film out of the audience’s view, casting some moments in shadow or blinding the audience with the glare of sunlight. The full extent of the violence, therefore, is unknown. This unknown is left to the imagination of the audience member. This is most apparent in, the bandit, Tajomaru’s version of events. During his rape of Masago, the camera scans to the sky creating a deliberate glare and dream-like feel to the scene. “Shooting directly into the sun to make the camera lens flare”1 and “probing the filaments of shadows in glade and clearing”1 roots this violent act in a fantasy world, out of reality and into the imagination of the audience. They, as a result, are left to decide the fate of Masago using their expectations, thoughts, dreams and fantasies, making the viewers of the film voyeurs. Kurosawa is commenting on the unconscious desires of his characters but is also allowing his audience’s unconscious desires to be satisfied through the mystery of violence.  By portraying violence in this way, the audience is as much a part of the film’s jury as the judge, or the other characters, in their ultimate quest for truth.

Kurosawa’s films have often been compared with the silent movies of the early twentieth century; Rashomon is no exception. Kurosawa has been described as “consciously attempting to recover and recreate the aesthetic glory of silent filmmaking”[2]. Many scenes are “composed as silent sequences of pure film”2 in which the action is reliant upon ambient sound, music, facial expressions and body language. This alters the portrayal of violence in the film, in comparison with a typical horror or violent action movie. In the woodcutter’s long marching scene, it is the minor-key music that generates a dangerous military atmosphere and creates the expectation of violence. Sounds are coordinated with the actions of characters, just as in a silent movie, so that when this music is repeated, violence is not only expected, but is essential to the upkeep of the films “aesthetic glory”2. Camera angle and shooting is also important in the portrayal of violence and is fundamental to continuing the silent movie effect. In the bandit’s version of events, he murders Takehiro, the samurai. In this scene, there is reliance upon body language and an emphasis on facial expression, typical of the silent movie melodramatic acting style. During the murder, the camera zooms in on the bandit’s face to show his psychological reaction. This intensifies the audience’s experience of the violence. Furthermore, the camera angle forces the audience into the samurai’s position so they experience, through their imagination, what the samurai is experiencing. 

 Mad Max

In Mad Max, Miller articulates the destruction of civilization through the portrayal of violence. It is significant at the beginning of the film that a rural-urban distinction allows for distance and separation between violence and peace – for instance, the innocent child and families found in the town areas and the Night Rider and motorcycle gangs found on the rural highways. However, the motorcycle gang cross this divide, infecting the civilization of the town with violence, death and destruction; no longer contained by boundaries. A cyclic feeling is emphasised by the significant use of cars and motorcycles. As the film progresses, this cyclic feeling begins to parallel the developing pattern of violence as the motorcycle gang encroach more and more upon the urban, the civilized and society. Max and his family try to escape the failing justice system, and the violence that lies hand in hand with the motorcycle gang, by travelling around the country. Dissolve shots are used between these scenes to imply that a significant amount of time and distance has passed. However, the motorcycle gang eventually manage to find them and invade the most rural setting so far, the farm. The rural-urban distinction is, therefore, lost along with the violence-peace distinction. Place names are no longer used and boundaries blur into one another, highlighting the loss of civilization and dominance of violence, death and destruction. In this way, Miller portrays violence through the manipulation of landscape, scenery and the traditional ‘road movie’ concept.

Miller uses the psychological decline of Max, from hero to mad man, to portray violence in the film. At the end of the film, there are powerful moments of inversion as Max begins to display actions and moral reasoning similar to those of the motorcycle gang. The Australian Gothic genre is described as having narratives that “transplant their protagonists to create unease and alienation.”[3] Max is transplanted from his world of stability and justice to insanity and violence. Mirroring of relationships can be found all the way through the film with similarities seen between Max’s relationship with his son and the Toecutter’s relationship with Johnny the boy. Max’s violent murder of Johnny the boy at the end of the film can be seen not only as a true act of revenge, but also as Max’s final fall into madness, the overthrow of justice and the destruction of civilization.

Rashomon is described as having a “daring, nonlinear approach to narrative”[4]. The continual use of flashbacks means that “the narrative continually retraces the same series of events, four times over”. This unique narrative style causes the audience to focus on the multiple versions and interpretations of one violent event; the rape of a woman and murder of a samurai. The violence and violent acts, therefore, become the narrative; they are the story, the reason by which we judge the characters and the focus of our viewing. The cast is small and the flashbacks are many, so the characters’ personalities are developed and questioned more intensely than in a conventional film setup. As a result, the psychological turmoil of the characters is examined in depth, binding the audience to their angst. This means the experience of violence is heightened for both the characters and the audience.

In both Mad Max and Rashomon differences can be seen in the treatment of men and women, particularly in relation to violence. In Rashomon, the women, Masago, admits, in her version of events, to killing her husband. The camera dwells on her face for a long period of time before the killing and there are many close-up shots. This focuses the audience’s attention on Masago’s inner turmoil. Her mind goes through many different stages of thought as she decides how to react to the intense look of disgust she receives from her husband. Violence, in this scene, is portrayed as Masago’s only option of empowerment after she has been disgraced by Tajomaru, the bandit. Freudian psychology identified the unconscious mind as extremely important in the repression of sexual desires that would usually be seen as culturally or socially unacceptable. Freud himself believed women were inferior and that femininity was failed masculinity. As a result, in the psychosexual stages of development, women develop penis envy. Masago demands sexual authority, gender equality and satisfies penis envy, by killing her husband with a dagger – a phallic symbol of male sexual power. The weapons seen in Rashomon are often highlighted through bright lighting. Sunlight on the woodcutter’s axe and the samurai’s sword, for instance, glimmers and shimmers off of the metal. This beautifies and glorifies them, in turn, beautifying and glorifying the violence that they cause. So, when Masago kills her husband with a dagger, it is the ultimate act of glory, dominance and power. This struggle for power is further emphasised through the use of lighting and colour. Masago is presented beautifully in white clothing and with a white veil as a symbol of purity. This, therefore, emphasises the brutality of the bandit’s rape; that something so pure is so cruelly violated. Furthermore, before Masago kills Takehiro, her husband, shadows appear more and more on her face. Her pure white face is distorted by dark lighting and shadow as her innocent exterior is tainted by her desire for power and violence. In this way, violence is portrayed through gender conventions and as a result of the psychological desire for sexual power.

In Mad Max, it is through the emasculation of male characters that Miller portrays violence and the corruption of a justice system. The police force have an almost hyper-masculine appearance at the start of the film; black leather, muscles, cars, explosions etc. The cars, particularly, are significant as physical symbols of a way in which men can assert their masculinity; large engines, speed, long exhausts and power. But this image, including Max’s, is broken down through continual violence and the film becomes subversive in its attitudes to masculinity. The masculine character of Fifi Macaffee, for example, is seen later in the film watering plants with romantic music playing in the background. This is highly contradictory of the gender stereotypes that are seen originally in the film. For instance, the masculinity of the police force is exemplified in the chase of the Night Rider. Max takes control of the situation and reduces the, once stereotypically masculine and “fuel-injected”[5], Night Rider to tears showing his loss of power. However, as the film develops and the motorcycle gang’s violence increases, Max’s masculinity, and that of the police force, is destroyed. The motorcycle gang do not use guns as weapons as much as they use chains, ropes, axes etc. The phallic implications found in using these long objects as weapons shows that, through violence, the motorcycle gang can demand sexual power. Violence, therefore, is presented as the only way in which Max can gain back his masculinity and take ultimate revenge on the criminals. The original heroism conventions are, now, ambiguous and corrupt. Max has experienced heroism and was able to gain masculinity and power through that, but, now, he is forced to resort to violence. Violence is, therefore, portrayed through a polarised view of the power struggle between good and evil, hero and villain, acceptance and revenge.


[1] Peter Lehman and William Lehr, ‘Jurassic Park and Rashomon’, in Thinking about movies, (USA: Blackwell, 2003), p.27-50.

[2] Stephen Prince, ‘Rashomon’, The Criterion Collection, <http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=138&eid=212&section=essay&page=1&gt; [accessed 18 January 2008].

[3] Jonathon Rayner, Contemporary Australian Cinema: An Introduction, (Manchester, Manchester University Press: 2000), p.24-25.

[4] Stephen Prince, ‘Rashomon’, The Criterion Collection, <http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=138&eid=212&section=essay&page=1&gt; [accessed 18 January 2008].

[5] Mad Max, Dir. George Miller, Kennedy Miller Productions, 1979

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The Debt to, and Divergences From, Hollywood Cinema in Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo

Yojimbo (1961)

In this article I will concentrate on the traditional Japanese style that the film retains amd the stylistic influence the western genre had on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. However it should be noted like Stray Dog the Film Noir genre influenced Yojimbo and the film directly alludes to The Glass Key (1942) – particularly the capture and torture scene. A close-analysis of the links between Yojimbo, The Glass Key, and Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest would require a large study in itself.

 

The introduction to the protagonist contains a homage to the wide-open vistas of director John Ford’s westerns. Kurosawa was reputed to be an avid fan of Ford’s use of open spaces as well as his framing device of filming through windows and door frames in a town or domestic scene. Kurosawa uses the panoramic to highlight how lost the protagonist is in the wilderness, and how isolated he is from domesticity and home. As the protagonist is drinking water we see a domestic scene filmed in the style of Ford. Like Ethan in The Searchers our nameless protagonist can only peer into domesticity, symbolised by us seeing him through a door frame.

 

Another aspect of the western that Yojimbo alludes to is the shoot-out or face-off. The formal style of the western influences Kurosawa as the shoot-out is a way of communicating the crucible of emotions that come before violent action. The style of the shoot-out communicates both the spatial environment but also the intense emotional drama that is about to unfold. The shoot-out is also a romantic way of capturing combat. Recent historical evidence shows that most fighting in the American west were ambushes or ‘bushwhacks’. To be shot in the back was more common than being shot facing one’s enemy. With the medicine available at the time it is understandable, however in light of these facts it is evident that the romantic vision of the gunfight was used both as a tool in which he creates suspense and spectacle but also to imbue violent, cruel individuals with a sense of honour and respectability.

 

Yojimbo is a film that both refers to the Japanese genre of ‘Jidai-geki’ a historical genre which ‘primarily refers to films set in the latter part of the Tokugawa era, from the early 1600’s to 1867’ and to the similar western genre.1 Jidai-geki films tend to ‘centre on swordsmen of fictional, legendary, or actual historical origin’ much like the western genre centres around a gunfighter and just like the westerns’ centrepiece of the violent ‘shoot-out and saloon fight’ the Jidai-geki has a comparative centrepiece of ‘violent, realistic sword fighting scenes’.2 In Yojimbo‘s narrative Kurosawa continuously alludes to the archetype Jidai-geki characters. Yojimbo‘s protagonist is the classical masterless samurai or Ronin. A. J. Anderson explains that the Ronin having ‘lost the lords to whom they owed hereditary allegiance… wander from place to place, seeking refuge, employment, or revenge’.3 The central conflict of Yojimbo‘s protagonist is also traditionally Jidai-geki in style. Rather than the central conflict springing from the more traditional external moral conflict between good and bad forces, such as found in many westerns, Yojimbo‘s protagonist’s central conflict is internal rather than external. A conflict between what he wants and what he feels he must do; a conflict between duty or honour and personal gain or desires. When we first meet the central protagonist he wonders aimlessly and throws a stick in the air in order to gain direction. His stay in the town is dictated by satisfying personal desires like hunger and gaining personal wealth. However the longer he stays the more he feels a personal honour and duty in cleaning up the town by forcing the two ‘gambler’ gangs to destroy each other. He stays to help the towns people who aren’t involved in the two gang’s conflict. The narrative moves along first as he attempts to settle an internal battle between his desires and duty, and then to the consequences of his decision. Kurosawa’s Yojimbo follows the Jidai-geki genre narrative structure precisely. Kurosawa uses this traditional Japanese genre because he wishes to analyse contemporary Japan and its changing position concerning personal gain and social duty. This social analysis through genre is exactly like the dialogue America has with its past and present through the western. As Douglas Pye explained, the western is a ‘ confluence of romantic narrative and archetypal imagery modified and localized by recent… experience ‘.4 Essentially the western, and Jidai-geki, is a mixture of a romanticised past, generic characters and imagery which is constantly being re-evaluated with each passing generation of films and film-makers. The construction of character and central conflicts in the western and Jidai-geki are both national in character and hold significant divergences from each other, however they both serve the same function, one of social critique and historical romanticising.

 

1 J. L. Anderson, ‘Japanese Swordfighters and American Gunfighters’, Cinema Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Spring, 1973), pp. 1-21 p. 1.

2 J. L. Anderson, ‘Japanese Swordfighters and American Gunfighters’, p. 2.

3 J. L. Anderson, ‘Japanese Swordfighters and American Gunfighters’, p. 3.

4 Douglas Pye, ‘The Western (Genre And Movies)’ in Barry Keith Grant (ed), Film Genre Reader II, Austin: University of Texas Press, (1999), pp. 187-202 p. 192.

The Debt to, and Divergences From, Hollywood Cinema in Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog

This article continues on from my earlier post: The Debt to, and Divergences from, Hollywood Cinema in Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle and Juzo Itami’s Tampopo. I have decided to produce a full range of reviews and analysis’s of non-Hollywood film. As the title indicates I will start with the brilliant Stray Dog.

 

Stray Dog (1949)

 

Akira Kurosawa’s film contains both allusions to and major differences from Hollywood cinema. One major divergence is the disturbance of graphical clarity. A common aspect of the continuity editing system graphical clarity ensures that the mediating nature of film and the camera are allowed to remain hidden and unacknowledged. Kurosawa’s Stray Dog disrupts clear graphical construction in a scene by filming through a beaded doorway, therefore creating a disrupted and blocked view of the film’s two main protagonists. In the continuity editing system ‘the camera remains relatively unobtrusive, seldom drawing attention to its mediating presence.’ (1) to facilitate this unobtrusive camera style directors’ choose clear and unobstructed views of action which won’t draw attention to the fact that we are watching a film. Even if a director chooses an obstructed view we tend to be given a subjective position, one that does not bring attention to the fact that the screens’ images are mediated through a cameraman. If we are given an obstructed view we are given a reason behind the blocked view. The collection of conventions concerning graphical clarity are contradicted in Kurosawa’s Stray Dog. Because we are viewing the action through a beaded doorway we notice our disadvantaged position; we notice how hindered and disrupted our view is and we are offered no reason why we should view from this particular angle. We become conscious of the mediating force that is cinematography. Kurosawa uses this to remind us of the conventions of cinema. Kurosawa uses the technique to disturb our position of knowledge by inferring that all we can perceive is that which the camera, and director, wishes to. Our experience is defined by the mediating force in the same way the characters are defined by what they see. Kurosawa seems to be highlighting this because experience and subjective perception is important in the narrative of Det. Murakawi, both as he learns from the sage Det. Sato and in the revelation of his own similar experiences to the antagonist Shinjiro Yusa; the man with Murakawi’s gun committing the crimes that rack Murakawi with guilt.

 

Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog alludes to the Hollywood cinematic forms of Film Noir and the Gangster Film. In one scene a villain, Honda, is called to a front gate of a Baseball stadium by a tannoy system. As he walks down a flight of stairs the screen composition changes and the lighting produces a dark Noir-like affect. Honda, dressed similar to many an archetypal gangster, enters the scene in a normal naturalistic light, however the further he descends down the stairs the further Akira Kurosawa intensifies the sharp contrasting tones producing a chiaroscuro-style scene. Honda wears a white linen pin-stripe suit, as he becomes aware he may be walking into a trap the Camera reverses position and shows only a black silhouette of Honda enveloped by the darkness; his fate is sealed, his relationship with the gun-girl leads to the police locating him, just like many gangster films and film Noirs Honda’s cool command and apparent invincibility is breached through a contaminated relationship with a woman. Honda is a small homage to the doomed antagonist/protagonist of the Noir and gangster films of Hollywood.

 

The skilful use of lighting in this scene is also an allusion to German Expressionism and the stark contrast between subject and surroundings symbolised by Honda’s change from white linen suit to dark silhouette is a typical chiaroscuro technique found in films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari(1920). Paul Schrader notes that a common trait of Film Noir is the use of ‘Shadow effects [which are] unlike the famous Warner Brother’s lighting of the thirties in which the central character was accentuated by a heavy shadow; in Film Noir the central character is likely to be standing in the shadow.’ (2) Kurosawa is using this exact technique in the scene with Honda, he is defining Honda’s character and fate as one in the shadows.

 

Another allusion to Film Noir stylistics is the use of water. Film Noir is noted for an ‘attachment to water. The empty Noir streets are almost always glistening with fresh evening rain… and the rainfall always seems to increase in proportion to the drama.’ (3) As the film moves to a conclusion rain starts to pelt down relentlessly, The rain increases as the potential confrontation between Murakami and the desperate thief Shinjuro Yusa becomes more and more likely and it is in fact the rain, and the mud that sprays onto Yusa’s trousers as he flees after shooting Sato, that allows the confrontation and eventual capture of Yusa.

 

Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog both alludes to Hollywood cinematic genres and contains major divergences from the Continuity System. In this aspect Akira creates a film that contains both national elements of note and internationally recognizable symbols and allusions and therefore Akira has created a brilliant film.

 

1. Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, (2003), p. 312.

 

2. Paul Schrader,’Notes On Film Noir’ in Barry Keith Grant, Film Genre Reader II, Austin: University of Texas Press, (1999) pp. 213-226 p. 219.

 

3. Paul Schrader, ‘Notes On Film Noir’, p. 220.

The Debt to, and Divergences from, Hollywood Cinema in Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle and Juzo Itami’s Tampopo

Hollywood cinema is a set of generic codes and conventions. These codes and conventions act as motifs which the viewer can understand and identify with. Hollywood cinema is spit into genres such as westerns, musicals and romantic comedies. These genres all adhere to conventions such as ‘clarity… unity… goal-oriented characters… and [narrative] closure’.1 The aim of these conventions is to ensure that the viewer can understand a film, its characters their aims and ambitions and the problems put before them, without difficulty which would inhibit the ability for everyone to potentially engaging with the film [Due to the sheer financial cost of making a film the need to ensure that people understand the narrative is important and this reason marks every Hollywood product].

A Bout de Souffle (1959)

Jean-Luc Godard dedicated A Bout de Souffle to the B-movie studio Monogram Pictures, this statement is indicative of the French New Wave Philosophy. The French New Wave were a loosely connected group of directors (and critics) who asserted that low-budget (B-Movies) American Cinema, often thought negatively as a wholly commercial product, can be equal to the traditionally venerated European Art-house cinema.2 The French New Wave treated Hollywood cinema with the same respect as Art-house cinema because they believed that Hollywood directors were also capable of creating individualistic pieces of art. Godard includes the dedication to Monogram Pictures because he wants to verbalise the influence Hollywood has had on cinema.

The star system is another aspect of Hollywood that Jean-Luc Godard alludes to in A Bout de Souffle. The central character the iconic looking Michel Poiccard imitates the physical mannerism of film star Humphrey Bogart by rubbing his lips with this thumb. Humphrey Bogart was a classic figure of film noir and Poiccard’s imitation of his mannerisms indicates that he believes Bogart to be a model of masculinity. The Hollywood star system ensures that ‘audiences do not just appreciate a stars’ performance on-screen; they also consume the public image’ which fans also attempt to imitate ‘the attire and mannerism’.3 The audience does this because they believe the personality the star exudes is the idea. Poiccard appropriates the mannerism of Bogart in an effort to become that ideal of masculinity. Again Godard is foregrounding the debt to Hollywood. What this allusion does is introduce the idea that France’s youth are being influenced by the cultural output of Hollywood and this cultural influence adds weight to the French New Wave assertion that commercial cinema is as important as Art-house cinema.

 

 

(A lack of emotional connection. As Poiccard looks at Patricia she can only look at herself, and her own emotional performance)

 

Jean-Luc Godard pays homage to Hollywood in A Bout de Souffle, but he also upsets the central principles of Hollywood cinema. Godard’s film represents a significant divergence from the continuity editing system, The basic purpose of the continuity editing system is to establish a smooth continuous flow from shot to shot.4 The graphic, rhythmic, spatial and temporal relationship is edited so as to look smooth and uninterrupted. The movement from shot to shot is edited so that at all times an aspect of a shot, such as ‘shapes, colours, tones of light or dark, or the direction or speed of movement’ is graphically matched to its corresponding shot, thereby ensuring a sense of aesthetic continuity.5 In A Bout de Souffle Godard uses the jump shot to create a sense of anxiety and dislocation. In a scene where Michel is explaining the physical aspects of Patricia he loves the camera jumps from shot to shot. The viewer becomes dislocated, unable to grasp the scene’s location: Godard is using the jump shot to replicate the character’s sense of isolation. Both Patricia and Michel are isolated from the culture they belong to, Michel is a criminal and Patricia is in a foreign county, and they attempt to find friendship in each others company. This attempt is futile because Godard refuses to use the shot-reverse-shot technique which would signify their connection; the jump shot ensures that both Michel and Patricia remain isolated individuals even when in each others company. The form of the jump shot ensures the characters in A Bout de Souffle remain isolated individuals without any hope of deep meaningful connection. This sense of isolation is repeated in the scene where Patricia and Michel making love, yet they still struggle to connect and ultimately remain isolated. Although they both constantly talk to each other they barely look at each other. Patricia looks past Michel as he talks to her, the scene then jumps to Michel alone looking into his reflection. This signifies the failure in communication that typifies Michel and Patricia’s relationship.

 

The Mise-en-Scene is also an indicator of the barrier between them; Michel puts on a dressing gown which contains vertical stripes while Patricia wears a tip with horizontal stripes, essentially they are going in different directions. Godard is communicating a sense of distance and isolation between the sexes and the editing technique of the jump shot communicates this perfectly. Because Godard doesn’t use the continuity editing system he Is able to communicate the sense of fragmentation and isolation through the form of the film. The continuity system advocates seamlessness between shots, but seamlessness would not be adequate as a tool to illustrate the fragmented and isolated experience that Godard is trying to communicate in A Bout de Souffle.

 

Tampopo (1985)

 

The western is a heavily stylized and conventional genre which relies on the regular and recognisable to create a frame through which narrative is communicated smoothly. Narrative is transmitted principally by the use of motifs, such as the six-shooter, the saloon, the isolated homestead, the prostitute and the drifter. The western genre (and most narratives) positions good against evil, civilisation against individualism. The film theorist Leo Braudy explains that directors use genre films, such as the western, because of their ‘ability to express the warring traditions in society and the social importance of understanding convention’ in essence a genre is a prefabricated framework in-which the auteur can explore and challenge assumptions and conventions.6 Juzo Itami uses the western genre because of its highly stylized from; he does this to foreground the highly stylized nature of Japanese tradition and etiquette. The tradition and structure of the western genre is repeatedly alluded to in the start of Tampopo. The character of Goro, dressed in a cowboy hat and shirt resembling John Wayne, represents the individualistic force that helps society thrive by teaching lessons learnt while in the wilderness. The first scene of Goro and Gun’s story starts with an exposition shot which introduces the isolated nature of the noodle bar. Inside the noodle bar generic bad guys, all dressed in black leather, loiter around, installing a sense that the good are outnumbered. Goro, as the traditional western hero, fightings to defend Tampopo’s honour. He walks outside for a fight, an allusion to the traditional fistfight outside of a saloon that features in many westerns. Itami constructs a world filled with stereotypical characters, actions and plot sequence. Itami does this not only as homage to the genre and tradition of the western but also as a device to get the audience thinking about traditions, structure and etiquette. Itami uses the structure of the western genre to make the viewer aware of the standards that are automatically accepted in genre, tradition and the closely allied etiquette. This point is illustrated in a scene in which a large group of Japanese women are listening to a teacher explain the etiquette of eating spaghetti. She explains that while you are eating spaghetti you should not make any noise whatsoever. Her advice is contradicted by a European-looking man’s noisy slurping of spaghetti, the whole group then comically attempt to create as much slurping noise as possible in order to mimic the European-looking man’s way of eating. Here Itami is exposing that we only eat the way we do because we are to taught to, etiquette and tradition is just a collection of arbitrary rules imposed by the past on the present and future. Itami is engaging critically with the tradition and etiquette of Japanese food culture by exposing it. In Tampopo Itami seems to be criticising those who use tradition and etiquette to stand in the way of enjoyment and pleasure that can be taken from food. He illustrates this point in a scene containing several Japanese businessmen. Most of the businessman order the same meal so as not to highlight their own and their business partners’ ignorance concerning foreign food. The youngest businessman breaks the rules of etiquette by attempting to sit down before his elders and by ordering extravagant food. The camera cuts to below the table to show the youngest businessman being kicked repeatedly in the ankle. Tradition demands that the youngest businessman order the same food as his elders but he doesn’t. Itami illustrates that tradition and etiquette can stifle personal pleasure and enjoyment by requiring the individual to adhere to a set of rules opposed to experimentation and freedom. Genre is at times a constrictive entity that imposes an ideology on film-making, hindering personal expression; yet Itami uses generic conventions and expectations as a structure in-which to foreground assumptions and expectations. Itami places the cowboy next to the cook in Tampopo and illuminates how we accept, and create, tradition.

Both Breathless and Tampopo pay homage to certain aspects of Hollywood cinema. Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless alludes to the strength of the Hollywood star system. Michel Poiccard’s attachment to and appropriation of the myth of Humphrey Bogart highlights the cultural influence America and Hollywood has upon France. Michel Poiccard appropriates Bogart’s mannerism in an attempt to create a person he believes the pinnacle of masculinity. Godard continues his homage to Hollywood as he dedicates Breathless to the B-movie studio Monogram Pictures. Godard seems to be highlighting that American cultural output is a highly influential force that is shaping the younger generations of 1950’s France. This could indicate that individuals are no longer seeing themselves as citizens of a singular nationality; instead individuals see their own personality as a fragmented performance alluding to contrasting cultural influences. In Breathless Godard seems concerned about the American influence. Both Michel and Patricia attempt to have a meaningful relationship relationship but find it impossible to communicate. This is signified by the use of the jump cut which leaves both characters isolated when speaking. Breathless seems to illustrate that the increased globalization of art and culture in fact leaves the individual more isolated and more alone than before. The nature of Hollywood’s influence on France seems to be both positive and negative. Hollywood offers the youth of France new heroes and systems of thought yet at the same time ensuring their isolation and loneliness. Juzo Itami also pays homage to Hollywood in his film Tampopo. Itami alludes to the western genre both by appropriating its narrative structure and iconography. In doing this Itami can highlight the structured and highly stylized nature of Japanese culture. Itami concentrates on illustrating how food etiquette is constructed. Because Itami is able to play with the structure of the western to create something new, the rules of etiquettes also seem open to play. Itami also criticises those who use tradition to hide their own ignorance in Tampopo, yet the films central message seems to be that the fulfilling enjoyment that good food brings is central to good hearty relationships. Both Breathless and Tampopo allude to the powerful cultural influence of Hollywood. They also use aspects of Hollywood cinema to create and illustrate aspects of their own culture. The constant allusion to Hollywood cinema seems to indicate that to make cinema is to instigate a dialogue with ones own culture and surrounding cultures, and in this way we are not totally isolated but connected by art and cultural products.

 

1Full quote ‘clarity (viewers shouldn’t not be confused about space, time or events), Unity (cause and effect connections are direct and complete), goal-oriented characters (they are active and invite identification), and closure (loose ends are tied up, often through romantic union).’ [M, Pramaggiore & T, Wallis (ed), Film a Critical Introduction, London: Laurence King Publishing, (2007) p. 312.]

2Phil Powrie & Keith Reader, French Cinema: A Student’s Guide, Oxon: Arnold Publishers, (2002), p. 21.

3M, Pramaggiore & T, Wallis. (ed), Film a Critical Introduction, p. 356.

4David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction, Third Edition, London: McGraw-Hill Publishing, (1990) p. 218.

5David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction, p. 210.

6Leo Braudy, ‘The World in a Frame: Genre: The conventions of Connection’ in Gerald Mast & Marshall Cohen, (ed) Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Second Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1979), p. 448.