July 15, 2011

Gracious Living Day by DayA few nights ago, sick and miserable, Sam and I were lying on our family room sofa, watching a movie.

Sam had his four wisdom teeth removed that morning and his mouth was sore, his face swollen. He was woozy and nauseous from anesthesia. He was hungry but could not eat.

I had a nasty stomach virus. I was not hungry and I couldn’t eat, and felt wretched myself.

We were watching Kagemusha, a samurai movie by the Japanese director, Kurosawa.

Kagemusha Samurai

Kagemusha Samurai

Despite the fact that we had to pay close attention to the complicated plot and to read the English subtitles, we were hooked from the first scene.

Sam has become interested in the Kurosawa samurai movies in the last year or so. The symbolic plots validating honor, courage, and duty of the warriors to their fellows appeal to him greatly at this time in his life. After all, with college starting in the fall, he is about to embark on a searching adventure of his own.

I kept thinking how wonderful it is to listen to the Japanese language. I hadn’t heard it for a long time.

In our house we speak English and Serbian. Other than on special occasions, it is rare that other languages are heard.

This was not the case in my childhood home.

My parents spoke no foreign languages themselves. But our TV did.

All foreign films and shows were subtitled, nothing was dubbed, and there was an abundance of foreign programs from all parts of the world.

As a very young girl, before I had learned to read, I remember begging my cousin to read the Bonanza subtitles to me. She was only two years older and a new reader herself, but she tried the best she could. It didn’t matter when she made a mistake. It was the sounds that enchanted us anyway.

I can remember even now (if I squint and try hard) how English sounded before I could understand the meaning of the words.

The intonation of those sounds (so foreign to a Slavic ear) combined with images of adventure, opulence, temptation, daring, beauty, and so much else that was different and astonishing, were as irresistible and seductive as any love song.

But I also remember other languages, interwoven with their own stories, faces and images, and how they sounded to my ear.

The comfort and familiar resonance, but also poetry, sadness and suffering that is such an integral part of the Russian language.

The dreamy lyricism of Sofia Loren’s Italian that seemed to carry the very warmth of its native landscape in its melody.

The elegant playfulness of Jean Paul Belmono’s French, breaking those entrenched, but tired, bourgeois rules in unexpected and enchanting ways.

The mysterious, murky tonality of Chinese from the 1950’s movies where poor multitudes suffered terribly under the rule of merciless landlords.

The brittle, alarming pitch of samurai jangle, the language almost as violent as the action.

A week ago Sam registered for his fall college classes. Japanese language is one of the subjects that he will be taking. I can’t wait to hear him speaking like a samurai.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ana July 15, 2011 at 9:07 am

If he hasn’t seen the Seven Samurai, it’s a must! Also I remember Harikari by Kobayashi being fascinating, though with a somewhat different pace. That one is by Kobayashi. Anyway Kurosawa films are great!

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is my all time favorite book. 🙂


Liliana July 15, 2011 at 9:36 am

Great suggestions, Ana girl! I think Sam will have his hands full.

I hope you are having a wonderful summer. Hugs to you.


Jeff July 15, 2011 at 8:35 am


The art of the warrior sent me on quite an adventure back in the day. For books, I would recommend Zen in the Art of Archery, The Tea Ceremony, even Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintennance (more philosophy than samurai and not much about motorcycle maintennance). And of course, although not very samurai, The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. These shouldn’t be beyond his years and I read them when I was about his age. In fact, you might even like to take a peek at them.

As far as film, I was a fan of The Yakuza, with Robert Mitchum, going back to the 70’s. Enjoyed the Zatoichi (The Blind Swordsman) films based on a Japanese television series. There’s always The Seven Samurai and of course, the American west version, The Magnificent Seven. Heck, any film with Toshiro Mifune will do. Sam should enjoy these.

Tons of stuff out there.

PS – I’ve always been sorry I never learned my parent’s language. So much culture was tied up in it…

– Jeff


Liliana July 15, 2011 at 8:59 am

Thanks, Jeff, you are a great resource, I am sure Sam will be interested.

I have read the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and have seen most of the movies, but it’s been a while. I am thinking this might be a samurai (or at least a Kurosawa) summer.


Jelena July 15, 2011 at 8:10 am

Sam the samurai–I love it. We ALL need some of those samurai qualities to get through life… As for subtitles, I love them because they offer a window, yes. But they’re also hillarious to read if you happen to know the language being translated and so can see how truly AWFUL some subtitles are. A passtime all on its own!


Liliana July 15, 2011 at 8:26 am

You are so right about the subtitles, Jelena, but then translation is never easy.

It’s hard to understand each other even when we speak the same language, much less when all the other nuances come into play.

A sense of humor helps greatly.


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