It's official, he's overrated. I watched Rashomon the other night. About a month ago I saw Kagemusha. Sometime in the last two years, my friend Robert and me watched Ran. Sometime before that, I got around to seeing Seven Samurai. I liked Seven Samurai.
By no means does this viewing extravaganza make me an expert on Kurosawa--he's still got another fifty movies out there I haven't seen. But I don't think I'm going to bother. Sure, it's neat to see where George Lucas got the inspiration for C-3PO and R2-D2 and the idea to do diagonal wipes between scenes, but is that really a reason to watch a the full film library of a guy who is batting, by my estimation, .250? Nah. I'm done.
I know my general dislike for Kurosawa movies is because I'm an uninitiated barbarian westerner. At least that's Robert Altman's theory, who announced in one of the DVD extras that American audiences probably wouldn't understand Kurosawa's work. Guilty as charged. I don't understand the nuances of Japanese culture, especially if they include being bored to tears while it's raining on screen, or while a guy wanders through the woods, or while a woman with bizarre eyebrows wails uncontrollably.
Honestly, I don't get some of the cultural messages in the recent spate of popular Chinese movies (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; House of Flying Daggers; Kung Fu Hustle). Maybe I was missing something, but I was scared as hell that the Chinese might really buy into the horrifying message in Hero that thousands must die to create a greater China. But I still enjoy the movies. They are still beautiful and exciting and interesting and moving and funny. I'm looking forward to Curse of the Golden Flower and Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. I just don't have much use for Kurosawa. Sorry.
Soldiers and school update. My friend Rob, known also as Marine II, noticed an article in VFW magazine about veterans going to college. Read the whole article, but the Veterans Administration claims that "some 328,578 students on the nation's campuses received GI Bill benefits as of June 2006." Looks like those disadvantaged aren't staying disadvantaged, if you think going to college is necessarily an advantage, which I don't necessarily think, necessarily. But you get the point.
Speaking of Soldiers. Add this to the "I have the coolest job in the world" category. We are working on case studies of actions and operations from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They should be published in an anthology and be available online later this fall. We should all hope so, because there are so many great and important stories from this war that have been misreported, gone unreported, or gone underreported. I've written one already, and if my meager retelling gets by the bosses, it's a humdinger. Trust me, it's a great story.
I'm doing the research for my second article, and while it's not as focused and intense as the first one (sorry about being so vague, I don't want to ruin the effect if and when these come out), it is much broader in scope and involved many more participants. It is a complex series of operations with lots of moving parts.
Those moving parts are people--soldiers in the United States Army who have been on the front lines of the war in Iraq. In the course of writing both of these case studies, I have had the honor and pleasure to email, talk to, and interview dozens of American soldiers, male and female, from Specialist to Colonel, and it has been a remarkable and enlightening experience. These folks are every bit as intelligent, thoughtful, conscientious, and American as you could ever hope.
For example, last night I interviewed Master Sergeant Daniel Hendrex. MSG Hendrex is a bit of a celebrity because he was the First Sergeant of a tank company that had a 12 year old Iraqi boy wander into their post and become a key informant. The boy, whom they nicknamed Steve-o, pointed out a number of important weapons caches and insurgent cells. He also gave up one of the main insurgent leaders in the local city, a man who happened to be his father. You can read all about Hendrex and Steve-o in Hendrex's book, A Soldier's Promise, and I highly recommend that you do just that.
Hendrex told me that going into combat is the hardest thing he's ever had to do, but that writing the book was only a couple of notches lower. Believe me, I wish that writing a book was in any way equivalent to laying your life on the line for your country and comrades, because it would sure make me feel better about my contribution to this world. But I don't think so.
I'm an okay American, but everyday I get to talk to great Americans. And that's a huge part of why I have the coolest job in the world.