22 January 2008

The Cowboy, the Samurai, and the Noir Detective

I have always been interested in the samurai figure/myth/legend, as I mentioned before, particularly those portrayed in cinema. I have never, though, thought anything about the cowboy or the Western. I grew up in a generation already inherited with an inherent cynicism towards the Western - the racism against indians, the false sense of manliness, the John Wayne drawl, etc. - so much so that I never had any passing interest in seeing them. As my interest in movies grew and I was assigned to watch a couple of John Ford Westerns for class (Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine), I was blown away by what I saw. First, I suppose I saw why Kurosawa named Ford as one of his favorite directors and influencers. Second, the storytelling, mise-en-scene, and of the movie were so intriguing, not to mention the psychological stuff you could dig out of it. Third, I realized that the lonesome cowboy figure (Ringo, Ethan, Wyatt, the Man With No Name, et. al) is really no different from the ronin samurai such as Sanjuro in the Yojimbo and Sanjuro movies (this comparison is more obvious since Fistful of Dollars is a remake of Yojimbo) or any other disillusioned samurai figure who has left his emperor after a defeat or imperial war.

The comparison of the cowboy and the samurai has been written about before. It is no secret that these two genres - the Western and the jidaigeki (samurai film) - have borrowed from each other throughout cinematic history, but it is an insight that is fresh and exciting to me. But the comparisons don't stop there. There is also the noir genre and the noir protagonist. Usually a P.I., but not always, the noir protagonist is a loneman who has given up on a lot in life, disillusioned and most often incredibly cynical (despite a hidden soft center). The hired gun, the hired sword, the hired eye. These characters are all put into a situation where they are victims of a system which has failed them. It could be a Confederate soldier such as Ethan in The Searchers, a masterless samurai such as Tatsuya Nakadai's character in Harakiri or Takashi Shimura's in Seven Samurai, or an ex-cop who's seen too much such as Gittes in Chinatown.

I don't have too much to say about it now, more just throwing out some stuff I've been interested in. If I were ever to write a thesis on a topic, I think this comparison of genres and characters would be it.


JVCubby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JVCubby said...

None of these cinematic iconic loner heroes EVER wore a sweater vest. The aforementioned statement does NOT, though, devalue the look and/or warmth of the sweater vest as Autumnal/Winter apparel. I like them ... especially in earth tones.

Steve said...

I am surprised you did not use Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing as an example since it seems appropriate to the topic.

Yojimbo = Fist full of Dollars = Last Man Standing

ronin = gunfighter = private eye