Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hyouge Mono - 3

If the boundaries between eras and between fact and fiction ever loosed enough to allow me to share company with Sasuke, I would love to play poker with him. I suspect he may be the worst poker face in human history.

Damn, that was fascinating. We're really being treated to a psychological tour-de-force here. Set in an era and social situation where men rarely spoke their true thoughts, so much of this series is about guys trying to figure out what other guys are really thinking - what they know and what they don't. There were numerous examples in this episode, starting with the tea master Senna. In every one of these situations the players have something they want - in his case, it was the tea bowl Sasuke had procured by illicit means in the prior ep. Despite this being a capital offense, no doubt, he kept Sasuke's secret in order to get his bowl back - just as Sasuke had spared the general's life to get the bowl in the first place.

The chess game here is wildly interesting, especially given the benefit of some historical knowledge. Mitsuhide, of course, is to go on to... Well - maybe I won't say, as I suppose it's an anime spoiler though the information is in any Japanese history book. But Sasuke, being the aesthete that he is, picks up on the odd clue that Mitsuhide did not use the precious kettle gifted to him by Oda. As well, though he defended Oda to his grumbling vassals there's the subtly odd comment to "Keep silent" about their concerns.

Meanwhile Hideyoshi (no, not that Hideyoshi), the quiet man and subject of the dismissive "Simian" insults by Mitsuhide's men, mines Sasuke for information about Mitsuhide's banquet while also testing his loyalty. Hideyoshi was constantly underestimated - not only because of his legendary monkey-like appearance, but because he was the son of commoners - in fact, no commoner in Japan before or since rose so high as Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi is no less ambitious than Oda but far more subtle - and shrewd enough to let the dim view his rivals take of him work to his advantage. And also to his advantage was his loyalty to Oda, which was second to none.

And then there's Oda himself, perhaps the most troubling and difficult figure in Japanese history. He's far more fascinating here than in any other anime depiction I've seen - as witness the scene where he offers Sasuke the choice between money and the lacquer cabinet. Even in this relatively small vassal Oda sees the possibilities - though he recognizes Sasuke has transgressed somehow, he still sees value in him - and he ends up giving his subject both items, though Sasuke had forced himself to accept the gold despite desperately wanting the container. In Oda's pure practicality and scope of ambition Sasuke finally sees something beautiful - his aesthete's sense recognizing the sheer magnitude of the man's will. His rapture in that moment reminded me of Hoji from Rurouni Kenshin - in the near-orgiastic joy he took in serving Makoto Shishio.

I'm sure a lot of people are avoiding this series based on the premise, and I can't blame them - but I urge everyone to give it a chance. It's smart, complex and thought-provoking - but it's anything but dry or academic. You'll be amazed at how much tension and excitement a show with virtually no action or violence is able to generate via dialogue, facial expression and good writing.

3 comments:

  1. I'm loving this show. Your discussion of the psychological factors is spot on. The only problem I have with it is the difficulty in finding subs. And this is NOT a show that you can just watch for the eyecandy. The discussion of who was using which teakettle would have been impossible for me to guess at without a translation.

    My knowledge of this period is lousy; I took some Japanese literature in college, but not history. I really hope that, in the end, I'll get to see this series all the way through. I find the concept, and the depiction of this troubled era fascinating.

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  2. This is just really great stuff all around, but you're right - it's pointless without subs. All we can do is wait patiently I suppose, and thank the ones who donate their time to the cause.

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  3. Having not ventured into any Japanese anything, I do wonder whether Hyouge Mono's presentation of feudal Japan will be both captivating and informative. Currently, it is; this is a history lesson every Japanese history student should go through.

    Though of course I hope that Sasuke's not a real person.

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