Sunday, 15 March 2015


“True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.” 
- François de La Rochefoucauld

“And how will I know if it is really true love?” I asked, when my grandfather told me about getting married to someone I loved, but only if it was true love…
I recall that conversation, I in my green years, hardly knowing anything about men, women, relationships, commitment, marriage, and my grandfather – mature, worldly and wise. And yet, that conversation stuck in my mind, and even more so his answer…

We watched the 2002 movie “The Sea is Watching” this weekend. It is a film with a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) from a novel by Shugoro Yamamoto (1903-1967). It was the screenplay Kurosawa was working on when he died and was subsequently directed by one of his disciples, Kei Kumai. The film is not an epic on the scale of Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” or “Ran”, nor is it grand or even momentous in its theme. It is a nostalgic look at life in the past and deals with complex topic that my grandfather and I were discussing so long ago when I was a child:
“And how will I know if it is really true love…”

The story is set in Edo of the 19th century, in a red light district next to the sea. Oshin is a young prostitute who lives in a brothel and works with several other girls under the watchful eye of a kindly madam. One evening, a disgraced samurai, Fusanosuke, comes into the brothel seeking refuge, as he has wounded another samurai in a scuffle. Oshin hides him from the authorities and falls in love with him, against the advice of her friends, especially that of Kikuno, an older prostitute.

From there the plot twists through the relationships of several of the customers with some of the girls and we look at several aspects of love as it develops in the hearts of some of the main characters. Caste and social conventions are shown in a historical context and unlike many of other Kurosawa films where the emphasis is on men, here it is the women who are shown to be strong, honourable and maintainers of society’s fabric.

This movie should be contrasted with “Memoirs of a Geisha” (my review of it). The girls depicted here are not geishas, but rather prostitutes and the difference is a very big one. The emphasis is on another level and the look of the two movies quite distinctly different. The author, screenwriter and the director of “The Sea is Watching” have captured the essence of the atmosphere of the red light district at that time and I was constantly being reminded of Japanese woodcuts by Hiroshige and Utamaro. The cinematography, settings and costumes are superb, the direction wonderful and the sense of historical accuracy excellent. The psychology of the characters is explored in a subtle way and the final scene elevates the movie to the realm of the heroic.

So in case you’re wondering what my grandfather’s answer was to my question:
“And how will I know if it is really true love?”, here it is:
“You will know because of what she does when you tell her you love her…”

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