Explores the historical and contemporary image of the samurai warrior through analysis and discussion of Japanese literary texts, writings on samurai philosophy, and feature-length films. All readings in English translation.
The course is divided into three units:
Unit 1 “Death with Honor” addresses samurai concepts and practices such as seppuku (hara-kiri), vengeance, and junshi (following one’s lord in death) in relation to the famous Akō Vendetta of 1702.
Unit 2 “Warriors and Warfare” focuses on pivotal figures in Japan’s history who remain central to cinematic representations of the samurai.
Unit 3 “Samurai Heroes” presents three archetypes that appear regularly in cinematic depictions of samurai: the skilled fighter, the vengeful warrior, and the family man. The archetypes are explored in terms of the ethical issues they raise.
A one-page response sheet is due for each reading. Response sheets turned in on the day of the assigned reading earn 2.5 points or 2 points depending on quality; late submissions earn 1 point. A short five-page paper on an assigned topic is due at the end of each unit. Final grades are based on my assessment of the ten response sheets (25%) and three 5-page papers (25% each).
Sato, Hiroaki. 1995. Legends of the Samurai . Overlook Press.
Keene, Donald. 1971. tr.Chūshingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers. Columbia University Press.
Musashi, Miyamoto. 2000. The Book of Five Rings. Shambhala Classics.
January 18 : Introduction to the course
UNIT ONE -- DEATH WITH HONOR: THE AKŌ VENDETTA
READING: Sato, Legends of the Samurai, "Yamamoto Tsunetomo: Hagakure (Hidden in Leaves)," pp. 287-303. Response sheet #1.
FILM CLIP : "Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire," Part I. (PBS, 2003).
READING: Sato, Legends of the Samurai, "The Forty-Seven Samurai: An Eyewitness Account, with Arguments," pp. 304-338. Response Sheet #2.
FILM CLIP : Scene when Lord Asano attacks Kira in the
Shōgun’s castle and is ordered to commit seppuku, from "Chushingura: The Loyal 47 Retainers," Part I, (Chūshingura, 1962), dir. Inagaki & "The 47
Rōnin," Part I, (Genroku
Chūshingura, 1941), dir. Mizoguchi
Chūshingura: Treasury of Loyal Retainers, pp. 1-76, Acts 1-4 (focus on Act 4). Response Sheet #3
FILM CLIP :
Scene when Oishi visits Asano’s widow, then leads the attack on Kira’s mansion, from “Chushingura: The Loyal 47 Retainers,” Part II, (Chūshingura, 1962), dir. Inagaki & “The 47 Rōnin,” Part II, (Genroku Chūshingura, 1941), dir. Mizoguchi.
Scene when Oishi takes Kira’s head to Lord Asano’s tomb and he and his men await their punishment, from “Chushingura: The Loyal 47 Retainers,” Part II, (Chūshingura, 1962), dir. Inagaki & “The 47 Rōnin,” Part II, (Genroku Chūshingura, 1941), dir. Mizoguchi.
Chūshingura: Treasury of Loyal Retainers, pp. 77-180, Acts 5-11 (focus on Act 7). Response sheet #4
FILM: "Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire," Part II. (PBS, 2003).
February 17 : First 5-page paper due
TOPIC: Discuss the
Akō Vendetta in terms of the samurai concept of death with honor. Explain the practice of seppuku, vendettas, and junshi (following one's lord in death) in relation to the incident and clarify how competing allegiances made it difficult to determine what constituted an "honorable" death in this case. Discuss how the vendetta was dramatized differently in the puppet theater (1748) and in films by Mizoguchi (black &white, 1941) and Inagaki (color, 1962). Give specific examples from readings and films to support your discussion.
UNIT TWO -- WARRIORS AND WARFARE
February 22 : Samurai and the Imperial Court
READINGS: Sato, Legends of the Samurai, "Raikō and Others: Tales of Archery" to "Minamoto no Yoshiie: THe Samurai of the Greatest Bravery under Heaven," pp. 80-109. Response Sheet #5.
February 24 : The Minamoto and Taira conflict
READING: Sato, Legends of the Samurai, "Minamoto no Yoshitsune: A Hero Hounded," pp. 110-156. Response Sheet #6
FILM: "Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail" (Tora no o wo fumu otoko), 1945, dir. Kurosawa. 60 minutes.
READING: Sato, Legends of the Samurai, "Kusunoki Masashige: A Guerrilla of Unflinching Loyalty," pp. 156-187. Response Sheet #7
READING: Sato, Legends of the Samurai, "Kō no Moronao: When a Warrior Falls in Love," pp. 188-203. Response Sheet #8
READING: Sato, Legends of the Samurai,
“Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin: Two Warlords,” pp. 204-231. Response Sheet #9.
FILM CLIP: "Samurai Banners" (Fūrin kazan), 1969, dir. Inagaki. 165 minutes.
March 12 - 20 : Spring Recess
READING: Sato, Legends of the Samurai,
“Miyamoto Musashi: Gorin no Sho (Book of Five Elements),” pp. 254-272
READING: Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings pp. 3-62. Response sheet #10.
FILM CLIP: "The Duel at
Ganryū Island" (Samurai Trilogy III, 1956), dir. Inagaki.
READING : Yagyū Munenori, The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War, pp. 65-111 (in The Book of Five Rings). Response sheet #11.
FILM CLIP: "The Wolf and Cub" (Kozure
Sato, Legends of the Samurai, “The Abe Family” by Mori Ogai, pp. 342-379. Response sheet #12.
March 31 : Second five-page paper due
TOPIC: Choose one of the samurai figures from Unit 2 and describe how he is depicted in literature and/or film. Discuss what deeds or accomplishments made him a legend and what aspects of his character or thought contributed to his fame. Address the ways that literary or cinematic depictions may differ from the historical facts. Give specific examples from readings and/or films to support your discussion.
UNIT THREE -- SAMURAI HEROES
April 5 : The Skilled Fighter
“Sanjūrō” (Tsubaki Sanjūrō), 1962, dir. Kurosawa. 96 minutes.
FILM: “Sanjūrō,” continued.
April 12 : The Vengeful Warrior
FILM: "Harakiri," 1962, dir. Kobayashi. 134 minutes.
FILM: "Harakiri," continued.
April 19 : The Family Man
FILM: "Twilight Samurai" (Tasogare Seibei), 2002, dir. Yamada. 129 minutes.
FILM: "Twilight Samurai," continued.
April 26 : The New-Style Samurai
FILM: "Samurai Fiction," 1998, dir. Nakano. 111 minutes.
FILM: "Samurai Fiction," continued.
May 4 : Final 5-page paper due
TOPIC: Select one of the samurai archetypes studied in Unit 3 and discuss it in detail. What aspects of the samurai ethos does the figure support or critique? Be attentive in your analysis to the ways in which your hero's story is set in the past but in fact serves as a critique of contemporary ethical concerns and issues. You may discuss the figure in relation to one of the films viewed in class or in relation to any other relevant Japanese samurai film.