The Past Is Alive, And It's Been Genetically Modified.
Do you know what the best part about spending an entire day mixing in a sound studio is? Absolutely nothing. For a good ten hours afterwards, you have an endless loop of improperly recorded dialogue running through your head, like the bad grammar of a Destiny’s Child song lyric after accidentally flicking past MTV on your way to the Science Fiction Channel, and the only way to get it out is by replacing it with the screams of the innocent. And let me tell you, it’s hard to find an innocent in the city I live in, where spiritual fulfillment is offered more by full contact strip clubs than churches, and the abortion clinics are stacked with two year old Teen People magazines. Believe me, after a full night’s searching for innocents that ends with you squatting over a bloodstained crib picking a chunk of intestine out of your teeth with a miniature leg bone, you begin to long for the days before the Pro Tools loop function. And that’s when you wash the blood from your face, kick back on the couch, and pop in a movie like Red Beard to cleanse your palate of the stresses and problems of the modern age.
And then you realize that you’re being a filthy hippie and take another shower to wash the three-days worth of grit and thick odor of hemp that automatically accumulates on your body after having communist thoughts. Though I think this is one of Kurosawa’s finest films, I’m getting sick to death of the idealization of the past through movies like Red Beard, Kate & Leopold, and the entire Western genre, which long for simpler times, when men were men, women were breeders, and children all had golden curls like Goldilocks wearing Shirley Temple’s scalp. It’s really easy to proselytize about the joys of working with your hands and tilling an honest living out of the soil when your only experience of farming is growing a pot plant in the window of the Montreal studio loft your dad pays for. I know the environment is pretty and all, but if I want to see a tree, I’ll turn on the Discovery Channel some time when Deadly Arts is not on. For now, I need someplace to put my car that’s not in front of the video arcade and subject to almost certain tagging, and right now that park across the road looks like the perfect place to do so, if you bulldozed over all the grass and dropped hackeysacks to build something useful that doesn’t attract tam-tams. Maybe if we push ahead with the forced conversion of wasted city space into productive factories, we’ll push all the hipster idiots out of their shared art spaces and into the wild where they can starve into idiocy along with the rural right wing, and that way they’ll quit burning up valuable resources forcing companies to slap the term ‘organic’ onto packaging to try and sell it to the environmentally conscious under thirty set. I’ve got news for you. If I slap Cheez-Wiz onto a package of Fritos and down it with a Coke, it’s still organic. It’s not like these foods are made of silicone, people, unless you’re eating those packs of salt that come with TV remote controls, in which case this argument probably contains too many words and not enough stomach pumping to do you much good. Did you mean to say ‘natural’, but thought you’d impress the girl with the pierced lip working the grocery store cash register if you pretended you were taking something in university more complicated than fine arts? Because that doesn’t make much sense either. Yes, non-genetically modified foods and pesticide free apples are natural. You know what else is natural? Poison, rocks, and Jewish cuisine, and nobody wants to eat those.
But I digress. What I’m trying to say is that things are better now than they were in the past, and idealizing the good old days is silly to everyone but cranky grandparents who can’t work the DVD player you got them for Christmas and long for the days of two TV channels featuring Steve Allen and I Love Lucy. In the old days, figuring out where I’d seen the guy who played Arzt on the last three episodes of Lost’s first season before would have driven me to the point of insanity, whereas nowadays, I can just take a brief pause from surfing the net for pictures of suicides in order to stop by the IMDB. Years ago, if I wanted to date a girl, I’d have to attend a sock hop or a church function and go through all the trouble of wooing her. Now, it’s all nightclubs and Rohypnol, or, failing that, just a regular club, with disposable electrical tape wrapped around the handles so the CSIs can’t get you. Red Beard, the last collaboration between Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa, is yet another idyllic view of days gone by, taking place, as per usual for the pair, in feudal Japan. This is even more ridiculous, because those days were anything but idyllic for the Japanese, and even less so for anyone who encountered the Japanese. I don’t mean to be racist, but the pre-WWII Japanese were essentially Klingons, bloodthirsty warriors with a bizarre code of nobility that somehow placed great honor upon murder and savagery. Then, they got their spirit bombed right the hell out of them, and now they blindly ape American culture and try to incorporate Hello Kitty products into MP3 players. I’m not sure what the future holds for the Japanese, but I know that their past doesn’t seem anything to be proud of, in the same way that I’m continually baffled by ‘Southern Pride’ in a Confederacy of backwards racists. But though I’m irritated by the way Red Beard, and in fact most of Kurosawa’s work, takes pride in a past that is better treated as a cautionary tale than as a subject of idolatry, it is an excellent film. And I do enjoy my Hello Kitty MP3 player, so there are no hard feelings here.