Monday, April 27, 2009

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold: the film

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is based on the novel of the same name written by John Le Carre'. I haven't read the novel yet, but after seeing the film, I have dusted it off and moved it higher on my TBR queue (To Be Read). I have discovered Le Carre' in the past few years and have read a number of his works, especially those known as "the Smiley novels." I have also seen the three film adaptations of the ''Smiley" novels, all of which I thought were more than acceptable versions.

I thought that The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was an excellent film. Although, as I mentioned earlier, I haven't read the novel, I found the flavor, the mood, or the atmosphere of the film to be that of the Le Carre' works that I have read--low-key, quiet, tense, and somewhat dark. If one is looking for heroic deeds of derring-do, for super-villains, for hi-tech gadgetry, for catastrophic threats to a country, continent, or even the cosmos, one must go someplace else. That isn't found here. Le Carre's characters are human, with human strengths and weaknesses. They even sometimes wonder if they are doing the right thing, right in the sense of moral or ethical rightness.

His espionage tales are set, for the most part, during the Cold War and focus on the conflict between the Eastern Communist Democracies and the Western Capitalist Democracies. Both sides considered themselves to be democracies, which demonstrates just how fuzzy any term can be.

Cyril Cusack, who gives a perfect performance as Control, the head of the British Intelligence agency, warns Alec Leamas and the viewer that the methods of the intelligence agencies of both the East and West are now so similar that there really is no difference between them. It is only at the end that Leamas and the viewer realize just how deceptive is that benign, precise, and grandfatherly aura that he casts. Control is a ruthless man who believes the end justifies the means.

Richard Burton is superb as Alec Leamas, the head of the Berlin section for British Intelligence. He has just seen a friend killed as he attempts to cross over to the American sector at Checkpoint Charlie, yet another victim of the East German SpyMaster, Mundt. Leamas is called back to London where he finds that he is going out in the cold again, (jargon for going undercover), this time as a disgruntled agent who is reduced to desk work, broke, alcoholic, and vulnerable to being turned by the East.

His task is to feed spurious information and perform certain actions which will make it appear that the East German Mundt is actually a double agent, working for the British, not quite an assignment that will save England, the West, or the Planet from a catastrophe, but one that's probably closer to real life.

At least, that's what Leamas thinks his assignment is. Control, however, has a different goal, one that Leamas can't know. Leamas is being used in a way that he isn't aware of, but as Control said earlier, the tactics of the two sides are now almost identical--people aren't people, but pawns to be moved about and sacrificed, if necessary, to stay in the game. One doesn't win in this sort of game; at best one can only gain a temporary advantage. It's life: one may survive an accident or illness and therefore able to play a little bit longer, but eventually one loses.

Other notable members of the cast, all of whom were excellent in their roles, are Claire Bloom and Oskar Werner. The only problem is Rupert Davies as George Smiley. Alex Guinness plays Smiley in the three Smiley films that I had watched some time ago, and I can't see anybody else in that role. Guinness strikes me as being so much closer to Le Carre's Smiley that I found Davies irritating. But, to be fair, that's not Davies's fault.

Overall Rating: Got to go with the max--5/5 stars.

PS. I'm now going to read the novel. I wonder if my rating is influenced by seeing the film first. Would I still have given the film 5 stars if I had read the novel first?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain VIII

First Edition: Quatrain VIII

And look--a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke--and a thousand scatter'd into Clay:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

Second Edition: Quatrain IX

Morning a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

Fifth Edition: Quatrain IX

Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

One obvious difference among the versions is the numbering. FitzGerald inserted another quatrain in the second edition and left it there for the subsequent editions. Since I'm using the First Edition as the foundation for my comments, I won't discuss the inserted quatrain, if at all, until after I finished the First Edition.

In the third and fourth lines, there is only one minor change: "Month" is capitalized in the First edition, but in lower case for the rest of the editions. The significance of this escapes me, except that it now seems to place more importance on "Summer" than on "month." The focus is on the season rather than the month.

The most significant changes in wording occurs in the first two lines:

And look--a thousand Blossom with the Day
Woke--and a thousand scatter'd into Clay:

Morning a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?

Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?

The Fifth version seems a refinement of the Second as 'Morning" becomes "Each Morn." I prefer the Fifth over the Second for "Each Morn" seems to flow more smoothly than "Morning" which seems somewhat blunt to me. All three, though, do express the point that while thousands may bloom this morning, just as many die. Life is fleeting and a new generation quickly replaces the old.

The last line of the Second and subsequent editions reminds me of a poem by Francois Villon. I have cut out the second and third stanzas as they are similar to the first one in which he asks about ladies of the past.


by: François Villon (1431-1489)

      ELL me now in what hidden way is
      Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
      Where's Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
      Neither of them the fairer woman?
      Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
      Only heard on river and mere,--
      She whose beauty was more than human? . . .
      But where are the snows of yester-year?

      . . .

      Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
      Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
      Save with this much for an overword,--
      But where are the snows of yester-year?
"The Ballad of Dead Ladies" was translated into English by D.G. Rossetti (1828-1882).

The following link will lead you to the complete poem.

From the Wikipedia entry:
Jamshed, Jamshid, or Jam is a mythological figure of Greater Iranian culture and tradition.
In tradition and folklore, Jamshid is described as having been the fourth and greatest king of the epigraphically unattested Pishdadian dynasty ( before Kayanian dynasty)

Kaikobad: I couldn't locate anything specific about him? her? Most references were to a composer who lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If anyone has a specific reference about Kaikobad, I would appreciate seeing it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

P. D. James: The Private Patient

P. D. James' most recent novel is The Private Patient. It is as enjoyable as her previous mysteries featuring Adam Dalgliesh of the Metropolitan Police, Commander of the Special Squad which handles crimes of a sensitive nature--generally politically sensitive.

Dalgliesh gets a call at a particularly inappropriate moment--at the first meeting with his prospective father-in-law to announce that he wishes to marry his daughter. This isn't a surprise for fans of P. D. James, for all of Dalgliesh's romances have been interrupted the same way--his job comes first. It is no different now. This time, Dalgliesh is informed that No. 10 has has requested that his squad investigate a murder.

The private patient of the title is the victim in James' fourteenth Dalgliesh mystery. Rhoda Gradwyn, an investigative journalist, has finally decided to undergo plastic surgery to remove a scar on her cheek that she got in childhood. When the surgeon asked her why she had waited so long to have it removed, she enigmatically responded, "Because I no longer have need of it."
Unfortunately she never gets the chance to see the effects of the surgery for she is murdered just hours after the operation.

The format follows James' usual pattern--a careful introduction to the victim, suspects, and, at this point, the unknown murderer. By the time Dalgliesh is called in, the reader knows much about the people involved. James pulls no tricks; she always plays fair with the reader. The reader rides along with Dalgliesh and his team as they work their way through the mass of information, frequently contradictory, about the victim and suspects. There are no last minute surprises: the murderer who suddenly appears in the last chapters or a detective who finally reveals crucial information in the last chapter that he or she has known from an early chapter or a sudden and inexplicable burst of insight that leaves the reader wondering where that came from.

To keep readers aware of the progress of the investigation, James has Dalgliesh conduct an evening review with his team of the events of the day and the state of the investigation. This helps to cut back the amount of time needed at the end to sum up the evidence against the individual arrested and charged with the crime. In this way, the readers slowly begin to form their own ideas about the identity of the murderer, as the list of suspects begins to shorten.

I find a subplot in this work that has little to do with the crime under investigation. It has to do with Commander Dalgliesh himself, and his future. His team seems to feel that the Squad is not going to last much longer. There are rumors that the Squad will be broken up, that Dalgliesh will be promoted and transferred upstairs, that Dalgliesh will retire. Moreover, Detective Inspector Kate Miskin, perhaps the one who has been on the Squad the longest, has just gotten a promotion and feels that this may be the last investigation with the Squad for her. A transfer seems inevitable with the promotion.

In addition, while still the focus of the work, Dalgliesh is seen less often in this work than in the previous novels. We spend more time with the Squad than in the past. The reader also gets more background about several members of the Squad.

Another interesting point is Dalgliesh's engagement. As I mentioned earlier, he has been close to remarrying several times in the past, but the woman always left when she discovered his job came first. This relationship is different. In fact, there's a touch of James's favorite author, Jane Austen, here. Dalgliesh's fiance's name is Emma, the heroine of Austen's Emma. Mr Knightly, Emma's husband-to-be, has also to deal with an eccentric father-in-law. In fact, at the wedding ceremony at the end of the novel, we find this bit of conversation among several of Emma's friends:

"Clara said, 'Jane Austen would seem appropriate. Do you remember Mrs. Elton's comments in the last chapter of Emma? Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!'

'But, remember how the novel ends. But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.'

Clara said, "Perfect happiness is asking for a lot. But they will be happy. And at least, unlike poor Mr. Knightley, Adam won't have to live with his father-in-law.'"

Austen's novels always end with the marriage or coming marriage of the heroine. Is this marriage the end of James' portrayals of the adventures of Commander Adam Dalgliesh? Or perhaps, is there one more coming, in which he will move into an administrative position or perhaps even retire, perhaps not to Sussex and take up beekeeping, but to some quiet out-of-the-way place along the coast and write poetry?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Three SF Films: Species, Cube Zero, and The City of Lost Children

Species is a traditional SF offering. The plot--duping a naive human scientist into providing a means of reaching Earth--has been done numerous times, both on TV and on film. In this version, humans get information from an unknown alien intelligence that allows the scientists to conduct experiments in combining human and alien DNA. The hybrid then turns into a monster with superhuman powers and attempts to reproduce and eventually destroy the human species and so on and so forth.

The only new elements are the superior special effects to those produced decades ago, although the shape-changing scenes aren't really that much better than those I've seen in various werewolf films, and the occasional nude scenes which wouldn't have been allowed decades ago.

The film reminds me somewhat of the Mission Impossible TV shows (I've never seen the films) as a team, each member has special abilities, is gathered together to fight the menace which has just escaped from the government research facility. And, there is the obligatory romance between two members of the team.

Overall Rating: traditional SF fare, with decent special effects and competent acting.

Cube Zero (2004) is part of a trilogy which includes Cube (1997) and Cube 2: Hypercube (2002). Although Cube Zero is the latest film produced, it is a prequel to the first two. The director explains that he felt that there were unanswered questions remaining from the earlier productions, so this film is supposed to provide the missing background.

The Cube is a large installation which consists of numerous cube-shaped rooms, some of which are lethal while others are perfectly safe. One can move from room to room through short tunnels located at the top, the bottom, and the four sides of the cube. The inhabitants of this installation are supposedly those who have received the death penalty and have volunteered to be subjects in various experiments. The bait is simple: prisoners who reach an exit point are free. As we find out, though, the government is also quietly removing its opponents this way.

Special effects are good and the acting is competent, as far as it goes. The focus seems to be on the gore as this is sometimes described as SF/Horror--lots of blood and guts for everybody.

Overall Rating: a disappointment. This could have been an interesting film with some interesting ideas, but they went for the gore instead. According to various reviews, Cube is the best of the three, and I'm interested enough in the concept to put that one in my queue.

I've saved the best for last.

The City of Lost Children is, by far, the superior film of the three. In fact, I gave it five stars, the maximum rating on Netflix. The plot is not very complicated--a man aided by Oliver Twist's sister meets a Mad Scientist in Gormenghast*.

One, the main character, is a simple, naive strongman in a carnival who finds an infant abandoned in an alley. Approximately four years later, the child is kidnapped by a gang of technologically enhanced blind men. This gang sells the children to a mad scientist, who can't dream and, therefore, steals these children's dreams. He believes that these dreams will halt the aging process. One then sets out to rescue his "little brother." As he searches the city, he meets up with a band of young pickpockets and thieves whose Fagin happens to be two women who are Siamese twins joined at the hip.

The City, the setting for the film, is strange, bizarre, and definitely a major character in the film. I got the feeling that only in this City could this story take place. It is dark and damp and garish, the perfect place for the bizarre characters and the even stranger events in the film.

Ron Perlman plays One and is eminently suitable for the role. I remember him from another favorite film of mine--The Name of the Rose--in which he also does a memorable job.

Overall Rating: One of the best films that I've seen this year and definitely one to be viewed again.

*Gormenghast: a fantasy trilogy written by Mervyn Peake. The characters are bizarre and a perfect match for the setting, Gormenghast, which is an enormous crumbling castle. I would recommend it for those looking for something unique in a fantasy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

James Cagney: White Heat

James Cagney, who gave an excellent performance in Public Enemy, surpasses himself in the classic gangster film White Heat. I quickly forgot that this is really James Cagney and not Cody Jarrett, gangster. He brought a depth to the role that wasn't present in the earlier gangster film that I recently saw, Public Enemy. Cody Jarrett isn't just a sneering sociopath, but a psychologically crippled individual, as well as a very dangerous one.

The scene in prison dining area when he discovers that his mother is dead is the most powerful in the film, both in Cagney's performance and the staging. Cagney sees that a newcomer has arrived and is sitting at the same table, with about ten or more people in between. He asks the person next to him to pass a question about his mother down the table, and we see each man turn to his neighbor and track the progress of the question as it slowly reaches the new prisoner. We then watch it make its way back, and we sense it's bad news. The tension builds as the answer works its way closer and closer to Cody. We know when it reaches him, there will be an explosion. Cagney doesn't disappoint. He freezes, as if taking it in, as if deciphering it, and then slowly stands up and gives out a moan that can only be described as that of an animal in pain.

The supporting cast is excellent. A very young Edmund O'Brien played the undercover cop who goes into prison to make friends with Cody. Virginia Mayo, whom I remember as always playing the glamorous, sexy, seductive roles comes across with a very different portrayal as Cody Jarrett's wife who is forced to compete for his affections with his mother. In her first appearance in the film, she is seen sleeping and very obviously snoring, a not very sexy introduction. She is convincing as the trashy and brassy woman who just isn't quite the light of Jarrett's life.

Margaret Wycherly is superb as Cody's mother, the mother from hell. She's tough, ruthless, and smarter than her son. Her goal in life is to see him succeed, to make it to the "top of the world," regardless of what he does. It's her advice that keeps him as the head of the gang, and he'd be lost without her. Once she dies, his end is only a matter of time.

The ending is a memorable one, quite different than the endings of the two gangster films I had written about earlier. In Little Caesar, Edward G. Robinson lies dying behind a billboard and plaintively asks, "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?" James Cagney in Public Enemy staggers out of a house after a gun battle, falls into the gutter, and mutters, "I ain't so tough." In contrast, at the end of White Heat, Cagney is on a catwalk at the top of what appears to be an oil storage tank which is blazing furiously. Cagney, wounded, stands up and shouts "Made it, Ma! Top of the World," as the tank explodes, still defiant in a scene from hell.

Overall Rating: very good, Cagney at his best with an excellent supporting cast.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ray Bradbury: A Graveyard for Lunatics

Ray Bradbury's A Graveyard for Lunatics
Mystery Category: talented amateur

Yes, in case you are wondering, this is the Ray Bradbury of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine and The Illustrated Man and numerous short stories that might be SF or fantasy or something else. Bradbury has seemingly never been too concerned about genre fences; he just writes.

This is a mystery; actually, it is the second work in a trilogy. The first is Death is a Risky Business, and the third, and last so far, is Let's All Kill Constance.

The setting is Hollywood. The nameless narrator has just gotten his dream job: he has been hired as a screenwriter (primarily for SF films) at Maximus Films. It's probably a coincidence that Bradbury himself has spent considerable time in Hollywood as a screenwriter.

The narrator gets a message to go to Green Glades, a cemetery that backs on the Maximus lot, at Midnight, of course, and when else but on Halloween Eve, the narrator's favorite night of the year. Curious, he goes and discovers an effigy of the former head of Maximus Films, a man who has been dead for over a decade now. Life suddenly becomes frantic and dangerous as several of his friends and acquaintances die or disappear. He goes for aid to Elmo Crumley, the police officer he encountered in the first mystery, who immediately calls in sick, for the narrator's problems are far more interesting than anything he encounters on the job. Along the way to the solution, they meet a number of thinly disguised caricatures of 'real' people.

The fun is trying to guess whom they are supposed to be. A director named Fritz Wong? Or Roy Holdstrom, a special effects genius who creates dinosaurs and other critters out of clay and painstakingly moves them and films each move to give the illusion of movement. Or JC, an actor who has played Christ so many times that he now believes that he either is Christ or a modern reincarnation of him.

The Plot? Well, let's just think a bit about The Phantom of the Opera and move it to the US. Could there be a better substitute for an opera house than a film studio and sound stages and recreations of the major cities of the world and of small dusty Western towns and, oh yes, of Green Town, Illinois?

Overall Rating: Great fun, along with a few jabs at Hollywood and its denizens, and a dose of Bradbury's own special brand of nostalgia.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Having finished viewing all of the original Star Trek episodes, I moved on to the next series--Star Trek: The Next Generation. My tentative plan is to view the various series in the order they appeared. My work schedule had been a serious problem, lots of night classes, so I never got much of a chance to watch many of the shows. In fact, I discovered that I hadn't even seen all of the original Star Trek episodes when I went through them this time.

The DVD contained the first three shows: "Encounter at Farpoint," "The Naked Now," and "Code of Honor." My first impression was the incredible advances made in special effects in the twenty years since ST:TOS had ended. The bridge of the Enterprise was luxurious in comparison. However, they still had not installed seat belts, and the crew still went flailing about.

It was obvious that there was a clear attempt to bring in the fans of the original program when, in "Encounter at Farpoint," one saw a walkon by a aged and creaky, but still grumbling and querulous Dr. McCoy, who hadn't mellowed at all in the past twenty years. For those who haven't seen this episode, it is the story of Captain Picard's first coming aboard the Enterprise and his initial meetings with the crew, including First Officer Riker who insists his main task is keeping Picard on the bridge and not beaming down into dangerous situations. I wonder if that's a reference to Capt. Kirk's penchant for leaving his ship and getting into trouble in many of the episodes in ST:TOS. Q appears in this episode, and it is obvious that he was going to be a continuing problem for the crew of the Enterprise, a plot element that hadn't appeared in the first series. Wesley Crusher, son of the ship's medical officer, appears in this episode, and I was immediately reminded of Robert Heinlein's theory of child raising. It went something like this--after the child is born, put it in a barrel and feed it through the bunghole. When it reaches puberty, close the bunghole.

The second episode, "The Naked Now," also has a strong tie to the original series for it brought back a threat that had appeared in the ST:TOS episode, "The Naked Time." A fast-acting contaminant of some sort infects the crew and turns them into irresponsible drunks. Data does a computer search and discovers the incident involving the first Enterprise. The funniest line, in the first three episodes anyway, occurs when Data, who was also affected by the contaminant, paraphrases a soliloquy from Shakespeare's A Merchant of Venice, and echoes Shylock when he explains that he is human also for if he is "pricked, do I not....leak?"

The third episode had a familiar air about it as the Enterprise, on a mercy-mission, encounters an alien culture on a planet that has the only known source of a medicine needed to quell a deadly plague on another planet. Picard and the crew must deal with cultural issues before they can get the needed medicine.

Overall Comments:

Major advances in special effects are noticeable. Picard may be a more sedentary Capt. than his predecessor, Capt Kirk, and the powers-that-be are making a serious effort to draw in younger viewers with Wesley Crusher.

So far, aside from the new element of Q, a continuing villain (I guess he's a villain), the plots seem quite familiar. I really didn't see anything that couldn't have appeared in the original series.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain VII

This is one of my favorite quatrains.

First Edition: Quatrain VII

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly--and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

Second Edition: Quatrain VII

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of repentance fling:
The Bird of time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.

Fifth Edition: Quatrain VII

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.

The changes are minimal in that they do not reflect a radical alteration in the meaning from the first to the later editions.

In the first line, the "Fire" is capitalized in the First Edition only. In subsequent editions, it is lower case. Perhaps that's to focus the reader's attention on Spring. It makes, however, no difference when hearing it, so the change is limited to one reading it.

In the second line, we read "The Winter Garment," in the First Edition only, while from the second Edition on, it is "Your Winter-garment." Substituting "Your" for "The" imparts a stronger feeling that the poet is talking directly to the reader. The change of "Winter-garment" from "Winter Garment" again is visual, for someone listening to a reading would not detect the difference. I would guess that the visual change would be to make "Winter-garment" more of one object or one thing, a closer joining of the two terms in the later versions.

The third line remains the same throughout.

The fourth line is the one that I felt he should have left alone. The revision is much weaker, to me anyway.

First Edition
"To fly--and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing."

Subsequent editions
"To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing."

The most significant change is the substitution of "flutter" for "fly." Why this was done, I have no idea. "Fly" works much better than "flutter" in this context, or frankly in any context. One may see a butterfly flutter by, but a bird? A bird may fly or soar or glide or dive or dart or even hover, but flutter? When I think of a fluttering bird, I think it is sick or wounded.

After considering the changes FitzGerald made, I favor the first Edition version. "Flutter" doesn't work for me, and the other changes really add nothing substantial to the quatrain.

Quatrain VII
Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly--and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

We see again the controversial reference to wine in the first line which goes back to previous quatrains and will appear again in quatrains following this one. The Cup, whether it be of wine or of God's grace, which some commentators prefer, should be filled, and that will fill the drinker with good cheer. Spring is here, and we should give up the winter dreariness of repentance.

This is followed by the warning in the third and fourth lines, again brought forward from earlier quatrains, that time is short and passes quickly--a further repetition of the medieval philosophy of Carpe diem or "Seize the Day." This stanza always reminds me of Andrew Marvel's "To His Coy Mistress,' especially the following lines:

"But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;"

In both, time is short and associated with flight: "time's winged chariot" and "The Bird of Time has but a little way/ To fly--and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing."

Many years ago I had read a short story which had the last two lines of this quatrain for an epigraph. It wasn't identified so I thought it probably was written by the author. It was years later that I read The Rubaiyat and discovered its origin. I've always remembered those two lines, but the author, title, and plot details of that story are forgotten, perhaps rightfully so.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Takeyama Michio: Harp of Burma

On March 14, 2009, I posted a commentary on two Japanese anti-war films, one of which was The Burmese Harp. According to the director, Ichikawa Kon, the film was based on Takeyama's The Harp of Burma. Impressed by the film, I decided to read Takeyama's story. The version I read, translated by Howard Hibbett and published by Tuttle Publishing, is approximately 120 pages long, an easy evening's read.

Ichikawa, in an interview, stated that he had made some major changes in the story because the story, if transferred exactly to film, would be a fantasy for children, whereas he wanted a film for adults. After having read the story, I could find only two major changes in the film, neither of which really changed the overall theme of the story. Both changes occurred in the part that involves Mizushima's attempt to persuade a group of Japanese soldiers to surrender, now that Japan has surrendered. One change concerns the effect of Mizushima's efforts to persuade the soldiers to surrender, and the other changes the type of people who find the wounded Mizushima and take care of him.

Frankly, this is one of the few times (changing Mizushima's caretakers) that I thought that a film's version was more appropriate than that of the original story. On the other hand, I saw the film first, which might make a difference. Secondly, I must also consider that the story was initially written for juveniles and that might explain my preference for the film version.

The "Publisher's Foreword" states that "It was for the younger generation that M. Takeyama intended the book, but after its initial publication in Aka Tambo, a now defunct but then leading juvenile magazine, it became enormously popular among Japanese adults. It is currently included in a series of recommended world literature classics for high school age youngsters." While I have no evidence to support this, I suspect that it is ignored in US schools.

Aside from these two modifications, I felt that the film emphasizes Mizushima, the harpist, a bit more than does the story, but the film overall follows the events of the story very closely. The themes are the same: the stupidity of war and those who glorify it and the effects on those who have the least to say about going to war but pay the greatest price for their leaders' folly.

Overall Rating: This is one of those stories that are written for younger readers, but adults perhaps will get even more out of it than the readers it was initially published for. I found my copy in the library, but I am going to find my own copy. It is a work that is worth rereading, as the film merits more than one viewing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April's air.....a haiku


This seems appropriate for today. It is my favorite haiku.

April's air stirs in
Willow leaves...a butterfly
Floats and balances.

-- Basho --

from A Little Treasury of Haiku
trans. Peter Beilnson
Avenel Books, NY

Basho, the haiku master.

Actually he's not a haiku master, according to one editor that is. I had picked up a book with a title that was something about the Haiku Masters. I glanced through it and found nothing by Basho. I read the Intro, thinking to find why Basho was not included. The editor, whose name escapes me now, said that this book contained the haiku of the top ten haiku masters. Basho was not included because he is so superior to them that he is known as The Haiku Poet.