Yesterday, I decided to liven up my chores by loading a bit of fluff on hulu.com for background noise. I wanted something in modern Japanese, so I could enjoy the intonations and inflections and see if I could pick out words and phrases here and there. The movie I settled on was called “Love Collage,” or “Renai Shashin” (Japanese title). I picked it more or less at random. It started as a fluffy romance, with two actors I recognized from other shows. Ryoko Hirosue, the elfish actress who played Ryoma Sakamoto’s first love in Ryomaden was the girl lead, and Ryuhei Matsuda, who portrayed the freakish homosexual Shinsengumi recruit in “Gohatto” (US title “Taboo”) played the boy lead.
I managed to wash dishes through the exposition of their relationship building and destruction (thankfully), but I sat down, exhausted after many chores and got interested about the time Matsuda followed a letter from Hirosue from Tokyo to New York, looking for her. Lots of dangerous gangsta stereotypes appeared, and his ghetto savior was a gay man who had a thing for Kimutaku (Takuya Kimura—just what New York needs: a gay SMAP-head). It evolved into an episodic but suggestive nightmare romp for Matsuda through NYC, where he finally learned that Hirosue had been murdered by a woman who had befriended her and then scammed him when he showed up.
Anyway, the morgue scene, wherein Matsuda cries over the dead Ryoko Hirosue brought a thought to mind that had no completion or even a real focus beyond an understanding of how we are worn down in life. It is a credit to Matsuda’s acting that he brought this thought to my mind at that moment. The idea: “These are the things that fill our lives.” The imprint of his loss of a girl he loved and lost hammered the signature of suffering that is just one of myriad ways a human animal can experience wear. It made me remember the expressionless face of Matsuda’s Kano Sozaburo as he killed his many Shinsengumi lovers and how this sort of wear is a dangerous ugliness of character that required that he be executed. The symbolic scene wherein the cherry sapling was felled was the most memorable moment in that film, a recognition of the effect physical beauty can have on our capacity to judge true beauty, the kind that transcends the mere visual.
In “Love Collage,” Matsuda is few years older and there is a subtle maturation to his features. Whereas the young creep in “Gohatto” was deemed beautiful as an object, I found him repulsive and freakish. A few more years and a more empathetic countenance made Matsuda more attractive, the moment of suffering yet more still, because it gave him some depth to go with the plastic bishounen exterior.
I think back to reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and how the secretaries who have learned the Martian way from Valentine Michael Smith marvel at the beauty of the lined, old face of their boss, Jubal Harshaw, because of the wear and the many shocks his flesh has undergone and weathered successfully. His aged appearance makes him beautiful for this reason. This goes beyond the object beauty represented by Ryuhei Matsuda’s beautiful boy in “Gohatto.”
|Photo adapted from Wikimedia commons. user: Dd-b http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RAHeinlein.autographing.Midamericon.ddb-371-14-750px.jpg|
I suppose beauty lives in the combination of a physicality that pleases a particular observer and a deeper character-driven beauty. It is always nice when the two combine. Somehow, fellows like Toshiro Mifune seemed to embody that Heinleinian fine wine quality in a cinematic sense. He was a dashing and handsome fellow in his young badass days, but he wears that history with a mantle of maturity well in his older countenance too. And he’s one of the few men whose strong handsome features allowed him to look really good with a shaved head. He also escaped the “seedy look” that besets many older men. The fact that he attacked his roles with his entire soul and being added a certain depth to the outward beauty we see onscreen; this character enrichment is essential to the totality that proclaims a person to be “beautiful.” If Mifune had been merely an adequate actor, he would be nowhere near as beautiful.
But back to the idea sparked by Ryuhei Matsuda’s crying fit: the idea that we are an amalgam of our experiences is not a new one. It is an old concept. It is behind the marks of honor signified by the Heidelberg Dueling Scar or perhaps more fittingly for Matsuda, the character-defining eyepatch worn by Sengoku warlord Date Masamune, who Matsuda portrayed in the 2009 Taiga drama “Tenchijin.” According to Samurai Wiki, “In his youth, Masamune had suffered a bout with small pox that caused an infection in his right eye-which he plucked out himself. Combined with his early aggressive and unstable demeanor, Masamune would earn the tag 'One-eyed Dragon'.” The visual cue of the eyepatch made him more iconic and terrifying in combination with his personality .
The one-eyed general’s outward appearance becomes tied to his inner character traits and thus his “beauty” is made of legend, story and the transformation of physical traits. The “eye of the beholder” has swollen to encompass the whole of historical literature, and thus the beauty of Masamune and, by extension, of Matsuda who portrayed him, is amplified and given a deeper meaning than the one-dimensional plastic bishounen where he began. And this traveled path is a battle scar in itself. Forgive the rambling, not-quite-to-the-point nature of this blog post. After all, I have been shamefully neglecting the blog for a long time now, and I had to push myself to put something up here—anything. I hope it at least made a little sense to someone!