Friday Flotsam: The Emperor, the Director, and the Lexicographer

1. Today is the centenary of Bl. Karl of Austria’s death. Accordingly, I went to Mass before work to seek his intercession that God will send us good leaders (among other things). Those who aren’t yet familiar with Emperor Karl are invited to learn more here.

2. A mild insomnia has been bothering me all this week, so I am now extremely tired. Apologies in advance if any of these are more rambling and incoherent than usual. I actually had ideas of more substantive topics, but was too tired to work them out.

3. I’m of the opinion that an employer, especially a large company, can so easily cross the line into abusive behavior that it’s incumbent on them to not even go near it.

Because on the one hand the employer can remove the employee’s livelihood, weaken his ability to find another position, and generally make him eat a large financial loss at just about any time.

On the other, the employee can quit, depriving his employer of his skills…which, in nine cases out of ten, will be easily replaceable, or at least manageable without (most corporate jobs do not require any kind of unique talent or knowledge). Yes, the employer may have to eat the loss of bringing on a replacement, but the cost of onboarding someone is gonna represent a much smaller proportional loss to him than being jobless for few weeks or months will be for the employee.

This dynamic is the reality behind every request that an employer or its representative makes to an employee. Thus, every request that goes beyond the employee’s contract – say, for unpaid overtime – is accompanied with the unspoken threat of “if you refuse, you might get fired.”

As I say, I think this fact means that it’s the employer’s responsibility to take great care not to even come close to the line. I mean, assuming they want to avoid being predatory and abusive, that is. Which they may not, you know; to each his own.

4. On a more cheerful note: last week’s movie night was Throne of Blood, the first of several ‘Akira Kurosawa does Shakespeare, but in Japan’ films. In this case, it’s Macbeth in feudal Japan, where Toshiro Mifune is goaded by a woodland spirit and his manipulative wife into murdering his lord and taking his place, descending further and further into paranoia and tyranny.

That it’s a good movie kind of goes without saying: it’s Kurosawa (though to be fair, it’s only the second Kurosawa film I’ve seen so far: the other being Seven Samurai). It does require a bit of an investment, however, as it’s pretty slow-paced and sedate, with a lot of long scenes of people riding in fog (there’s a lot of fog in this movie). But then you’re compensated by Mifune’s performance, the glorious cinematography, and the excellent direction. For instance, I really like how when he goes to commit the murder of Duncan-San, we stay with his wife while she waits for him to come back, letting our imagination fill in the actual murder and ratcheting up the tension. I also like the touch that the spirit, though it has the form of an old woman, is dubbed over by a male actor.

The play is mostly conveyed completely intact with only the necessary cosmetic changes, confirming that it’s a great story even apart from Shakespeare’s verse. The Macduff sub-plot is dropped entirely, with the great Takashi Shimura filling in as an elderly strategist who orchestrates Mifune’s downfall, but doesn’t confront him directly. Mifune thus gets a different, but equally fitting comeuppance. Isuzu Yamada as Lady Mifune is equally excellent with her quietly relentless manipulations and eerie makeup. And I like Minoru Chiaki (also one of the Seven, as well as one of the leads in Godzilla Raids Again) as Banquo-San; he has a particularly good moment where, after Mifune has made his play, he gives him a resigned look that shows he knows exactly what really happened (perennial Toho leading man Akira Kubo is also present as Banquo-san’s son).

Though as others have said, I do miss the ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ soliloquy, which even in translated form would have been awesome to see Mifune deliver. Still, highly recommended if you’re in the mood for something high-brow (I want to recommend Orson Welles’s 1948 adaptation as a companion piece, but I haven’t seen it all the way through yet).

Note: The above is Amazon affiliate link. A purchase made through this link nets me a small commission at no extra charge to you.

5. By the way, I don’t know whether the Macbeth curse still applies if you say Throne of Blood in a theater. Feel free to try it out for yourself!

6. Speaking of Scotland, I’m working my way through Dr. Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, which is an account of a journey he took in the mid 1770s up into the Highlands and islands of Scotland, then a country just beginning to emerge from feudalism (he took it in company with his friend and future biography, James Boswell, who was Scottish: a fact that Johnson loved to tease him about). It’s really a fascinating portrait, full of details about the way people lived in that country at the time, from their homes to the landscapes to the social arrangements. I’d say anyone writing a Medieval-style fantasy or something of the kind would be well advised to draw some details from this, like about the arrangements of the huts and houses, the way they burn peat for fuel because there were almost no trees in the region, etc. Or even just the practicalities of traveling when you have to go by horseback.

7. You know, I could say a lot about Johnson: he’s a very interesting figure. But that should probably wait for its own post.

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