There is a scroll hanging in Japan Society’s Gallery for The Sound of One Hand called Nin. It is a simple calligraphic painting showcasing Hakuin's quick, fluid kanji stokes. In the middle is the distinct yet abstract impression of a person sitting in contemplation. The wall text simply gives the name of the scroll, its date of completion, and the translation: “Become the Master of your own Heart, and do not let it master you.”
This scroll has had profound meaning for and impact on me and the events around me, and I hasten to add that it goes perfectly with Japan Society's ongoing film series Zen & Its Opposite: Essential (&Turbulent) Japanese Art House, which explores the frailty of the human condition and the monstrosity that can manifest within our own hearts. The image also sings true for the latest film series Shadows of the Rising Sun: Cinema and Empire opening today through Sunday at Japan Society.
'Shadows' encompasses the full manifestation of a unmastered heart. Set in the particularly heinous Pacific campaign of World War II and told by keen eyes of filmmakers from Japan and China, the four films collide with Japan’s ambition for Empire and the harrowing descent. The films are not pretty, there is no honor, and no glory but madness. They show the truth of war, a particularly prickly subject to talk about and properly envision on film.
The four featured films are Kon Ichikawa’s Fire on the Plains (1959), Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorstep (2000), and the New York premiere of Koji Wakamatsu’s Caterpillar (2010). Each film demonstrates the consequences of untamed ideals loose in an unforgiving world. Some use dark humor, others use the bare and broken flesh as their medium, and others use the Greek tragedy formula to express when humanity falls into a shadow realm. Issues are dealt with utmost honesty, care and courtesy to all parties in these stories.
A resounding collection of anti-war war films, I'm reminded of the song "Our Solemn Hour" from the band Within Temptation and leave with the words:
Are they themselves to blame, the misery, the pain?S.H.
Didn't we let go, allowed it, let it grow?
If we can't restrain the beast which dwells inside
it will find it's way somehow, somewhere in time
Will we remember all of the suffering
Cause if we fail it will be in vain