Saggy Pants and the Russian Circus: a lesson in crossing a culture


Seven SamuraiIn July of 1998 I had two incredible experiences, and they both happened in the span of two weeks. The first was a trip to Russia. The second was way better, but before I get to that one, I have to say that crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and therefore crossing a big cultural divide, was an extremely valuable learning experience for me. The leaders prepared us for the culture shock we would experience: riding public transit, eating Russian food, going to an Russian Orthodox Church worship service with the hopes of not offending any babushkas. They warned us that we would experience “cultural dissonance.” This happens when you experience something that’s different from what you’re used to, different from your own culture and norms. This can tend to rub us the wrong way and seem “off” to us (Like in music; you hear a note that’s off and it can drive you nuts! That’s musical dissonance.). For me it was after watching a pretty fantastic circus show in Moscow. After it was all over, the huge crowd left the venue through two doors. Huge crowd. Two doors. There was an entire row of glass doors, just like in North American arenas. But only two were unlocked. This seemed crazy to me and I was immediately tempted to think ignorantly. “That’s stupid!” “Don’t they realize this doesn’t make sense?” “What’s wrong with these people?” But I’ve found the best way to respond to cultural dissonance is by simply making your best Obama-meme face and uttering two words to yourself: “That’s different.”

There’s also such a thing as what I would call generational dissonance. When I was a kid I didn’t like the pants my grandfather wore. His generation weren’t into jeans, neither did they seem to accept the ubiquity of t-shirts. For pants they wore loose fitting pants they liked to call “slacks” along with suspenders and collared, long-sleeve, button-up shirts. Then again, I also wasn’t crazy about the bell bottoms from my uncle’s generation. They were so ridiculous to me. My peers and I had clothes figured out. But I soon discovered that generational dissonance wasn’t restricted to just previous generations. Like most Gen-Xers I had, and still have, a real distaste for saggy pants. And it’s not just that I don’t like the look and won’t wear them. I also get a strong urge to haul guys’ pants up when I see them walking through a mall like this. I’m worse than my grandfather ever was!

To watch an Akira Kurasawa movie you would need to experience some cultural and generational dissonance. Cultural: one has to endure subtitles (or worse, dubbed English) and depictions of life in Japan, as opposed to the typical American setting and cultural nuances found in Hollywood movies. Generational: it’s a black & white oldie, lacking all the splash of today’s blockbusters. But just like my trip to Russia, if you can get over those minor hurdles you’re in for a treat. The stories are unique and original—the plot descriptions alone draw you in! In fact, those plots were so influential they’ve been copied by more modern favourites like Star Wars. Did you enjoy A Bug’s Life? Essentially, it’s a remake of Seven Samurai. The same is true for The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Navarone.

His directing was influential, too—even his camera shots. You know how there are scenes in movies where a person or group look up and see an army forming along the horizon of a hill? It’s used a ton of times in all kinds of films. And it’s Kurosawa’s. It’s known as his “horizon shot.”

horizon shotI loved all of these AK movies represented this week. I’m partial to Ikiru and Rashômon, though Seven Samurai takes the cake with most movie fans. All four movies are on the IMDb top 250 list, but Samurai lands at an impressive #20, beating out favourites like It’s A Wonderful Life, Braveheart, Back to the Future, even Casablanca!

Oh, and the other incredible experience I had in July of 1998? After I got home from my trip to Russia, Joy told me she had a gift for me. It was a pregnancy test. We were expecting our first child.

Congratulations Seven Samurai. This is your week.

And the Oscar goes to…

Best Actress: Masako Kanazawa as Machiko Kyô. Seriously. Watch Rashômon and you’ll love her.

Best Actor: Ikiru is a moving story to say the least. Though at times I feel he does a little too much sad face, Takashi Shimura is the center of one of the most touching and haunting scenes in film history (to quote my friend Dave).

Best Quote: Uttered by Sanjuro while he’s standing in a street littered with corpses: “Now we’ll have some peace and quiet in this town” in Yojimbo.

That baby is now 16. I have two more precious years with her before she is eligible to leave home and make it on her own. And to her I dedicate this bonus movie quote from Ikiru:

“You—just to look at you makes me feel better. It warms this—this mummy’s heart of mine….I want to do *something*. Only you can show me. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how. Maybe you don’t know either, but, please… if you can… show me how to be like you!”



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