21H.522 | Fall 2006 | Undergraduate

Japan in the Age of the Samurai: History and Film


There are three paper assignments for this course:

Essay 1

Describe and analyze the many different “ways of the warriors” that emerge in the assigned readings for the course (Tales of Heike, Suzuki, and other readings of this unit), as well as in Seven Samurai and Forty-Seven Rônin. In what ways did the warrior ideal change over time - beginning with the 12th century war in which the Heike clan was destroyed, evolving through literary romantizations and Zen ideals and practices, and culminating in 17th century pronouncements of proper behavior by warriors who no longer had any wars to fight? How did the “47 Rônin” incident reveal contradictory aspects of samurai ideals and behavior? And in what ways do the films, as well as the historical record, reveal that warrior behavior as a whole was riddled with contradictions?

Essay 2

Drawing particularly on your readings in McCullough, Suzuki (chapters 1-2 and 8-10), and the other readings for this unit, as well as the films (Ugetsu, Onibaba, and Sen no Rikyû) and presentations in class, what generalizations can be made about the nature of “spiritual and supernatural worlds” as seen in everyday life and expression at all levels of society? You should take care to make distinctions among

  1. High theory and aesthetics (as in Zen, or Buddhism in general),
  2. More general secular expressions of “Buddhist” sentiments (as emerge in such writings as An Account of My Hut, Essays in Idleness, and Bashô’s travel journals), and
  3. The sort of popular beliefs and superstitions that permeate writings in McCullough’s collection and emerge in films like Ugetsu and Onibaba. The point here is to explain how “spirituality” and “values” operate in many forms at various levels. Do not hesitate to draw on materials from the earlier unit, such as Sadler’s translation of Tales of the Heike.

Essay 3

Discuss the theme of “worlds of pleasure, worlds of pain” as seen in the tensions and contradictions that existed between ideals (and realities) of harmony and pleasure on the one hand and, on the other hand, the institutionalized values and practices that often caused hardship and suffering in interpersonal relations. Your analysis should give particular attention to the importance of class, status - and, particularly, gender - as illuminated in the assigned writings (especially Chikamatsu’s love-suicide puppet play, Saikaku’s stories, McCullough’s selection from Lady Nijô, and the texts on women read for class) and related films (Utamaro and His Five Women, Double Suicide, Life of Oharu, and Samurai Rebellion). You may wish to note discrepancies between original texts and films ostensibly based on these texts where such differences are present in a significant way (notably, in the film treatments of Chikamatsu and Saikaku). This should be done, however, only in ways pertinent to your basic themes.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2006