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Author Topic: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 23, 2019, 12:14
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If you are interested in a good book about how Hongkong came into the hands of the British, I recommend "An Insular Possession" by Timothy Mo.

I think Mo's "The Monkey King" is one of the best books I have read.

https://www.amazon.com/Monkey-King-Timothy-Mo/dp/0688061893

I also can recommend "Sour Sweet" and "A Redundancy of Courage." All deal with Asian themes.

https://www.amazon.com/Sour-Sweet-Timothy-Mo/dp/0952419327

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 09:16
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Here’s another one from Mr. Kung’s travel library: Himeji (possibly Hiroshima) Castle.

The photo that Mr. Kung sent me had a faded look to it. This has not been eradicated but simply color corrected a touch (it had gone way too red) and I increased the “vibrancy” of the colors. But there was only so much I could do with it or wanted to do with it. This picture has a very fairy-tale-like quality to it.

This may be the “White Castle” shown in Shogun.

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 09:24
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Hongkong is by nature a hazy place for most of the year. But automobiles and industry have added to the effect.

Yeah, I wasn’t sure about that, Mr. Kung. Hongkong being on the Pacific as it is with what must be the typical prevailing winds (that tends to clear out all smog and smoke as it does in the Northwest), I figured it must be mostly fog.

Timothy-
Lane
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Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 10:03
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I'd hate to climb up the hill to that castle, but I suppose that's the point, at least as far as defense is concerned.

Incidentally, the low-emissions vehicle doesn't entirely live up to that. There would be a good bit of solid waste, and you really don't want to step in it. As they're finding out now in San Francisco in a different context. (By the way, did you make a recent addition to that posting I find it hard to believe I missed so much the first time, though my powers of observations are notoriously poor.)

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 10:38
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I watched the first two episodes of Shogun on YouTube. Someone has crammed this into an HD aspect ratio. Basically that means they cut off some of the top and the bottom of the picture. And it shows.

But other than buying the discs somewhere, I can’t find Shogun available for streaming. So needs must, and all that. This is, of course, another series based on a James Clavell novel. Any other resemblance to the mediocre “Noble House” is coincidental.

I don’t know if the “Noble House” novel is as good as the “Shogun” one, but after seeing the TV series made from the “Noble House” novel, I have no desire to read it. The opposite is true of the “Shogun” miniseries.

Where Pierce Brosnan had no idea who his character was or what to do with it, Richard Chamberlain as pilot of a Dutch-build English ship shows no desire to play it like a soap opera.

This is also due to the quality of production (and no doubt the money spent). What “Noble House” fails at (and one can easily sees this in contrast to “Shogun”) is in evoking the exotic. Although “Noble House” has the perfunctory beauty-shots of Hongkong interspersed here and there, you never get much of a feel for the place. It could have been (probably was) mostly shot on an LA studio backlot.

“Shogun” clearly has major segments shot in Japan. The costumes and characters are believable and do not look as if they walked out of either a soap opera or comic book. Interestingly, John Rhys-Davies has another central role. He’s plays Portuguese pilot Vasco Rodrigues on a trading vessel. Portugal and England (often allies) are currently enemies. His character is a good one so far.

The contrast between antagonist/protagonist Ben Masters and the great Toshirô Mifune (as Lord Yoshi Toranaga, leader of one of the two warring factions aiming to control all of Japan) is all you need to know in terms of the quality-intent of this production as opposed to “Noble House.” NBC was attempting to raise its game and upscale TV’s prestige to compete with theatrical productions. Given what I’ve seen in the first two episodes, they succeeded. (And, frankly, this is better than 99% of the junk shown on Netflix.)

Anjin-san (Chamberlain….his Japanese-given name being his profession…”pilot”) is aboard a vessel that wrecks upon the Japanese coast in the early 16th century. The opening seemed a little sketchy as to what they were doing. They came around the then “secret” Cape Horn route to the Pacific and then had been forced by Spanish ships to escape to the west. Or something like that.

I suspect the final two installments will lag a bit as they simply spin their wheels, repeating the same events in new scenery. But we’ll see. It’s a fairly long series. The DVD release is 547 minutes total. (A Blu Ray release has it at 526.) That’s an average of over 2 hours each which jibes with what I’m seeing on YouTube. The IMDB listing marks the episodes at only 90 minutes, so I’m wondering whether the DVD release includes extra footage.

As good as Chamberlain is in this, he does have a few sketchy moments when he’s caught between playing a common pilot who can’t hold his temper and the man who is obviously much smarter and saver than he appears. But we make this rough transition and he comes under the influence of the Japanese . . . like it or not. To live, he must obey. And it’s clear that Toranaga wants him to live in order to glean all the information from him that he can.

First question: Have the Jesuits, Portuguese, or Spanish ever been a force for good in the world? My guess is only in rare cases or completely by accident. None of these entities come off well in this so far. Toranaga obviously trusts them all about as far as he can throw them. But they are useful to him. And he is in a position where his lack of information puts him at a severe disadvantage. He just doesn’t know much about the world outside of Japanese coastal waters.

But Anjin-san is filling him in on a few details. And as he does, it’s clear that Toranaga becomes more distrustful of the Jesuits and Spanish. But we’ll see how this plays out. There is again and again a warning Anjin-san by Vasco that the Japanese have three faces and six hearts….or something like that. His point being that there’s a depth to the games being played that are not going to be easy for an outsider to read.

In fact, in one scene following a failed attempt on Anjin-san’s life by (likely) the Jesuits, Toranaga invites his #2 man to view a sunset with him. The #2 man figures his time is up and he’ll be executed. But Toranaga just tells him about how beautiful the sunset looks. And the narrator (who comes in a time or two) basically translates that this is “message receive” by his #2. He’ll live, but he’d better do better next time.

It’s almost certain this series could not be produced today as it was in 1980. One is immersed in strange Japanese culture just as Anjin-san is. There are no subtitles. There is no translation of what the Japanese are saying to him. There is Vasco, the Jesuits, and a fine Japanese lady who speak English (and thus often act as translator), but that’s it. You’ll likely learn a word or two of Japanese by watching this. The immersion technique is effective. But it would be too much for today’s adult-children with short attention spans.

One bone I have to pick is with Clavall’s continued exposition of his obviously college-indoctrinated views on sexuality. There’s one scene where the married Japanese lady that Anjin-san has the hots for comes into the small sauna room where Anji-san is taking a bath. She disrobes (but this is TV…but even then, a little racy even for that) and spouts a bunch of gibberish about how it’s no big deal. Only you Westerners are so hung up on nudity and sex. We Japanese, because of over-crowding and our more relaxed views, can all bathe together as natural and easy as birds in a birdbath.

Fine. Some of that might even be true. But in huge contrast to this “easy” and “relaxed” view on sex is that the penalty for adultery is death. And one gets the idea this is not just a technical option for the husband but actually happens frequently.

So, anyway, it felt more like Clavall’s college views being espoused than actual Japanese beliefs. In essence, those who think we in the West are all hung up on sex are all hung up on their own stilted ideas. We Westerners are so hung up on sex that the penalty for adultery today is basically not only non-existent but the woman tends to be rewarded in any divorce settlements. I guess that’s progress. But why this continued churlish and rather juvenile college-based views of sex? Because he was indoctrinate in this junk and just can’t leave it alone. He’s hung up.

The overall impression of the Japanese at his time is of well-ordered and well-dressed barbarians. These are a primitive and violent people of a backward feudal system. Still, it must be said that they infuse their most uncivilized culture with intricate bits of quite civilized art, tradition, and ritual. But it all seems a tripwire culture: All smiles and manners on the outside but with rules that can come down on your head at any time for the smallest things or perceived offenses. It reminds me of that Star Trek: Next Generation episode where Wesley Crusher is sentenced to death on an alien planet for stepping on a patch of lawn while retrieving a ball that the kids were playing with. Rules are rules. Not knowing them is no excuse.

Thus the Japanese culture at the time seems arbitrary and bereft of what we Westerners would consider rationality or objective ethics. That all this and more comes through is a testament to what I can assume is a desire to be authentic. Whereas I could never get it out of my head in “Noble House” that it was simply Remington Steele in Hong Kong, this series gives you a sense of time and place.

Yôko Shimada as Lady Toda Buntaro is wonderful as the woman we first come into contact with as a translator between Toranaga and Anjin-san. Later she is tasked by Toranaga with teaching Anjin-san to speak fluent Japanese. There’s a love triangle (she is already married) there that you know is going to explode at some point.

There series (so far) does a nice job of blending action with sitting around in a room talking. And even when they are sitting around in a room talking, it’s usually a quite dramatic situation or one in which you learn some of the minute details of Japanese culture.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 12:03
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One bone I have to pick is with Clavell’s continued exposition of his obviously college-indoctrinated views on sexuality.

Clearly, great minds think alike. I am presently reading Clavell's "Gaijin" which is number 3 in his Asian series and takes place in Japan in 1862, just 5 years after Commodore Perry and his "Black Ships" opened Japan. And your points about Clavell's sophomoric preoccupation with sex and his admiration for the "Japanese" view verses the Western view are spot on. I had already decided to write about that in any review of "Gaijin" which I might write. Of the several faults of the book, Clavell's nonsensical spouting regarding this point is the worst. He and other libertarians preach immorality pretending there are few costs.

Clavell was typical of that silly Westerner who is all praise for certain Asian values as being superior to those of the West. Clavell was apparently a fairly radical libertarian or worse (I suspect a libertine) as he was a big fan of Ayn Rand. Such people are so blind or dishonest that they are simply unable to make clear comparisons between moral and cultural systems. For example, not only was adultery punishable by death in Tokugawa Japan, but it was common for Japanese to sell their daughters into prostitution. How else do you think there were so many whores? I recall hearing about the fact that even in the twentieth century, Japanese were selling their daughters to whore houses in North Borneo and Sawarak for the antimony miners there. Life gets lonely mining for ore in the jungle, don't you know. And never forget the "Comfort Women" of WWII.

As someone who understands a fair amount of several Asian cultures, I find some thing about them very interesting and wonderful. I also find several things about them horrible. If anyone wishes to hear what Asian women think about their culture's view and treatment of women, I suggest one go to Asia for a few years and then ask. One might get an honest answer by that time. To give you an example, please note that the replacement birthrate in Singapore in 1.2 and I believe Japan is similar. These rates have dropped off precipitously over the last couple of decades or so. I believe much faster than in the West.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 12:17
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Shogun is a much better book than Noble House. I also recall that Taipan was better as well.

I believe I might have mentioned it before, but Shogun is based on a book titled "The Needle Watcher" about the real-life character Will Adams (as I recall) who was an English pilot who stayed in Japan and became a Samurai of hatamoto class. Tokugawa Ieyasu upon whom Toranaga is based, was the Shogun whom Adams served. He was given a small fief south of Edo by the Shogun. I believe once Ieyasu died, his son was not as close to Adams, but Adams stayed in Japan until his death.

Timothy-
Lane
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Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 12:48
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I don't see how Shogun could be set in the 16th Century. The Tokugawa shogunate began in 1603, a few years after their invasion of Korea failed. Also, at that time Spain ruled Portugal, making the latter an enemy of England. In fact, England's traditional enemy was France (they still officially listed King of France as one of their royal titles), not Spain, until sometime during the reign of Elizabeth. Spain also was very slow to develop Pacific colonies.

The comfort women of the Japanese Army were mostly foreigners, especially Koreans. Of course, the Japanese have a long tradition of geishas.

Brad-
Nelson
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Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 13:10
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Thanks for the info on all the, Mr. Kung. I was somewhat shooting in the dark regarding what actually goes on (or went on) in Asian cultures. But after that same shtick in “Noble House,” it was clear that Clavell was simply going off on an ideological bender regarding Asian views on sex.

Like you (and definitely said from much further afar), there are things I like about Japanese (or Asian, in general) culture and things I don’t like. And although it’s clear I have a disagreement with their non-rational tradition-based and face-saving approach to society rather than our Western objective principle-based and anything-goes-ism, it occurs to me (another great thing about this series….it makes you think) that today’s Western cultures have thoroughly failed at maintaining an objective-reality, objective-ethics-based culture. As for “anything goes,” those areas are fast shrinking.

We’ve failed and are failing worse every day. In effect, we can’t handle our freedoms (or can’t be bothered to) and are devolving to a Feudal-based society of the ideological peasants on the bottom while the Shamurai Rachel Maddows at the top cry on air because Trump won’t be indicted.

Or talk about global warming, supposed gender fluidity, and a hundred other irrational topics. It’s hard for me to stay on a high horse and criticize 16th or 17th century Japanese culture as being too saving-faced-based and non-rational (remember…I did not call them irrational) when the West is clearly vaulting toward a common hysterical irrationality. The could aspire to be as ordered and decent as the Japanese.

I’m about a 1/3 of the way into the third of four parts (as presented on YouTube….I believe this was originally presented in five parts on TV) and it still remains good. There was a particularly interesting segment where Lady Toda Buntaro’s husband comes to visit her. She is staying in the Anjin-san household and continues to be his official tutor so the husband come there to her. We get a lot of good back-story on her.

Anyway, we have a bit of confrontation between the two alpha males but they kinda-sorta smooth things out (or at least it doesn’t come to blows). Later, Anjin-san hears through the paper-thin walls (which makes sense…they are indeed paper) Lady Toda Buntaro getting the hell beaten out of her and likely being raped as well (although one would suppose it’s more of what Whoopi Goldberg would call “not rape rape” because she is, after all, his wife to do with as he pleases).

That’s a pretty good sequence right there for about 15 minutes of the entire interaction of the husband coming to visit. Anjin-san finally can stand her screams no longer and goes in to confront Lord Buntaro but he has already gone. Later that evening (or the next early morning) Anjin-san goes out, pistol in hand, to confront Lord Buntaro. He finds him with about six of his samurai. Anjin-san shouts a bunch of stuff at him in Japanese and in English. With pistol in hand, you don’t need a translator to understand what he’s about.

So…you expect — here it comes. Someone is going to die. But next moment we cut to Lord Buntaro on his knees in the dirt bowing low to Anjin-San. Lady Bontaro explains to Anjin-San that he was doing so because he had caused disgrace to come to the house of Anjin-san and thus had to regain face before he could move on.

It was an odd moment and totally unexpected. But it gave you a hint (assuming this is reasonably authentic) of what it was to be Japanese.

Oh….and while we’re fantasizing about the sexual utopia of Clavell’s Japan. What guy wouldn’t want to live in a culture where he could order his woman out of the room, tell her to stop speaking, and where she had to obey him because he was the master? I think part of the deal there was that the fellow was expected to be a good and honorable master. But, still. What a feminist sexual paradise old Japan was. (And I won’t even get into the part where Anjin-san has a 19-year-old nubile given to him as a plaything. Oh, that’s such an offensive thought. Yuck. Who would want that?)

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: "Noble House" Mini-Series Review
on: March 24, 2019, 13:34
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I don't see how Shogun could be set in the 16th Century. The Tokugawa shogunate began in 1603, a few years after their invasion of Korea failed

As I recall, the story starts in the 1590s. I recall much of the story revolves around how Toranaga maneuvered into power and then got rid of Hideyoshi's son. It took some years for Tokugawa to consolidate his complete power and only then did he impose the Shogunate.

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