Kurosawa is giving instructions not only to his film crew (about shooting matters), but also to the world leaders (how to stop to rely on violence and how to sublimate it into a tough negotiations skills).

General Tadokoro (on the right) is played by Susumu Fujita whom we remember not only in “No Regrets for Our Youth” [1946], but also in “They Who Step on the Tiger’s Tail” [1945] where, as in “Hidden Fortress”, he plays the character sensitive and responsive to the call for changing habitual ways of behavior. Fujita’s personages in “…Tiger’s Tail” and “…Fortress” are as if the conventional people but their readiness to change under the influence of those spiritually more advanced makes them no less extraordinary and admirable. A guru without a disciple is doomed . Teacher and disciple form the eternal couple of wisdom.

General Tadokoro had challenged general Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune) to a duel. As soon as he cannot avoid the fight, Rokurota (on the right) provokes his opponent to go about the attack. While provocatively exaggerating his own belligerancy Mifune simultaneously cannot resist to make a slight parody of it.

Both opponents seem to be equally involved in the battle with each other, but only one of them is seeking victory and glory connected with it (general Tadokoro on the right). Rokurota is occupied not with winning, but with – how to handle his opponent’s belligerent fervor and yearning for victory, how to frustrate his very orientation on fighting to win and be recognized and admired as a winner.

Rokurota strategically plays defense. He will gradually retreat behind the partitioning wall (to show that he is containing his opponent’s fighting determination and to laugh a bit at Tadokoro’s narcissistic dream (to make his enemies run from him), only to return step by step back, advancing – to prove to his opponent that victory, strength and military prowess are not the most important thing in the world. While Tadokoro is fighting to kill, Rokurota never even considered to kill him. He just wants to out-skill, out-maneuvre and out-play him and through this explain to him something very, ultimately, important.

The Psychology of Conflict Negotiations: How to Use Military Force/Fighting Skills as a Backdrop for Overcoming Our Addiction to Military Solutions

The lance duel of the two generals in “Hidden Fortress” can be considered as a psychological manual for persuading the opposite side to overcome its fixation on military solution to human conflicts and problems (FMSHCP). To be capable of using the idea of force (IF) instead of real force (RF) as a way to stop or prevent clash, the person has to be free from FMSHCP himself. Only then the individual, group or country will be able to make anti-military acting-out pedagogy (AMAOP) with the other side, as General Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune) does with General Tadokoro (Susumu Fujita).

With the development of military technology the handling of international conflicts steadily degrades into competition between two versions of inhumanity – the winner achieves a bigger inhumanity and demonstrates more massive and profound brutality in comparison with the looser. Today the military technology becomes apocalyptic and even post-apocalyptic in its might. Kurosawa has a different idea about how to handle militancy – it is not the greater belligerency that defeats the lesser one (the bigger muscle bends the smaller), but rather a more masterful military strategy: sublimated into a more developed tough negotiation skills (TNS), prevails over a more crude strategy and weaker negotiation skills.

Kurosawa shows the duel not as a clash of foreheads, chests and elbows, but as a semantic process. We see this duel as an enhanced communication between the opponents’ intentions, expectations and calculations. This is contrary to the humorously cynical sentiment of calling military violence “sending a message” to the enemy (here the infliction of casualties and suffering is considered not a concrete doing, but language in action [la parole]. In the episode of the duel, on the other hand, we see fighting that only looks like fight. In reality it is a communication of desires – the clash of skills as if liberated from clash between the carriers of skills. Of course, only one of the two generals (Mifune) uses fight as a vehicle for communion. The other (Fujita) fights with all the naiveté of a fighter (although military/fighting action is never without its theatrics). The purely symbolic nature of the fight for one of the two opponents changes the dynamic of the whole fight.

The duelists’ fight is a comparison of two minds and souls, a mental tournament. They are like two gurus clashing with their auras. The reasonability of general Rokurota’s strategic and tactical calculations at an uncertain moment of the duel becomes discernable – his fighting virtuosity includes an existential perspective that adds to his fighting intention a pedagogical task in relation to his opponent. Again, like in the case of interpreting fight/war as sending a message, there is a Hollywood cartoon version of “pedagogy” in relation to the enemy (expressed in idea of giving the enemy a good lesson”). But when the pedagogical intention in relation to the other side of the conflict is serious and spiritually determined, a lot of knowledge about the unconscious of the opponent becomes available. You become stronger if you are able to understand better the psychology and the existential situation of your opponent. By the very execution of this fight Mifune/Rokurota is able to demonstrate/explain to his rival something that is very important for Tadokora’s spiritual development. Mifune lets him to realize his attack and to gain confidence in his power and victory. Then step by step he presses him back, and finally disarms him to emphasize that the very intention to resolve conflict by force is blind and doomed.

The physical action during the duel is symbolic. It is a clash between two philosophies – one side relies on fighting skills to advance its interests and ambitions, while the other uses fighting as a conflict negotiation. The ability to sublimate the fighting skills into the power of logical argumentation (while confronting the other side’s psychological immaturity) is the ultimate challenge of our times. We must break away from this dangerous alliance between our psychological infantilism and over-powerful military technology. The knowledge of the psychology of being fixated on military solution and the ability to overcome this fixation and to help others to overcome it, is a way to meet this challenge.

To be able to handle human aggression positively – not through a real fight, but a fight that is sublimated (into negotiations) and symbolic (by using argumentation) we have to overcome the scapegoating superstition. There should be no direct identification of the aggressive impulses with the personality of the aggressor. The origins of the evil are deeper than concrete human beings or the level of consciousness in general.

FMSHCP – fixation on military solution to human conflicts and problems
IF – idea of force
RF – real force
AMAOP anti-military acting-out pedagogy
TNS – tough negotiation skills

Posted on Mar 7 2015 –   “Hidden Fortress” (1958) by Akira Kurosawa – An Episode Of A Duel Between Two Generals  by Acting-Out Politics