Hasekura Tsunenaga: the samurai who became a Roman citizen

Open Culture delved into the history of Hasekura Tsunenaga, a 17th century samurai who had an incredible life of travelling which included meeting Pope Paul V:

Sent on a mission to Europe and America by his feudal lord, Date Masumune, Hasekura “set off on a quest to earn riches and spiritual guidance,” Andrew Milne writes at All that’s Interesting. “He circumnavigated the globe, became part of the first Japanese group in Cuba, met the Pope, helped begin a branch of Japanese settlers in Spain (still thriving today), and even became a Roman citizen.”

Hasekura was a battle-tested samurai who had acted on the daimyo‘s behalf on many occasions. His mission to the West, however, was first and foremost a chance to redeem his honor and save his life. In 1612, Hasekura’s father was made to commit seppuku after an indictment for corruption. Stripped of lands and title, Hasekura could only avoid the same fate by going West, and so he did, just a few years before the period of sakoku, or national isolation, began in Japan. Traveling with Spanish missionary Luis Sotelo, Hasekura embarked from the small Japanese port of Tsukinoura in 1613 and first reached Cape Mendocino in California, then part of New Spain.

He went on to convert to Catholicism and became Philip Francis Faxecura.

Samurai related: A samurai made out of a single piece of paper, Indo apples, samurai, and Japanese farmers, Yasuke, the African samurai, and Samurai Pizza Cats.

Open Culture's list of 60 free film noir movies

The Basketball Fix (1951) Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

Film noir is something I’ve really wanted to get into but I didn’t know where to start. The term describes Hollywood crime and mystery involving detectives with issues solving crimes shrouded in cynicism and darkness. While it’s known more as an American film style, film noir is often associated with black and white visuals inspired by German expressionism.

Open Culture’s list of film noir movies contain classics such as D.O.A., The Big Combo, and Detour with some of the titles also available on Amazon (but I’m sure you could find alternative vendors if you know where to look). 60 films is still a lot to go on but given some of the featured actors (Angela Lansbury of Murder, She Wrote, Frank Sinatra, Lloyd Bridges, Humphrey Bogart, and Barbara Stanwyck), that’s narrowed down my starting choices.

In the movie above, titled The Basketball Fix, a college basketball star gets himself involved with organised crime and starts point shaving to avoid fatal consequences. A sportswriter tries to save him from further trouble.

Read the full list on Open Culture.

Did the Ancient Greeks not have a word for 'blue'? Or is it a myth?

Blue is a cool colour (badum-tish!). But apparently, the Ancient Greeks didn’t know about it—at least, they didn’t have a name for it, so claims AsapSCIENCE in its video entitled Why The Ancient Greeks Couldn’t See Blue. I found it via Open Culture who also blogged about it in June under the title Why Most Ancient Civilizations Had No Word for the Color Blue and thought “wow, interesting!” But it appears it might not be strictly true.

The first red flag was this line:

“[…] blue doesn’t appear much in nature,”

Have you looked up lately? Or seen any of the blue flowers available on the planet? Then the comments took hold and critiqued the video a bit more. This from “Tom Neff”:

The Greeks had several words for blue: Kyaneos was dark blue and glaukos was light blue.

This article appears to have been substantially copied from a 2015 Australian Business Insider article.

Uh oh. A quick Wiktionary search throws up etymologies for the words “kyaneos” and “glaukos“:

kyaneos (κυάνεος), from κῠ́ᾰνος (kúanos, “dark-blue enamel”) +‎ -εος (-eos). According to Beekes, probably from Hittite (kuwannan-, “precious stone, copper, blue”), likely from Proto-Indo-European *ḱwey– (“to shine, white, light”) (compare *ḱweytós (“white”)).

glaukós (γλαυκός, “blue-green, blue-grey”). Uncertain origin. Barber reconstructs Proto-Indo-European *gleh₂w-ko-, noting that the root only appears in Greek (Homer, Aeschylus), but Beekes finds an Indo-European origin unlikely.

The more you read, the more you see that blue had lots of names and was very prestigious in ancient civilizations. I’d have expected Open Culture to do a bit more fact-checking and the video shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

Really hoping I’ve not been a hypocrite and spewed nonsense here so please correct me if any of this or the referenced links are wrong because I like to learn!

The oldest Santa Claus movie in the world from 1898

santa claus

Santa Claus is a regularly filmed man. But did you know his first silver screen appearance was nearly 120 years ago?

Santa Claus was directed by British filmmaker and psychic George Albert Smith, and his 66-second production showcases Santa’s present delivering prowess. The film starts with two young girls taken to bed by their maid before Saint Nick arrives on the roof with his big sack of presents. He enters the home, leaves stockings on the end of the girls’ bed and exits stage left.

Simple by today’s standards but quite elaborate for the late 19th century, described as “one of the most visually and conceptually sophisticated British films made up to then”.

Stream it below and Merry Christmas from everyone at Cultrface!

Santa Claus (1898) - G.A. Smith | BFI National Archive

(via Open Culture)

The Philosophy of Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop - The Meaning of Nothing | The Cinema Cartography

It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just never got round to it. I know it’s a classic and it’s still on my to watch list. But Open Culture has given me a new incentive.

Video essayist Lewis Bond looked at the philosophical musings of Cowboy Bebop in “The Meaning of Nothing”. Bond immediately opens the video dismissing the notion of a “hierarchy of art”. He promotes television for its helpful methods of storytelling “unattainable in film”. He then delves into the meaning behind the stories and why the protagonists distance themselves from the rest of the world.

Cowboy Bebop ended after only 26 episodes, but a live-action reboot is in the pipeline. With any luck, the futuristic existentialism will carry over but I doubt it. Remakes of Japanese works lose a lot in translation thanks to Western butchering.

While I make up for lost time, you can buy the complete Cowboy Bebop series on Blu-ray. That’s the best way to watch it.

(via Open Culture)

10 Classic German Expressionist Films

NOSFERATU - German Expressionist classic

Open Culture has selected 10 iconic films to watch for free, from Nosferatu to the prophetic classic Metropolis.

German Expressionism ended in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. They weren’t interested in asking uncomfortable questions and viewed such dark tales of cinematic angst as unpatriotic. Instead, they preferred bright, cheerful tales of Aryan youths climbing mountains. By that time, the movement’s most talented directors — Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau — had fled to America. And it was in America where German Expressionism found its biggest impact. Its stark lighting, grotesque shadows and bleak worldview would go on on to profoundly influence film noir in the late 1940s after another horrific, disillusioning war.

10 Classic German Expressionist Films: From Nosferatu to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari via Open Culture