The Spirit of Hagakure in John Wick: Exploring the Samurai Way of Life
John Wick: Chapter 4 is heavy and deep than much understanding. Although, there are several key figures in the movie such as Caine, a blind High Table assassin and an old friend of John Wick (starring by Donny Yen), Marquis Vincent de Gramont, a powerful member of the High Table, the Ceasar, (starring by Bill Skarsgård), Mr. Nobody / The Tracker, a bounty hunter (starring by Shamier Anderson), Shimazu Koji, the manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel and an old friend of John Wick (starring by Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter, Akira, also a concierge of the Osaka Continental (starring by Rina Sawayama), but it was Koji to carry the deeper meaning of the movie, the alternative title that had been decided to drop off by its creator, Hagakure(葉隠), or the hidden leaf.
"Hagakure," which translates to "hidden leaves" or "hidden by leaves," is a renowned samurai text authored by Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the early 18th century. The title's significance lies in the fact that the knowledge and teachings it contains are shrouded, much like leaves in a dense forest. One interpretation of the title suggests that the lessons and principles in the text are not easily accessible to all. Instead, they remain hidden or veiled, waiting to be discovered and understood by those who earnestly seek them. This title serves as a metaphor, signifying the need for diligent exploration and an open mind to uncover the profound wisdom within. Furthermore, "Hagakure" may also refer to the samurai's trait of blending in with their surroundings and maintaining a low profile. Despite their status and martial prowess, samurai were expected to remain humble and unassuming. Hence, the title could be interpreted as a reminder for samurai to embody these traits as they seek to comprehend and implement the teachings found in the text.
It appears that the alternative title "Hagakure" will not be gracing the opening credits of John Wick 4, and there are several reasons why. The creators of the movie were deeply invested in the title "Parabellum," which had multiple meanings that resonated with them, including "Go to war, John," and had roots in the ammunition and gun detail world. Additionally, the creators were concerned about how an alternate title like "Hagakure" would be perceived in the market and whether it would give the movie too much of a samurai vibe or not enough, which could potentially create confusion or mislead the audience. The decision to exclude "Hagakure" as an alternate title was a result of the creators' creative and marketing considerations, and they ultimately chose an approach that they believed was more suitable for the movie's branding and messaging.
Hagakure is a remarkable testament to Yamamoto's views on bushido, the noble code of the samurai. It is often said to assert that bushido is the "Way of Dying" or living as though one was already dead. According to this philosophy, a samurai must be ready to die at any moment to remain true to their lord or lady. This philosophy is epitomized by the phrase "the way of the warrior is death," which highlights the willingness to make sacrifices that bushido upheld. However, the collected Scrolls of Natori-Ryū, an older samurai school that dates back to the service of the school to the renowned warlord Takeda Shingen of Kōshū, presents a different perspective. After the Sengoku period, which culminated in 1615 with the Tokugawa assuming power, Natori Masazumi began his service under the Kishū-Tokugawa clan and became Natori-Ryū's most influential grandmaster.
During the tranquil Edo period under Tokugawa's reign, the martial and strategic abilities of the samurai waned as a result of the absence of wars to refine their skills. In response to this, Masazumi undertook the task of collecting a vast array of samurai arts and consolidated them into scrolls, expanding his family traditions and creating one of the most comprehensive warfare schools of his time, Natori-Ryū. The school's foundation grew from its initial tactical and medicinal traditions and merged with the teachings from one branch of Kusunoki-Ryū, which Masazumi had studied, incorporating the arts of the shinobi through the line of Kusunoki Fuden. He also studied Kōshū-Ryū on the sacred Mount Kōya and integrated those teachings into his still-evolving school. Moreover, he embarked on the momentous project of compiling a samurai encyclopedia, cataloging an extensive range of Japanese equipment, arms, and armor, including the weaponry of China and the essential aspects and utensils of samurai life. Masazumi's objective was to gather and preserve the genuine skills of the warrior class before its members devolved from men of valor into bureaucrats.
In book one, in the chapter of Zō's fundamental teachings, under the subject of 隠徳専用え事 (Intoku senyō no koto) or "Always retain hidden virtue," it is stated that the essential concept of intoku (隠徳), or "hidden virtue," is often not comprehended by the ordinary people. The "hidden virtue" bears no fruit if it is carried by people who do not exhibit it publicly. As a result, most people regard it as worthless and do not engage with it, a mindset that should be avoided. It should be deemed absolutely inappropriate to value what is visible and to disparage what is concealed. Military tactics should be assessed as good or bad according to their capacity to restore order. A person without hidden virtue is known as a hyōri-mono - a double-faced individual - and is reviled in the military.
One manifestation of "hidden virtue" could refer to the written oaths that are considered sacred writings utilized to swear an oath to the gods and make them your guarantor. By enlisting the gods as witnesses, one promises not to breach their word on a payment or agreement made, thereby instilling confidence and fostering a trustworthy bond. Such written oaths are founded on the assumption that there is no intention to break the pledge or commit a wrongful act. If one violates the pledge or is culpable of a wrongdoing after taking the oath, they are deemed the most untrustworthy and deceitful of people and are not deserving of respect. This is the last thing a samurai should ever contemplate. However, there exists a teaching for breaking a written oath using kokoro no kurai - the gradation of minds - but this technique is reserved only for the most experienced practitioners.
Another interpretation of a hidden message can be discovered in the following Haiku:
Haru no kaze
Samurai no kokoro
The phrase "Haru no kaze" depicts the season of cherry blossoms and new beginnings. "Samurai no kokoro" suggests the link between the samurai's spirit and the symbolism of sakura. "Sakura mau" evokes the image of cherry blossoms falling gracefully, conveying the magnificence and impermanence of life. Although the Haiku does not rigidly adhere to the original meaning and may interpret differently, it captures a similar ambiance by highlighting the interplay between the samurai's spirit and the fleeting beauty of sakura.
The "Hagakure," or "hidden leaves," can be perceived as the underlying wisdom and essence of the samurai that is not immediately apparent, much like the teachings of the text. The haiku underscores the interplay between the samurai's spirit and the fleeting beauty of sakura.
In this context, the "hidden leaves" could symbolize the profound understanding of life's transience and the samurai's responsibility to lead a life of purpose, embracing the ephemeral nature of their existence. The falling sakura exemplifies this impermanence, and the samurai's heart (侍の心, Samurai no kokoro) acknowledges and embodies this wisdom.
The haiku thus embodies the spirit of the "Hagakure," underscoring the significance of appreciating the fleeting beauty of life and the values of honor, duty, and purpose that typify the samurai way of life.
In conclusion, the samurai culture is steeped in tradition, wisdom, and honor. The "Hagakure" text serves as a timeless source of inspiration and guidance for those who seek to embody the samurai way of life. Through the haiku's evocation of the interplay between the samurai's spirit and the ephemeral beauty of sakura, we can appreciate the importance of embracing the impermanence of life and living with purpose, honor, and duty.
John Wick: Chapter 4 may not have the alternate title "Hagakure," but the movie's themes and characters capture the essence of the samurai's way of life. With its portrayal of the loyalty, sacrifice, and martial prowess of its characters, the film serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of the samurai culture.
In today's rapidly changing world, the samurai's teachings and values offer a profound and timeless perspective on life and the human experience. By embracing the spirit of the "Hagakure" and the samurai way of life, we can strive to live with honor, purpose, and a deep appreciation for the beauty and transience of life.
And thus, the true meaning of Hagakure, the hidden leaf, lies in the profound wisdom and spirit of the samurai culture - offering a timeless perspective on life's impermanence, the significance of honor, duty, and purpose, and the enduring values that define the samurai way of life.
John Wick (2014) tells the story of a retired hitman who seeks vengeance after a group of Russian gangsters, led by Iosef Tarasov, steal his car and kill his dog - a final gift from his deceased wife. John's journey to avenge his dog leads to a bloody showdown against Iosef and his father, Viggo Tarasov, a powerful mob boss and John's former employer. After eliminating numerous henchmen and killing both Iosef and Viggo, John seeks solace by rescuing a pit bull from a shelter, providing him with a new companion and the chance to start his healing process.
In John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), the titular character is once again forced out of retirement when an old acquaintance, Santino D'Antonio, calls in a blood oath John owes him. Reluctantly, John travels to Rome to carry out a hit on Santino's sister, Gianna, in order to repay the debt. However, double-crossed and with a massive bounty on his head, John must fight through a gauntlet of international assassins to return to New York. In an ultimate showdown at The Continental, a hotel for criminals, John kills Santino, breaking the sanctuary's rules. As a result, he is declared "excommunicado" and loses his access to the assassins' network. With a higher bounty on his head, John prepares to confront an onslaught of enemies in his quest for survival.
In John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019), the titular hero finds himself with a $14 million bounty on his head due to his actions in the previous installment. Desperate for survival and help, John calls in favors from allies like Sofia, a fellow assassin and dog lover, and Berrada, a powerful figure in the criminal underworld. As a relentless wave of assassins hunts him down, John seeks to gain leverage and confront the High Table, the shadowy organization that governs the world's criminal dealings. Eventually, an Adjudicator from the High Table forces a deadly confrontation between John and his one-time ally, Winston, leading to a climactic battle at The Continental. Betrayed by Winston during the fight, John is taken in by the Bowery King, who suggests they band together against the High Table in the upcoming war, setting the stage for John's continuing crusade for survival and redemption.
In John Wick: Chapter 4 – Hagakure (ใบไม้ซ่อนเงา – Hidden Leaf)
Code of Honor: Both John Wick and samurai adhere to a strict code of honor that defines their behavior and interactions with others. In the John Wick series, assassins and criminals operate within a hidden society that upholds its own set of rules and guidelines. One significant example is The Continental hotel, a sanctuary for criminals where conducting business or harming other guests is strictly prohibited. By abiding by these rules, John Wick and his fellow assassins maintain a sense of order and respect within their dangerous line of work. This adherence to a code of honor, even among criminals, illustrates a greater commitment to maintaining the balance, order, and integrity of their society.
On the other hand, samurai in feudal Japan followed a code called Bushido, which comprises seven core principles: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Politeness, Sincerity, Loyalty, and Honor. These principles dictated the conduct and behavior expected from a samurai, shaping their actions from the battlefield to daily life. As respected and skilled warriors, samurai were duty-bound to uphold these values, instilling a sense of honor and purpose in all their undertakings. The Bushido code ultimately governed how samurai interacted with one another, their lords, and the people they served.
Though the codes of honor in the John Wick series and samurai culture have different specific rules, they share a common foundation in promoting order and a sense of moral responsibility within their respective worlds. By abiding by these codes, both Wick and samurai demonstrate a commitment to a higher purpose, even in the face of danger and hardship. Such adherence to a code of honor serves to distinguish them from others in their communities, reinforcing the ideals of loyalty, duty, and honor in all their actions.
Loyalty and Duty: Loyalty and duty are crucial themes that connect the world of John Wick and the samurai, and both parties demonstrate unwavering commitment to their obligations.
In the first John Wick film, the titular character is shown to have been deeply loyal and obedient to his former mob boss, Viggo Tarasov, before his retirement. John's fulfillment of an "impossible task" allowed him to leave the world of crime and seek a peaceful life with his wife, Helen. However, after Helen's death, John is unwillingly pulled back into the violent life he left behind due to his past connections and the obligations they carry. Despite his desire for a normal life, John Wick finds himself entangled in a web of duty and commitment, showcasing the complexity of his loyalty to the old connections and their implications.
Similarly, samurai were expected to exhibit absolute loyalty and dedication to their lords or daimyos. This loyalty, known as giri, is a core component of the Bushido code and required samurai to put their lords' interests above their own, even if it meant sacrificing their lives in battle. Throughout history, many samurai were remembered for their unwavering loyalty and acts of bravery in service to their lords. As loyal servants, samurai put their skills and their lives at the disposal of their daimyos, pledging to fight and even die for their causes.
Though the circumstances and contexts of John Wick's world and that of the samurai differ significantly, the themes of loyalty and duty resonate across both worlds. Both Wick and samurai demonstrate a deep-rooted sense of responsibility and commitment to the people and causes they serve. This shared sense of loyalty and duty binds them not only to their masters or organizations but also perpetuates a personal sense of honor and integrity that characterizes their actions and decisions.
Mastery of Combat: John Wick and samurai are both renowned for their exceptional combat skills and expertise with various weapons, making them formidable opponents both on and off the battlefield. The similarities in their mastery of weaponry and fighting techniques showcase their determination, discipline, and dedication to their crafts.
In the John Wick series, the protagonist is a legendary hitman well-known for his lethal fighting style called "gun-fu (gun kata)," which combines elements of martial arts, close-quarters combat, and expert marksmanship with firearms. Wick's extensive training and remarkable agility allow him to dispatch multiple adversaries with remarkable efficiency and precision. His proficiency across a wide range of weapons and the adaptability of his fighting style in different situations make him a fearsome force to be reckoned with, earning him the nickname "Baba Yaga" in the criminal underworld.
Samurai, as the revered warrior class of feudal Japan, were also highly skilled in various forms of combat and weaponry. Their training emphasized strong discipline, and they were expected to master the art of the sword (kenjutsu), the bow and arrow (kyujutsu), and the spear or polearm (sojutsu), alongside unarmed martial arts like jujutsu. The samurai's iconic weapon, the katana, symbolized their commitment to honor, duty, and precision. Like John Wick, samurai stood out for their ability to engage multiple opponents at once and quickly adapt to changing circumstances in battle.
Despite the differences in the specific weapons and techniques used, both John Wick and samurai are characterized by their unwavering dedication to perfecting their combat skills, which ultimately sets them apart from their opponents. This shared mastery of combat not only demonstrates a high degree of discipline and focus but also serves as a reflection of their determination and resourcefulness when faced with challenges. Through their exceptional combat abilities, both John Wick and samurai embody the spirit of the warrior, fearless and unstoppable in achieving their objectives.
The stoic and disciplined demeanor exhibited by both John Wick and samurai highlight the similarities in their emotional resilience and inner strength, even in the face of adversity.
The character of John Wick, as portrayed by Keanu Reeves, often showcases a stoic disposition that reflects his determination, self-control, and emotional fortitude. Throughout the series, Wick suffers significant personal loss, enduring the death of his wife and the brutal killing of his dog. Despite the immense emotional pain he experiences, Wick manages to channel his grief and anger into a relentless pursuit for vengeance while adhering to the rules and codes of the criminal underworld. His ability to maintain focus and control amid chaos and violence demonstrates the depth of his character, setting him apart from other figures in the films.
Similarly, samurai were expected to exhibit composure and self-control in line with their adherence to the Bushido code. This level of stoicism allowed them to remain calm and composed even under the most challenging and life-threatening situations. By mastering their emotions, samurai were able to make clear and rational decisions in both the heat of battle and their daily lives. In addition, cultivating a stoic demeanor allowed samurai to display strength and resilience in the face of adversity, which, in turn, would command respect from their peers and the society around them.
The stoicism and emotional restraint demonstrated by both John Wick and samurai represent a shared set of values, emphasizing the importance of resilience, focus, and self-discipline, even when faced with immense hardships. By maintaining their composure, both characters can overcome obstacles and confront challenges head-on, reflecting not only their incredible inner strength but also their unwavering dedication to the principles that define their identities. This ability to remain unrelenting and determined in the face of adversity connects the worlds of John Wick and samurai, paying tribute to the underlying strength and resilience embodied in both.