[NOTEBOOK]Which view of Korea is right?Watching “The Last Samurai” was fun, but I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable for no particular reason.
The film stars Tom Cruise, who plays a washed-up Civil War veteran, Capt. Nathan Algren, who finds redemption in the samurai ways. Fascinated by the samurai spirit, Algren thinks very highly of the virtue of “serving,” which the word “samurai” means.
As he takes his last breath on the battlefield, Samurai Katsumoto, played by Ken Watanabe, says, “Perfect!” as he watches cherry blossoms scattered all around, as if he is enchanted. Katsumoto proves he is not just a warrior, but a lover of beauty as well.
In publicity interviews for the movie, Mr. Cruise said that the samurai is both an artist and a philosopher and extolled the virtues of the old samurai.
Against the backdrop of Japan in the 1870s, the samurais in old-fashioned armor were in stark contrast with the emperor’s army in new military uniforms.
It is said that the film’s director, Edward Zwick, first learned about Japanese culture after watching Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” at the age of 17.
In “The Last Samurai,” Mr. Zwick turned the ostensible losers, the doomed samurai, into noble figures. But as Koreans watch the movie, they cannot help recalling the Japanese invasion of the Joseon Dynasty in 1592 from the Samurai’s armor, and Japanese colonial rule from the new military uniform.
What, then, would Americans recall? Their reaction would be totally different from the Koreans’ reaction.
There are such terms as “bird’s-eye view” and “worm’s-eye view.” Those who are engaged in academic pursuit are advised to balance the use of both views.
The worm’s-eye view is microscopic and subjective. This view requires a strong self-consciousness and also needs independence and self-esteem.
On the other hand, the bird’s-eye view is macroscopic, giving the viewer the ability to see oneself objectively. It is a view to understand and position oneself exactly in relation to others.
Americans, who may have already a good feeling about Japan from the television drama “Shogun,” meaning “a general,” in the 1980s, now may develop an even more romantic vision of Japan from “The Last Samurai.”
Although we may think it unfair and inadequate, Americans will think they have a bird’s-eye view of Japan through the film. Regrettably, we don’t have any right to tell Americans what they should get from the movie.
At the request of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the National Brand Management Institute conducted a survey and released a report last month on “The Strategy for Enhancing the Value of the National Brand through Culture.” The report gives us a rough idea of how other nations view Korea.
The most noticeable image that Americans, Europeans and the Chinese have about Korea was the Korean War even today. Fortunately, however, Latin Americans, the Japanese and Southeast Asians said “host of the 2002 World Cup” was their first image of Korea.
How did people from other countries perceive our economic status?
Americans and the Taiwanese estimated Korea’s gross national product to be about a half of the actual gross national product. Embarrassingly, the Chinese viewed it as a tenth of what it actually is, and Southeast Asians, a seventeenth of the actual GNP. It seems that they also don’t share the same bird’s-eye view as we do.
Whether it is a bird’s-eye view or worm’s-eye view, if only one perspective is adopted, it is difficult for both individuals and countries to get along well.
If we try to catch a fish in the water by throwing a spear as we see it with our eyes, we are bound to fail every time.
This is because there is a variance called the refraction of light. Even a fish learns such truth by experience when it jumps out of the water and snatches insects from the branch of a tree.
We can perceive other people’s thoughts better and have a better perspective on other issues with the bird’s-eye view.
So why is Korea competing with Japan over the issues like the East Sea or the Tokto islet on the old map? We are doing so in order to train the bird’s-eye view of the international community to the benefit our country.
If we only give lip service to “independence” with our worm’s-eye view alone, we may risk being treated as a wretched self-promoting country.
Nevertheless, these days, there seems to be too many people in our society who look at the world through the eyes of a worm.
* The writer is culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun