What’s in a name? Quite a bit, I think, Romeo notwithstanding. Absent a name, one quickly resorts to labels, and in the case of these two films the effect is to etch them in releif against the backrop of the action. It’s a bit easier to see in the Kurosawa film. Asked his name directly, the samurai replies, “Kuwabatake Sanjuro,” which translates to “a 30-year-old mulberry field,” a name taken arbitrarily from the view he sees from the window. For an assassin whose loyalty is for hire in a town where two equally amoral sides are fighting to the death, the name is suitably absurd. Mulberry fields don’t take sides or perform good deeds. However, his actions betray him, and when at great risk to himself he helps the farmer and his wife, the old man as a stand in for the audience declares him “a good guy” and celebrates him accordingly. So is all that trouble really necessary just to show who is wearing the white hat? In this film, which one imagines must have been shocking at the time, it is. “The bad guys are not attacking the good guys,” Roger Ebert points out in his review, “because there are no good guys.”
In My Sassy Girl, the absurdity and chaos of the two warring sides is internalized in the girl, who struggles against her own demons threatening to destroy her in the fight between a past she cannot fully forget and a future she cannot fully embrace. What is her label? Sassy girl? Sad girl? Happy girl? Crazy girl? Pulled in both directions at once and warring within herself, she is all of these things and none of them, and as such she is as appropriately nameless as the samurai.
I have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to go to work, yet I’m staying up ridiculously late writing this like it’s a paper due tomorrow for a freshman composition class. Sigh. I guess we all have our struggles with the absurd.
P.S.- The title of the Korean film literally translates to “That Bizzare Girl.” I’m not sure if they were trying to avoid associations with Marlo Thomas or what, but they should have stuck with the literal translation; it fits much better than “My Sassy Girl” ever could.