In the commentary track for Kinji Fukasaku's film Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (a really outstanding piece of work that I will cover here shortly), there is some discussion of the covenant or pact that exists between rural Japanese villagers, something that has apparently not changed in centuries. Normally there are ten rules that exist between villagers, but if for whatever reason the village chooses to shun you as an outcast, you will only be protected by two of them: 1) you will be rescued if your house catches fire, and 2) you will be buried when you die. Unfortunately, I don't think the commentary mentioned what the other eight rules were, so I'm probably going to have to dig those up on my own and find out.
Some of this is obviously going back into Tensai Kenki, since one of the cycles of the story involves Asagiri, the fisherwoman with whom the hero becomes closely involved. I'm considering having him spend some time in her village and grow close to their way of life, at first as a survival measure and then later as a kind of — for some reason the word atonement came to mind. By being with them and by living as he does, Ryu performs a kind of emotional or spiritual ablution, a way of distancing himself from something he's done.
It's odd how my imagination can work. I didn't know what Ryu would be atoning for, specifically, but somehow it seemed right for the emotional arc of the character to include this. Something he has done demands a wholly different kind of behavior from him than anything else he's ever manifested before — a behavior which at first coalesces into an urge to just run (i.e, run and hide in the fishing village), but which later changes into something else.
I followed that line of thinking, and ended up with what seems to be the first major arc of the story: the drawing-together of the three main characters.
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In his fourteenth year, Ryu — son of a reasonably well-off samurai — attends a fencing school and injures one of his fencing partners badly enough that the other boy dies. Ryu is deeply disturbed by this — not just that he caused someone's death but because now that he he has actually killed (in an "age of peace", no less), he realizes just how exhilarating it truly is to have that much power over the life and death of another. He's still sorting through this morass of emotions when the dead boy's father shows up and begs Ryu's own father for the chance to duel with the young man — for real — as a way to clear his family's name. Ryu's father refuses, but Ryu himself insists on doing it — not because he wants to kill the other man, but because he has at least half a mind to let himself be killed.
The day of the duel arrives, and Ryu's father takes the opportunity to turn it into a bit of brutal theater — a way to show his own lieges the importance of passing the right values down to one's children, etc. The fight is a ghastly farce: Ryu's wounded (if only superficially), and his father goads him on to finish the job. Only when the boy is backed into a corner does his killer instinct assert itself and finish the job. Overcome with self-loathing, Ryu abandons his home, his title, and his privilege.
Not long after running away, Ryu finds himself in the company of Aki, a thief and con artist who also sells his services as a bodyguard. Ryu doesn't much like siding with him, but does so mostly as a way to protect his own hide, and in return does his best to appeal to whatever nascent morality might be within Aki, and from there goad him towards doing things that are marginally less despicable. It's not that Aki is a wholly bad person; he's just more easily motivated by greed and the promise of good times than most other things — but Ryu has a keener eye for observing Aki's behavior than either of them realize at first.
Their travels together take them to a seaside fishing village where there's allegedly a whole cache of samurai loot (swords, armor, etc.) stashed in one of the caves further up the coastline. To their amazement they find a girl, Asagiri, living there with the loot as an outcast — the other villagers treat her as a pariah, and while they don't prevent Aki and Ryu from going to her, they do sternly warn them that no good will come of it. The story Asagiri has for them: a gang of bandits originally owned the loot, bandits who attacked her original home village (much further away), but she collaborated with one of their kind to steal it away from them. He died in the process but she was able to hide here, and if the bandits show up again she'll be ready for them. Ryu finds himself responding to her advances, and after a feverish night together she's calling herself his wife, and he can scarcely see a reason to object.
Unfortunately, Asagiri's story is distorted, to put it mildly. When Aki prepares to leave both of them behind, she cheerfully tells him the whole thing, since she doesn't expect him to tell Ryu anyway. She sold out her home village to the bandits to get revenge on her father, the village magistrate, because he arranged a marriage for her to another village's magistrate (whom she despised). The bandits stormed the place, burned the village, took the women, and the bandit leader made Asagiri his chosen lady — but then one of the other village women (who had also been chosen as a concubine by the bandit leader) turned out to be at least as good at playing this game as Asagiri herself. Worst of all, one of her fellow villagers survived to take his revenge on the bandits, and she only survived by, again, collaborating with one of the more weak-willed bandits to steal some of their samurai treasure ... and then murdering him once they had got away clean, lest she be forced into becoming his husband.
Aki is aghast at what he hears, but doesn't let on. He decides to stick around at least long enough to take Ryu aside when a moment presents itself and clue the poor kid in. The opportunity never arises, however, as the bandit leader's former lieutenant — a man even more bloodthirsty than his former commander — shows up (minus an eye and a finger) with a whole new gang of goons made up of former samurai, now pirates. Ryu and Aki have to dive in and fight to first save their own necks, then Asagiri's, and then the nearby village.
[End of part one]
Other Lives Of The Mind