James Last ft. Gheorghe Zamfir
The Lonely Shepherd (Instrumental/1978)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) is a classic film that I grew up with. It was one of those movies that, even with the censor cuts, received an 18+ entry requirement in theaters.
What was a teenager a year shy of the requirement to do? I waited for the elder sibling of one of my classmates to buy the bootleg VCD and then sell it to us for a liver-and-a-half’s worth. Shakesperean much?
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched this movie since and how I felt about it over the years. Initially, the movie felt perfect: the raw moments of the Bride crawling out of the coma ward, to the first knife fight with Cottonmouth, to the nail-biting showdown at the House of Blue Leaves.
In recent times, the movie feels like an overblown parody— a metacognitive meditation by Tarantino on his own love for samurai lore and spaghetti Westerns.
One scene that has evolved over the years in terms of my understanding and appreciation is where the sword-maker Hattori Hanzo (played by the late Sonny Chiba) hands over a sword to the Bride (played by Uma Thurman). Watch the 4-minute clip below. They fail to subtitle the most important quote from the Japanese. Allow me.
Hanzo: I can tell you with no ego, this is my finest sword. If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut.
The flutes on the Lonely Shepherd start building in the background. Hanzo examines the blade along its length and as he breathes, the katana starts humming. You can hear it with a good pair of headphones. He dampens the unsharpened side, the mune, on his sleeve as his disciple (played by Kenji Ohba) guides the kissaki (blade tip) into the scabbard.
The scabbard clicks audibly.
I’ve seen a few videos on Iaido where they say this is a bad art form, but in this scene, it can almost be allowed as Hanzo is expressing his frustration with his masterpiece—which he detests and admires with equal measure.
Hanzo sighs gently and hands over the sword to the Bride.
Hanzo: Yellow-haired warrior…Go.
And as the Bride thanks him, the flutes reach a crescendo and the scene fades to black, to reveal the title card for the Showdown at House of Blue Leaves.
My hair on the back of my neck is standing on ends as I type this.
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