Have you heard of the village?
If you are familiar with my thoughts here, you’ll quickly realize, upon learning of the village, that it is quite suitably my imaginary idyllic beacon. I was reminded of the village today while I watched Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams.” The movie is a vast, surreal, vivid display of private cinematographic wondrousness based on several of the famous Japanese director’s dreams. Eight, to be exact, and the final dream represented in the movie is entitled “Village of the Water Mills.” As with many of the short dreams portrayed in the movie, the story involves a lone traveler who discovers a desolate and uncanny location populated by mysteriously fleeting characters who appear trapped between two worlds, a tenuous border zone separating states of existence.
In this case, the traveler wanders into the village and finds an elderly man who happens to be doing maintenance work on a…water mill, of all things.
The traveler is dressed in a a relatively modern ensemble of jeans and button-up shirt while the village dweller is an archaic representation of distant Japanese past.
The border zone these two presently occupy is explained by the elderly man in this clip:
The old man’s even-handed responses and explanations of the village’s pre-modern style of life make me smile.
Perhaps this one sentence, in response to the visitor’s querying him about the village’s lack electricity and reliance on candles to illumine the oppressive rural darkness, sums up the dialog best: “Why should night be as bright as day?”
But the most striking thing to me about the village is not its lack of electricity or lights or machinery or lack of common modern amenities. It is the lack of a formal, geographical name. This town is not only timeless…it is bodiless.
It left me second-guessing man’s reflexive habit of bestowing names in order to distinguish people and places. To consider a village that has no name is baffling to my sense of order and proper reality. How must a civilization without names manage to exist, how would it diverge in ritual from my accepted cultural manner of attaching labels to my world.
For is this not the purpose of names?
Names tie us, they bind us. They consolidate our differing streams of existence. Names solidify and mark the land that is not marked. Names place artificial differentiation on places which nature didn’t. We draw city limits, we draw invisible and imaginary limits to this coldly and neutrally natural world of ours. Names bring the element of the unrecognizable and inexplicable into focus and provide us with a common understanding of our physical environment.
Kurosawa’s Watermill Village is a repudiation of mankind’s egotistical yet helpless attempts at harnessing his wild environment.
The Zen-like Watermill Village offers an an exquisitely right-brained method of interacting with our world. In this village, direct binary relationships are not inherent to the language’s mentality or structure. All concepts skirt such simplistic correlations. Rather, we relate with our environment through an internalized and slightly spontaneous but descriptive fashion. Names are not labels; names are movement, they are emotion, they are untold. We don’t recognize or demarcate with meaningless words. Names are denoted by traits, behaviors, description, underlying sensation. We share an awareness of the place, and when we think of it, we know it, and descriptions of it are exuded in the context of its role or placement within the environment. Issuing a humanly contrived name reeks of hollow superiority and godliness. In Watermill Village, the land, the landscape, is immutable and thus not in need of an impermanent name (essentially, all names are impermanent for those that name are impermanent themselves).
Watermill Village then is reflective of more than just trite pastoral symbolism.
It treads upon the ambiguous nature of an unworldly transient mentality, perhaps comparable to that of the American Indian.