I have seen the movie on Go Seigen

October 17, 2006

Beware, you may find some spoilers ahead…


Last Sunday I went to see the movie on Go Seigen. In fact almost the whole go club of Rome was there.

It was the première at the Rome Film Festival, section Cinema 2006 (i.e. the official concourse), so the director, Tian Zhuang Zhuang, one of the most important contemporary Chinese directors, and the protagonist, Chen Chang (also in Kar Wai Wong’s 2046 and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), were there to say a few words of circumstance before the show.
Really few… all the director said was that go is such a difficult game that the movie doesn’t intend to explain it. Nothing more, not a single word on the movie itself. A little strange, if you ask me.

Being a go player, it is a bit difficult for me to give a non-biased evaluation of the movie. The game of go is certainly represented in all its beautiful aesthetic and, if you like, mystic.
The dedication and devotion of go players toward their art is shown very well – just consider how well the WWII times are depicted, when players were playing in military uniforms, not expecting to return alive to continue the tournament, or the scene when they resumed the game after the atomic blast in Hiroshima had thrown the playing room in total chaos (which is historical, see this article on the atomic bomb game).

Maybe the most charming go scenes are those where Kitani Minoru, Go Seigen best friend and rival, and his go dojo are sweetly described.
The dojo was unique: Kitani and his wife trained in time some 60 pupils, hosting them in their house and treating them as their own children. All the players that dominated the go scene in the ’70, ’80 and ’90 came out from the Kitani Dojo.

Strangely one aspect of Go Seigen life is not openly portrayed: in 1947 he was made to leave the Nihon Ki-in, the professional association – this was probably due to his strong involvement with that suspect religious sect. This is the reason why he didn’t took part for some years to professional tournaments but instead played a lot of newspapers-sponsored jubango (a ten-games one-to-one challenge) against all the strongest players, defeating them all.

go-seigen-2.jpgFinally, the last scene is just perfect: 1984, to celebrate his retirement from active play an old Go Seigen plays his last game as a ceremony in a beautifully formal setting. After the beginning rituals, his opponent carefully picks a black stone from the bowl, and slowly plays THE move, placing his stone on Tengen, the centre point of the Goban.
For non-go players, read this to understand the meaning of such a move as a homage to Go Seigen’s whole career.

Having said so, the movie itself sort of disappointed me. Go Seigen’s life has been full of events, including a world war, so history, plot and adventure are all there. Visually the movie has all the magnificent beauty that Oriental directors have accustomed us to.

Still, something is missing, IMHO.
It is true that biopics are a very difficult genre, and those that turn out to be also great movies are those that, beyond plot and adventure, from a famous life issue a moral (just like in Aesop or La Fontaine), a general principle or a way of conduct that could appeal or be of inspiration to us normal people.
Maybe this is just how I saw it, but, putting myself in the clothes of a non-go-playing person, I’ve found this aspect somehow lacking. In other words, I couldn’t perceive necessity in what the director proposed us with this work.
Am I too picky? Go and see for yourself!

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2 Responses to “I have seen the movie on Go Seigen”

  1. gowan Says:

    The old movie “The Go Masters” also known by its Japanese name Mikan no Taikyoko, is a much better movie and some of Go Seigen’s experiences are in that movie. Too bad it is almost unavailable.

  2. Hi gowan, welcome to my blog.
    I’ve seen that movie, and I should have somewhere a compressed version. It is veeeery losely based on Go Seigen’s life, but it is still enjoyable.
    See you on Sensei’s Library!

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