[ by Charles Cameron — also the battle of Gaixia, 200 BCE, with an echo late in the Korean War — and a tip of the hat to Emlyn ]
Kagemusha, the flute call:
There’s a sequence near the start of Akria Kurosawa‘s masterpiece, Kagemusha, when a flute player on the ramparts of a besieged castle belonging to Tokugawa Ieyasu so captivates the men of the daimyo Takeda Shingen‘s besieging force that everyone listens for the flute each night:
Our men are impressed. They can’t wait for night to come.
This flute, in turn, becomes the primary indicator of whether the besieged castle will or will not fall after the besiegers cut its water supply. The daimyo’s general and close confidant suggests whe asked:
The castle can stand longer. The garrison leader is a fine warrior. He lets us hear the flute at night. …
If we hear him tonight the garrison will hold. The castle will not fall. But if we do not hear the flute, the castle is doomed. Its fall is near.
To which the daimyo responds:
I want to hear if the flute is played tonight. Prepare my seat.
The daimyo’s seat is prepared, the flute plays, a shot rings out… the daimyo is mortally wounded… and the narrative of the film unfurls.
I was watching Kagemusha with son Emlyn last night, saying how close the film seemed to come to my current interests, and remarked on the scene with the flute because it illustrates so perfectly the ideas that morale may prove more powerful than materiel, and the arts as valuable in coflict as ballistics.
Emlyn spent a short while at the computer, and found two web-pages he thought might interest me.
The first page pointed me to the battle of Gaixia in 202 BCE, in which Han Xin trapped Xiang Yu‘s Chu forces in a box canyon,
To further break the Chu army’s spirit, Han Xin employed the “Chu Song from Four Sides” tactic. He ordered the Han soldiers and captured Chu troops to sing Chu songs. The Chu songs made the Chu troops remember their families back home, greatly reducing their will to fight.
Increasingly homesick, the Chu soldiers began to desert, Han Xin’s brilliant tactic gave him the vistory, and the Han dynasty was established.
The second page Emlyn pointed me to was titled The Use of Music in Psyops. In it, SGM Herbert Friedman takes a long (67 pp.) and detailed look at this general topic, and made a fascinating “DoubleQuote” style connection with the first in its near-final paragraph:
The Communist Chinese used music against American troops on several occasions during the Korean War. Soldiers from the U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division recalled that when the enemy played Joni James’ rendition of Hank Williams “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” on dark and foggy nights it gave soldiers some reason to pause and think of home.
For your edification and delight, Joni James sings Hank Williams‘ Your Cheatin’ Heart:
Here Liu Fang plays the celebrated pipa solo that depicts the stages of the battle, The Ambush from all Sides:
For what it’s worth, the banner and motto of the Takeda clan, Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain — given in the subtitles as —
Swift as the wind
Quiet as a forest
Fierce as fire
Immovable as a mountain
— which adds much to the poetry of our understanding of Japanese warfare, is known as the Furinkazan, and derives from Sun Tzu‘s seventh chapter:
Therefore the army is established on deception, mobilized by advantage, and changed through dividing up and consolidating the troops.
Therefore, it advances like the wind,
it marches like the forest,
it invades and plunders like fire,
it stands like the mountain,
it is formless like the dark,
it strikes like thunder.
Beautiful film, great film.