Just a quick note to share the good news!
If you don’t already have Amazon prime, you can get a 30-day free trial by clicking here. This will be more than enough time to check out the movie while it is free!
Just a quick note to share the good news!
If you don’t already have Amazon prime, you can get a 30-day free trial by clicking here. This will be more than enough time to check out the movie while it is free!
Craig Shimahara and I connected several years ago, after he had finished producing his short film Good Soil and I had finished writing The Way of the Christian Samurai. We obviously shared a certain perspective of Christianity in light of the ancient masters of the sword, the samurai of Japan. So when Masterless was finally done, Craig sent me a screening copy to review.
Craig’s background is architectural illustration, when he’s not making movies. I point this out as the visuals throughout the film are remarkable. If you have been following the Masterless Facebook page you will have seen several storyboard/scene comparisons over the last couple years; the emphasis was clearly put on creating memorable visuals.
I’m convinced Masterless could have been a silent movie. I don’t mean that the sound and spoken parts didn’t add anything, but the visuals alone are enough to tell the story. Too often exposition has to be spelled out in the dialogue, which either comes across as re-stating the obvious or using the actors to spell out the plot to tell rather than show what is happening. This is not the case with Masterless; each scene paints a picture, not only of what is going on in the world of the film, but what is going on within the characters, especially the protagonist Kane Madison (Adam LaVorgna).
The early Christian Fathers read sacred texts in at least three methods, literal (what the text says in historical context), moral (how what the text says relates to an individual’s life as a Christian), and allegorical (how the text relates to the gospel or life of Christ). Classical literature can be read in this polysemous sense, but much of today’s entertainment of the masses cannot.
For example, Gregory of Nyssa wrote about 600 pages in his Morals on the Book of Job, doing a line-by-line analysis of the short book of Job, applying the three senses to every part of the text. You can hardly do that with most of what makes the New York Times’ Bestseller list these days. However, you could do that kind of deep analysis with Masterless.
Just by knowing the premise, that the story of Kane Madison is told both in the happenings of his modern life as an architect, and as his journey as a ronin in ancient Japan. Symbols abound, but there is not necessarily one way to interpret what is happening on the screen. This makes it a great film to use for a group study, and should foster discussion with almost any group.
For example, there is a scene where the ronin encounters an old blind man in a forest. A sword in its scabbard is stuck upright in the ground next to him. The old man mocks the ronin at the same time as he give him a mission – take the sword, follow the path to the tree at the end. When the ronin questions the old man further, the old man responds, “My charge is to inform, not to inspire.”
It is a brief scene, but I could probably write several essays on different topics using just this one encounter. For instance, on the nature of inspiration and evangelizing – for to be “in-spired” by the Holy Spirit is a divine gift, not something another human can do for you. The taking up of the sword to follow “the way” can be seen either as an allegory of taking up the cross – an instrument of death – as Christ did, or the call of the Christian to do the same to follow in his footsteps. Yet another insight could be the idea of the old man as the faults of Western Christianity, mocking the very souls it supposedly is to lead, speaking but not taking action.
Some movies are made to preach, others are made to show action. You might expect one or the other from a Christian-samurai movie, but Masterless is neither.
Masterless is undoubtedly a Christian movie, but there are no biblical citations, no mention of the name of Jesus, and no explicit preaching. Often Christian films will be so overly concerned that the viewer might miss the message that the audience gets beaten over the head with it repeatedly. They may even have a character to preach to the audience (though talking to another character), often cast as a pastor. Masterless does not lose its message despite staying allegorical, in fact I think it does a better job of making you consider many aspects of the Christian life because it does not make any particular aspect too obvious. The more familiar you are with the Scriptures, however, the more you will recognize bits of dialogue as literal or adapted quotations.
Neither is Masterless truly an action movie, as we have been accustomed to seeing from Hollywood. There are some well-choreographed fights, but there are also fights that you see building, tension mounting, and then only the aftermath is shown. There are reasons for this, but it demonstrates that Masterless was not made for simply for the sake of showcasing martial arts fights strung together with a thin plot. Story is definitely first.
The best way I can describe Masterless in terms of other films is that it is in the tradition of classic cinema or art films. It will more likely remind one of Kurosawa or Hitchcock then Spielberg or Bay.
We watched this film with our six children, ages 3-14. There was nothing too frightening, no sexual innuendo, and the violent scenes were bloodless. Our 6-year-old did remark that he liked the ronin scenes better than the modern-day scenes.
I do not think it is inappropriate for younger viewers, but the pacing and allegorical nature may make it less interesting for them, and much of what is going on may go over their heads.
Masterless is an enjoyable and entertaining film, and one that has been crafted to encourage deeper reflection and discussion on spiritual warfare and living as a Christian in spite of the difficulties and temptations of the world. It is ideal for a men’s group or youth group to watch together and discuss.
When I was putting The Eternal Revolution book together, I googled the opening line I had at the time, “Christianity is a fight,” to see if that phrasing had been used before. Only one author stood out in the results: J.C. Ryle, Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, who lived at the end of the 19th century.
Upon finding his homily, “The Fight” which gets going with the line, “The first thing I have to say is this: True Christianity is a fight.”
I filed the link away, then knowing that I was not the first to use such phrasing. I did not want to read Ryle’s writings until I had finished my book, so that I would not be overly inspired by his particular style or structure.
Having finished my book (just some formatting, cover design, and so forth as I write this) I took some time to revel in the homiletic stylings of the late J.C. Ryle. Considering we had the same inspiration to write a challenge to Christians to fight, separated by over 100 years, it was a pleasure to read and find a kinship in the Spirit. You can find the homily here.
If you are looking for just the highlights from Ryle’s fighting words, here are a few select quotes from “The Fight” and other homilies.
“I fear much for many professing Christians. I see no sign of fighting in them, much less of victory. They never strike one stroke on the side of Christ. They are at peace with His enemies. They have no quarrel with sin.–I warn you, this is not Christianity. This is not the way to heaven.”
” The first thing I have to say is this: True Christianity is a fight.
“‘True Christianity’—mind that word ‘true.’ Let there be no mistake about my meaning. There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster; it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing which was called Christianity eighteen hundred years ago. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday, and call themselves Christians. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage-service. They are buried as Christians when they die. But you never see any “fight” about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man, and those who say anything against it may be thought very hard and uncharitable; but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded, and His Apostles preached. True Christianity is ‘a fight.’
“The true Christian is called to be a soldier, and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death, he is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence, and security, He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and dose along the way to heaven, like one travelling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world he may be content with such notions, but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his lines laid down very plainly in this matter. He must ‘fight.'”
“Warfare with the powers of hell is the experience of every individual member of the true Church. Each has to fight. What are the lives of all the saints, but records of battles?”
“Every professing Christian is the soldier of Christ. He is bound by his baptism to fight Christ’s battle against sin, the world, and the devil. The man that does not do this breaks his vow. He is a spiritual defaulter. He does not fulfil the engagements made for him. The man that does not do this is practically renouncing his Christianity. The very fact that he belongs to a Church, attends a Christian place of worship, and calls himself a Christian is a public declaration that he desires to be reckoned a soldier of Jesus Christ.”
“A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within.”
” This warfare, I am aware, is a thing of which many know nothing. Talk to them about it, and they are ready to set you down as a madman, an enthusiast, or a fool. And yet it is as real and true as any war the world has ever seen. It has its hand-to-hand conflicts and its wounds. It has its watchings and fatigues. It has its sieges and assaults. It has its victories and its defeats. Above all, it has consequences which are awful, tremendous, and most peculiar. In earthly warfare the consequences to nations are often temporary and remediable. In the spiritual warfare it is very different. Of that warfare, the consequences, when the fight is over, are unchangeable and eternal.”
“And yet there is one warfare which is emphatically ‘good,’ and one fight in which there is no evil. That warfare is the Christian warfare. That fight is the fight of the soul.”
It is such a blessed and encouraging thing to find such a kindred soul, separated even by time and space. Here’s hoping that you also find these quotes stirring the Spirit within you!
Among the last generations of samurai was a teacher named Yamaoka Tesshu. At his dojo, he would have students spend the entire first year perfecting the overhand chop. This was full-time study – and an entire year spent practicing the same move every day.
Critics of Tesshu dubbed his dojo “The wood-cutting school” because of this practice. There may have even been a reference to this as a double-entendre in Akira Kurosawa’s movie Seven Samurai; when we are introduced to Heihachi Hayashida he is chopping wood, later he introduces himself as a samurai “of the wood-cutting school.”
Ridiculous as it sounds, now and in his own time, Tesshu understood the importance of perfecting even the smallest actions. By having his students repeat the same action for a year, day in and day out, they could subconsciously execute the stroke with incredible strength and perfect technique, without even thinking about it.
As Christians, we too are called to perfect even the smallest things in our lives. “Little white lies” are still untruthfulness. Immodesty or theft of small things is still breaking the commandments. Even if it means revisiting the same virtue, or addressing the same weakness, day in and day out, year after year, we should daily devote ourselves to overcoming the person we were the day before.
My family rarely goes to the theater to see movies. Therefore it was only a few weeks ago that I finally got a chance to the 2013 movie 47 Ronin from Redbox.
While I have written a book on lessons for Christians from samurai warriors, this was my introduction to the national legend of the vengeance of the 47 samurai of Asano Naganori.
Despite the modern, Americanized treatment of the story, including witches, demons, and the insertion of an underdog with Anglo-Saxon blood, the gist of the story of the 47 samurai remains the same. When their lord is disgraced before the Imperial Shogun, and forced to commit ritual suicide, the 47 plan their revenge over the course of a year and execute it.
The story is centuries old; it is a little hard to expect not to have it spoiled for you. But as a fair warning, here be spoilers.
While the story of the 47 ronin is considered an great example of the samurai code, bushido, it has some merit for Christians as well, which can either serve as personal example, or as discussion points with your fellow Christians.
Death begets death. There is a saying that he who seeks revenge digs two graves. The ronin know this as they plot their revenge. They know that disobeying an order not to seek revenge, as well as assassination of another lord, is forbidden and they will face the death penalty for their action. Even in this noble (to their principles) example, the wage of sin is death, and the price for their sin must be paid, regardless of the noble intention.
Some Things are More Important Than Death. Understanding the fact that their was no chance of forgiveness for what they were about to do, the 47 ronin set out on their mission regardless. Honor for their former lord and the house they served was more important than their own lives. They were willing to sacrifice themselves to honor their lord.
Now, how many of us Christians are willing to avoid sin, in which we dishonor God, even to the point of death! Rather, we continually fall and have to amend our lives. Seldom is death on the line – we sacrifice our principles for reputation, work, money, pleasure or some other trivial thing. These samurai traded their lives for honor, and for a fallen human lord. Why do we not sacrifice lesser things for our perfect Lord?
Their is Shame in Being Leaderless. As Americans, we pride ourselves on independence. But as Christians we are called to dependence on God. The samurai understood that there was not shame in dependence, and in this way bushido can illustrate some concepts that are foreign to us. In fact, in the introduction to the 2013 movie it states that while samurai were very highly regarded, to be ronin, or masterless, was to be lower than all other classes. I’m not certain as to the veracity of the statement, but being ronin was a thing greatly feared by a samurai. I have just the smallest hunch this will be a big part of the upcoming film Masterless.
If there is a single factor for why the samurai were such incredible warriors, it is probably the fact that they viewed themselves as already dead.
As it is written in the Hagakure, Book 1:
“The way of the Samurai is found in death…This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.”
Without the burden of thoughts of self-preservation, assuming one’s self as already dead allowed the samurai to dedicate themselves single-mindedly to the task at hand. As soldiers for hire, that task was martial skills in service of their lord.
Christians, too are called to take up the instrument of their execution daily and to die to themselves. Whoever seeks his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will find it. This sentiment is not found in just one place in the Gospels, but rather repeated throughout all four in several places. Finally, there is the example of our Lord, who laid down His life for His friends, His sheep.
Why then are samurai so widely regarded, with so many tales of their bloody feats of service told and and retold to this day, while exemplary Christian examples seem to be relatively few – despite the fact that there are millions of us acting in Christ’s name?
If you are a Christian, you cannot be living for yourself. The best servants of their lord live as though they were dead. If the samurai can do it, so can today’s Christians.
Adam LaVorgna and Craig Shimahara on the set of Masterless.
For a few years, I have helped with the promotion and distribution of a Christian samurai short film called Good Soil. Now, writer and director Craig Shimahara is creating a new, feature-length movie called Masterless.
While Good Soil was a historical fiction, based on real events, and real people during the early Christian missions to the Japanese, Masterless is a modern parable. Kane Madison is a Los Angeles architect, played by Adam LaVorgna (7th Heaven), struggles with real world problems while his doppleganger spirit mirrors the struggle in a feudal Japanese-inspired spirit world.
The film is also to be the U.S. debut of Kaho Minami, an accomplished and award-winning actress who has performed in over 60 films from Japan.
Masterless is a tale of spiritual combat, with the taglines “No One Can Serve Two Masters,” and “An Ancient Battle Rages Within Each of Us.” As we can tell from the trailer, Kane declares himself to be his own master. A samurai who was without a master was called ronin, or “wave man,” since they tended to drift aimlessly.
If you would like to find out more about the movie, Craig has been posting behind the scenes information and updates on the Facebook page. The official website is MasterlessFilm.com, and the IMDB page can be found here.
At this time, the movie is in post-production and no release date has been set. Follow the Facebook page for the latest information, and I will keep you posted of what I hear on this blog as well.
Jesus said, “Judge not.” That’s about as much of the Bible as many non-Christians can quote. It has proved useful, considering the number of Christians that use it, or are cowed by fear of being condemned by it.
As always, the context makes it a bit clearer:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5
That last sentence seems to conflict with the idea of the “not judging” as an absolute rule. Looking elsewhere in the scriptures:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
Pretty harsh, considering that the Jewish people were prohibited from entering the home of, or inviting in, Gentiles and tax collectors.
“If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you will have saved your life.” Ezekiel 3:18-21
The wages of sin is death, but if you do not warn the wicked then you could pay that wage. Ouch.
“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” 1 Timothy 5:20
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:1-4
And there are of course more on this topic. But the point of the sampling here is that if you take the first two or three words from Matthew 7:1 in isolation, it is a pretty gross misunderstanding of the point.
We are called to be perfect like our Heavenly Father, and he who is loved by God is corrected by God (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). So it is an act of love and charity to correct when we see someone doing something wrong. Is it wrong to tell a child not to play in the street, where they are in danger, or to try to talk a friend out of suicide? How much worse is it to keep silent when they do something that will kill their soul?
The Scriptures paint a pretty clear picture that we are not to “judge not,” but to in fact, under penalty of sin, admonish, rebuke, and counsel someone who we know is committing a sin.
There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to give counsel, admonition, or to correct someone. Surprisingly, one of the most detailed and helpful passages I have ever read on this topic comes from the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai:
“To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.
“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leavetaking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.
“This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?”
This passage has a certain factor of surprise in that the pagan samurai warriors had such a careful and compassionate way of describing the correction of faults, especially when there are those among us Christians who rely on shame to correct not only strangers, but their family, their friends, and even their children.
There are several things we need to be mindful of when we are charged with the task of correcting someone else:
Judge the act, not the person. There are no good people; we have all sinned. If someone is doing something obviously and publicly wrong, address the thing they are doing wrong.
Watch out for being verbs. Remember these from grammar lessons? “Am” “is” “are”? If your statement has one of those as the main verb, it’s a sign you are making this about the person, not the action. “He is a thief,” is passing a judgement on the person; “He stole that watch,” or, “He is stealing by pirating movies,” is describing the action.
Give counsel privately. Matthew 18:15-17 describes the process of escalating an issue, but insisting that counsel is private. No where does it list public condemnation. Correct others’ faults’ as you want them to correct your faults. After all, that seems to be the point of Matthew 7:1-2.
Do not assume. So often people are accused of sins they did not commit, or the thought processes they employed, the alternatives they rejected, or their intentions. Stick to correcting the act itself, if it is in fact wrong. Ask questions of the person if you are concerned about what might be going on, and offer to help remedy any injustice they might be suffering. And absolutely do not go discussing your assumptions with others who have no need to know.
Give advice, not shame. The samurai’s advice made this point repeatedly – the goal is not to make the person ashamed, it is to remind them (or inform them) that what they are doing is wrong. Doing it in public, telling them how they should feel about their actions, and getting emotional about the issue are all ways of inflicting shame. State the problem, and give them a reason to hope they can correct it.
Remember, it is not about you. If the person you are correcting is doing you harm and persisting, it is time to set some hard boundaries. Treat them as the Jews treated a Gentile, or shake the dust from your sandal and walk away. As God told Samuel, they are rejecting Him, not you (1 Samuel 8:7). In fact, using your own faults if you have a similar struggle, is a humble and encouraging way to suggest a change is needed.
Some years ago an acquaintance confided in me about some relationship problems he was having. As a couple, he and his wife were drifting apart. Since we had talked before about Japanese culture, my advice took the form of a quote from the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings:
“Students of the Ichi school Way of strategy should train from the start with the sword and the long sword in either hand. This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn.”
A relationship with another person, especially as a spouse in marriage, is one of self-sacrifice. To make the most of it, you have to utilize every weapon, or tool, at your disposal. It is not right to go half-way, holding back in such an arrangement. Rather than fearing that your significant other may not return your renewed passion to spend time with them, or pursue their interests, it is false to refrain from the attempt yourself.
This makes sense for more than just love and war; too often we hold back from using everything God has given us in living or promoting his Gospel, doing our daily work, or even in taking care of ourselves. We have already been counseled by our Lord not to bury our talents.
Part of making the best use of what we have is to keep such tools, talents, assets, and skills ready for whatever Providence sends our way. G.K. Chesterton writes in his book Heretics:
“A man who believes something is ready and witty, because he has all his weapons about him. He can apply his test in an instant.”
Even years after I wrote The Way of the Christian Samurai, I still get comments and questions as to why I wrote the book.
I don’t have a background in the martial arts, though I would appreciate a good sensei. My interest and inspiration into the concept of Christian lessons from samurai writings started with my own recognition that I was a terrible salesperson, especially for my own work and skills.
At my local library I found an intriguing-looking book called Samurai Selling. The idea behind this book was that the servant warriors of japan, the samurai, could teach the modern salesperson a great deal about what it means to serve.
The quotes from Musashi and the Hagakure captured my imagination. No one talks like that anymore. You could say that about any historical text, I suppose, but for me the ancient samurai texts rang particularly true, and I sought to read the source material.
While I suppose their was some inkling that modern Christians could get schooled in how to serve others and their Lord by these pagan soldiers for hire, the idea of matching up the writings and Christianity did not start to consume me until another unusual work.
Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai. I have no idea why I chose to watch this movie initially. I’m not sure if most people would even consider it a good movie. Maybe there was something in a review about it drawing so heavily from the Hagakure.
Whatever my reasons for watching a movie about a mob hitman living as a modern samurai, at some point in the movie it clicked that these principles of loyalty, honor, living as already dead, and more exemplified the Christian way of life in a startling way.
Of course, the Way of Christianity and the way of the samurai are not the same. There are a lot of teachings that were irrelevant or contrary to the Christian life as I poured over the source material. But as I so often explore in my other writings under the concept of Eternal Revolution, Christian spiritual life in the modern world is one of warfare, and we are called to heroic levels of resolve, loyalty, and service.
Eventually, the book was finished, and I still get notes and emails about how life-changing the perspective is. Sure, some people miss the point and think I am trying to reconcile two schools of thought. But my point was, and still is this – if a pagan mercenary could serve his fat, greedy lord with complete self-sacrifice, resolve, and loyalty, what can he teach you as a modern Christian claiming to follow a most perfect Lord in Jesus Christ shirk even the simplest of his commands?
By the way – if you like the image in this post, it is available here as a t-shirt.