This was an introduction for Western audiences to the Japanese perception of underworld honour, contrasting with the big Mafia-based films of the 70’s, The Godfather, Prizzi’s Honour etc. One of the defining moments in the film is where Robert Mitchum cuts off his little finger to prove he is a man with the same moral sense as his Japanese confederates.
This action was intended to be seen as a substitution for ritual seppuku, where the pain and the determination involved reflect a serious moral obligation, or giri, on the part of the person committing the act.
But cutting off your fingers can get out of hand.
Just the other week, a 19-year-old student, Sun Zhongjie, who had only arrived in Shanghai 2 days earlier to work for the Shanghai Pangyuan Construction Machinery Engineering Co Ltd felt compelled to prove his innocence in a dramatic gesture appropriate to the severity of the charge against him – driving an illegal taxi cab.
“I’m happy,” sobbed the 19-year-old from Henan province after he received his finger back an apology from Shanghai City Administration and Law Enforcement Bureau for Pudong New Area District.
Such an extravagant response to petty bureaucracy would surely have struck a chord with dear Omar Khayyam, whose original draft of his Ode To A Traffic Ticket was recently found to have contained these lines:
The moving finger writes, and, having writ,
Falls off Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.
Speeding camel, my arse.