Cowboy Bebop Episode 08 “Waltz For Venus” and For the Love of Noir

cowboy bebop venus is middle eastern

[Episode 07 “Heavy Metal Queen”]

This episode did a whole lot of things well in the context of being “just another bounty” episode. It starts off with portraying the cowboy threesome actually succeed in capturing their bounty and actually getting paid for it. They were completely slick about it too, foiling an attempted hijack by their quarry in a very cool manner, better executed than the hijacking attempt itself. But this episode is also an exploration of character, particularly Spike, and is an attempt to make him more sympathetic, for being such a hard-boiled bounty hunter.

Blind Stella is an easy play for sympathy, and Spike is moved predictably by her (and Rocco’s plight). We know Spike will care this much because we knew he cared for Katerina way back in “Asteroid Blues” and if he could’ve saved her from Asimov, he would’ve. Stella, is actually a solid reference on a character played by Ida Lupino named Mary, the sister of a suspected killer in the Noir Film On Dangerous Ground (1952). When I watched this film I found it interesting how Cowboy Bebop this time didn’t subvert the source material the same way “Asteroid Blues” did Desperado. My theory has to do with Spike.

cowboy_bebop_remastered_08[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_11.05_[2011.08.06_19.41.25]

Someone else would have to talk about the many interesting landscapes and design considerations in Cowboy Bebop. Here in Venus, Stella’s house is a wreck of a space shuttle. It’s fully explored and it’s amazing.

We’ve seen Spike be slick and sympathetic (Asteroid Blues), comedic in apathy (Stray Dog Strut), ruthless (Gateway Shuffle), and haunted (Ballad of Fallen Angels). Here he is shown to go from annoyed and uncaring to be one of the angels. Rocco Bennaro is the kind of goofy, small-time gangster that I imagine cowboys subsist on. Rocco latches onto Spike like some needy puppy, asking him to teach him martial arts.

This allows Spike to do a little demonstration and reference Bruce Lee a little more:

[Rocco comes at Spike with a knife and Spike sends Rocco to the ground]

  • Rocco: How did you do that?
  • Spike: You’re tense, I’m calm. You apply excessive force; I control that force through fluid motion. That means relaxing the whole body so it can react instantly without resistance—no, without thought. Do you see now? It means becoming like clear water.
  • Rocco: Water.
  • Spike: Right. Water can take any form. It drifts without effort one moment, then pounds down in a torrent the very next.

The above exchange is straight out of Bruce Lee’s The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.

Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) chapter 8 uses a water analogy to describe the highest level of human virtue. Chuang Tzu chapter 7 explains “The mind of the ultimate man functions like a mirror. It neither sends off nor welcomes; it responds but does not retain.”

image

But just like the hard-boiled noir story “Waltz for Venus” references, its sentimentality is bound along with grimness. Rocco Bennaro was able to be like water in a triumphant moment. But he can only ask Spike to acknowledge it as he lays dying after being shot from behind. “Master, you see it? I was fluid like water [dub]”

Spike has to tell Stella the sad news, though he tries to make it better by using the proceeds of what Rocco stole to perform surgery on her eyes. It’s interesting how she said she didn’t mind being blind. I also once said I didn’t mind being a virgin. Now she can see, we know that there can be no romantic subplot between her and Spike, because there is Julia, and deliciously, there is Faye.

On Dangerous Ground

I am no expert on Film Noir, mostly familiar with it via various parodies in sketch comedies and sitcoms I’ve seen from when I was still very young. It would seem that this film is a masterpiece of the genre, by one of its finest auteurs:

[Nick’s] decade was the 1950’s. You can look at and appreciate the output of Hitchcock or Billy Wilder or anyone from Sam Fuller to Douglas Sirk, but the ’50s were Nick Ray’s. No other director working in Hollywood was able to place America on the screen like Ray did. Our postwar fears, the veneer of happiness when disenchantment lurks barely beneath the surface, the basic decency we all struggle to maintain and the mistakes we’re doomed to make – these subjects fascinated Ray and they reveal themselves in the subtext of all his best efforts.

The above paragraph is from an essay by clydefro from Noir of the Week, who continues ably in talking about the film:

[…]a quintessential Nicholas Ray film, one that allows for playing within the margins while still doing so at his own rhythms. It’s structured into two entirely different story segments and comes complete with a bold score by Bernard Herrmann that disorients as much as it thrills. The film’s top-billed lead, Ida Lupino, doesn’t appear until over half an hour has passed, and that initial portion has no determinate structure or plot. Lean yet unhurried at just under 82 minutes, the film noir doesn’t always adhere to convention, doesn’t worry itself with backstory, and can’t be bothered to explain much. And we should be thankful.

cowboy_bebop_remastered_08[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_20.48_[2011.08.06_19.37.41]

Similarly, Stella doesn’t show up until just before the eyecatch. Similarly, Rocco dies as Stella’s brother Danny does. The degree of pathos and sentimentality is very high, but as I mentioned there is a grimness to it that I appreciate. Rocco’s last thoughts went to Spike: “If we had met earlier, would we have been friends?” Perhaps, but I can’t say so with confidence. Spike won’t do you wrong though, and he does fulfill his promise: Stella regains her eyesight. The resolution however, lends less to hope, but more to an acceptance of the iniquities and unfairness of existence. Perhaps one can manufacture joy out of all this. Cowboy Bebop won’t promise this at all, but certainly does know how to make music out of it.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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19 Responses to Cowboy Bebop Episode 08 “Waltz For Venus” and For the Love of Noir

  1. animekritik says:

    It’s wonderful how this show can bring in Bruce Lee and film noir into the same episode, and make it pretty seamless. Pretty and seamless. Good music.

    Even though I saw something like 20 film noirs last year, I managed to miss this one. Looks interesting, though neither of the two leads really attracts me the way Bogart, Lancaster, Hayworth etc do. Then again Ida Lupino was a good film noir director in her own right, which is pretty darn amazing!!

    • I can’t say I’m much of a connoisseur of Film Noir, nor of cinema period, but if I do take up Film Noir I’ll be sure to ask you for recommendation.

      The leads aren’t attractive, nor charismatic, but you do get sucked in mostly by the circumstances.

      Cowboy Bebop took these circumstances and made quite a meal of it. Cross-refercencing and mashups, I do have a taste for them!

  2. hearthesea says:

    One of my favourites from the series. I particularly like the unusual softness that creeps into Spike’s demeanour during his interaction with Stella. Some of the other standalone style episodes didn’t work for me, but this is a great example of one that provides a real emotional connection.

    • I find that this softness existed with Katerina back in “Asteroid Blues,” but here it is more pronounced. I’m just over halfway with my rewatch, and I think the episode with the chessmaster is the first one that really put me off. I will have to view it again as I write my post about it.

  3. megaroad1 says:

    I always found this episode to be very sad. Rocco’s death is quite moving, specially for a character that is barely on screen for more than 5 minutes.

    It was really an eyeopener to see that fragment from On Dangerous Ground. The influence is quite palpable.

    While we are on the subject of film noir, I’m under the impression that some of the scene’s from Waltz for Venus were references to another film that was itself heavily influenced by film noir, namely Chinatown. I might be looking too much into it, but the scene were Rocco is confronted by the rest of the gang by the fence, reminds me a lot of the scene were Roman Polanski makes a cameo in Chinatown. The lone man being threatened, his back to the fence, and finally the very graphic act of violence directed at him. So please you be the judge.

  4. megaroad1 says:

    I forgot one thing I wanted to comment on. The large building that is shown on a couple of occasions during this episode seems to the Hagia Sophia which is Istanbul’s most famous landmark. Once the most important Byzantine cathedral, then for nearly five centuries a major mosque, it is now a museum. I’m only mentioning it, because I remember reading somewhere during my art history studies, that the structure was built on top of a temple to Venus. Which might just be relevant for this episode…

  5. TWWK says:

    One of my favorite episodes…tough to be fair, almost every episode of this series could be included in my list of favorite anime episodes, if I was to make one. I’m really enjoying your revisiting of this series – nostalgia galore!

    • Thank you! I do hope you’re getting more out of it than nostalgia (though nostalgia is welcome in this blog as a matter of course). As for the episodes, it’s uncanny how I keep exclaiming “this is the most underappreciated CB episode ever!” almost every episode.

      • TWWK says:

        Oh no, not just nostalgia – I mention that because that’s probably my favorite feeling (emotion?). I’m thankful for all the research you’ve done. During my multiple viewings of Cowboy Bebop in the past, I’ve sometimes gotten the references and sometimes not (I didn’t get the noir theme and certainly had never heard of the specific film you described). But I can say I’m learning a LOT from every post in this series. There’s no series of posts I’ve looked forward to as much as these.

        Can’t wait for the next one!

  6. TRazor says:

    Thank you for helping me remember love. Bebop, Mushishi and Kino’s Journey might very well be the best episodic shows for me. You can just walk in announced and they’ll have you over like you’re royalty – very inviting.

    As for that “clear like water” reference I’m not sure if Bruce Lee was the first to mention that. Maybe he was the first to mention it in terms of combat, but I have this feeling that the water-clear analogy was used somewhere in Buddhist (or Gita…) principles. Can’t quite pinpoint it because Googling “clear like water” gives the most…off-putting results.

    • Shinmarizu says:

      The notion of understanding the nature of water has been prevalent in many martial arts films; Jet Li also does this in Tai Chi Master (1993):

      One of my favourite scenes from that movie, btw.

      Also, I have heard the phrase “clear mirror; still water” a lot when it comes to meditation… give that a look.

    • I did mention in the post that the text can be traced back to the Tao Te Ching which is old as fuck.

      I don’t have much affinity for the other two shows you like, perhaps because I have a bias for action and the fluid animation that sells action scenes. But indeed all these shows you mention are well-regarded.

  7. Shinmarizu says:

    I can’t help but notice, especially since you’ve been posting these episodics, that Spike has many opportunities to show his understanding or soft side, especially to the women he comes across in this series. Is Spike, by nature, a romantic in addition to all the other facets his personality has? I assume that his time with Julia really did impact his personality – he would otherwise be much harsher of a man.
    The only female characters that do not seem to get this treatment from Spike so far would be Ed (whose behaviour is not characteristic of typical girls) and Faye (since this develops later on).

    Aside from that, they really wanted Spike to be a Bruce Lee in space, didn’t they?

  8. Pingback: Hackers Are Boring: Cowboy Bebop Episode 9 “Jamming With Edward” | We Remember Love

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