The James Clayton Column: rōnin samurai vs. real estate

In this week’s column, James ponders the benefits of wearing a samurai outfit and cinema’s delusions of domestic bliss…

If, all of a sudden, I found that I had a lot of spare cash, it’s most likely that I’d blow it all on a trip to Japan and a customised suit of samurai armour. I’d then be utterly skint again, but I wouldn’t really care. I’d be armed and ready to take on the kamikaze debt collectors despatched to take me down and would look ultra-cool when I eventually committed hara-kiri.

I’d die broke, but I’d die the warrior’s way observing the Bushido code instead of killing myself in some crappy kitchen sink manner, like hanging from a lampshade in a Blackpool bedsit.

(I have no idea how the unlikely scenario of sudden tremendous wealth would come about, by the way. Maybe one night I’ll go sleepwalking and pull off a successful bank job or one day open my email inbox and discover I’ve inherited a fortune from a mystery Nigerian relative. These things happen.)

Regardless, if I did find myself with extra money, affording the opportunity for extravagant purchases, I know that I definitely wouldn’t spend it on property. What use is a building and furniture when I can buy a brilliant personalised, prestige Ō-Yorei suit custom made by the finest craftsmen in Japan (with accessories, crested banner and complementary undergarments)?

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Fantasies inspired by films like Ran and The Last Samurai may ultimately result in destitution and death in the gutter, but I’d rather feel like Toshirō Mifune for a short time than a pale shade of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen for a lifetime.

What’s more, pieces of real estate and land property are vulnerable to market forces, the economic climate and natural disasters. I’d rather invest my trust and unexplained fortune in a katana sword and make believe I’m a sharper dressed version of Zatoichi with better eyesight.

Besides, the whole sphere of housing development and homemaking is so dreary. Shelter and comfort is a human necessity, for sure, but then again so is going to the toilet, and unless you’re imaginatively recreating scenes from Trainspotting, it’s a mundane matter of daily existence and not an inspirational, life-affirming thing on which to focus excess enthusiasm.

Home improvement shows and programmes about property market players are the dullest things on TV, in my humble opinion. If someone on 60 Minute Makeover proclaimed “Let’s put a shrine to Miyamoto Musashi in the kitchen!” or “It’ll be awesome watching The Seven Samurai on your new hundred-inch plasma HD screen!”, then I’d change my mind. Until Grand Designs or DIY SOS construct a Shogun castle in the British suburbs, I’ll remain unimpressed.

It also doesn’t help that a lot of real estate tycoons and property barons are among the most peculiar, sinister people on the planet. Interior designer types that drool over cushion arrangements and moguls more interested in the housing market than real humans are weird.

It’s no surprise, then, that real estate developers function as a readymade villain for the movies and have provided the antagonist and the core plot for so many films through the years. From Superman to Poltergeist to Rango, real estate equals the root of all evil.

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Moving from thoughts about developing them to actually dwelling in them, houses are also unnerving in that they architecturally hem you in. Instead of being places of home and shelter, they can become claustrophobic, personalised prisons or domains of extreme peril. It’s well known that most accidents and avoidable deaths occur in the domestic environment. In truth, you are more likely to die in a stairlift accident or be mutilated by a possessed blender than meet a grim demise at the hands of a street mugger.  

Without getting anywhere near exhausting the genre, I’ve seen enough haunted house flicks to know that domestic residences are disastrous places of doom. Take note of the cinematic legacy and ignore the saccharine salesperson. Have a mental image of the accursed House of Usher crumbling and hear the ghastly screams of Vincent Price howling every time you go house hunting.

Who knows what ominous presences have been moving (and are still moving) around your humble abode? And these malevolent entities may be your housemates, your landlord or your neighbours. These people know where you sleep. Are you sure you can trust them?

The Resident, freshly released from the Hammer studio, provides a timely reminder that delusions of domestic bliss are built on suspect foundations and that the home front is a horror zone with dreadful, disturbing potential.

Moving into a dark New York City apartment that looks just like the one in Rosemary’s Baby is a bad idea. When the landlord (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) gives you a ridiculously low rent rate and keeps on casting eyes at you while fingering his power tools, you should be even more wary.

When his creepy grandfather is also on the premises and turns out to be Christopher Lee, it’s time to leave and forget about living there. What on earth would possess you to move in next to the eldritch figure with the power to transform into Saruman, Dracula or a multitude of other classic cinema nasties at the swish of a cape? As Lord Summerisle’s lodger, you are liable to wake up next to a sacrificial goat, locked in a Wicker Man if you make loud noises after 9pm.

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Yet, Hilary Swank’s ER doctor decides that it’s her dream apartment and soon she’s experiencing extreme domestic disturbance and has exposed herself to an extreme stalk terror.

I currently have no hope of getting on the property ladder (my distant Nigerian relatives stubbornly refuse to die) but, nevertheless, I’m not inspired to when it all seems like too much hassle and trauma.

With prospects of hauntings, horror housemates and the chance that my landlord may be using my toothbrush or drugging me so he can lick my fingers while I’m in deep sleep, homelessness actually begins to look like it could a more pleasant option.

In the spirit of Pulp Fiction‘s Jules Winnfield I think I’d rather “walk the Earth” and wander like a rootless rōnin, spending any funds I gather on samurai gear. It’d be more spiritually beneficial and safer than shutting myself in a suburban cell or an inner city residential hell, where dreadful things are eager to torment me.   

Perhaps the upcoming Rutger Hauer grindhouse flick, Hobo With a Shotgun, will scare me back indoors. Until then, quite frankly, I think I’d rather stay outside and live like a bum. At least I’ve got my samurai helmet to keep out the rain.

James’ previous column can be found here.

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