Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anthony J. Bryant - S-A Interview #2

This week brings us the second interview in the Samurai Archives interview series with an interview with author and historian, Anthony J. Bryant. Professor Obenjo Kusanosuke sat down with Tony to discuss his past, present, and future projects.

On behalf of the Samurai Archives, I’m pleased to be interviewing Anthony J. Bryant, author and historian of samurai history and esteemed SA Forum Citadel member. Tony has written four books, The Samurai, Early Samurai AD 200-1500, Samurai 1500-1600 and Sekigahara 1600 that have proven their weight in gold to numerous students of Japanese history and members of the SA Citadel. Apart from being a well-respected author and historian, who has consulted on numerous projects, including the recent BBC documentary on Sekigahara called Shogun: Heroes and Villains, Tony is also renowned for his knowledge of Japanese armor manufacturing process.
He’s an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism as well as the Japan Armor and Weapons Research and Preservation Society and has also written numerous articles on the subject. Tony also has a website, Sengoku Daimyo (http://www.sengokudaimyo.com), which is a treasure trove of information related to Japanese history and armor. It’s a must-see site that should be bookmarked.

OK: How did you become interested in Japanese history? What got you hooked?

Embarrassing admission: Shogun.

When I was a freshman in college, one of my best friends was the librarian (no surprise with that!), and one day he threw me a big, fat book and said, "You have to read this. It's GREAT!" The book was Clavell's Shogun. I read it, and loved it.

I started taking Japanese history, then language, classes. Before long, I realized that if I wanted to ever graduate, I'd have to change my major to Asian Studies.

I was also getting actively involved in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) at the time, and started spending more time trying to develop a Japanese "persona."

OK: It’s really no surprise that Clavell’s Shogun got you hooked. Seeing the miniseries during its original run helped to get me hooked when I was a child. I often wonder how many post-1980 Japanese professional and amateur historians are in his debt. What kind of a Japanese “persona” did you develop in the SCA? This is interesting. Can you tell us a little about it? How did it help you delve deeper into the study of Japanese history?

Well, originally it was not too well fleshed out. Kind of "generic samurai type" and late 1500s. Rather embarrassing, really, given what I've learned since. It was 90% enthusiasm and 10% knowledge. I didn't really get a handle on what a *real* Japanese persona would have been like until I went to live and work in Japan in 1986.

I've been told by a few people since then that I've kind of become the SCA's "go-to-guy" for Japanese stuff, but I don't think that's as true anymore. There are more and more people who are expanding the field of knowledge out there. A few of them have been my apprentices, like Josh Badgely here in the forum, but others like Lady Fujiwara (Kass McGann; it's a sin that she hasn't been made a Laurel for her work), Lady Saionji (who spends part of her time as "Lady Jehanne") Lady Solveig, and Count Raito (who is, by the way, currently king of Northshield) are spreading the good word and pushing the outside of the envelope. House Yama Kaminari has a very visible presence, and every year they manage to get a bit better and better (although I still am somewhat nonplussed about samurai camping out in yurts -- I thought we whupped the Mongols when they came calling Wink ) .

OK: I know from interacting with you on the SA Citadel Forum, you are fan of Heian through Azuchi-Momoyama history, but this is a fairly large timeframe. Is there a particular period that fascinates you more than others?

Oof. Tough call.

I think I like *most* periods of Japanese history, but for different sets of reasons. It's almost easier saying what I *don't* like. (Generally, Edo bores me to tears, although there are shining moments, events, and people that grab my interest.)

I'm particularly interested in the "high-Heian" court culture. I'm fascinated with the development of the Court and ranking system. The "soft culture" in particular appeals to me. That is, what was the LIFE of a courtier like? What did he eat? What did he wear? How did he get around? What did he actually DO for the greater part of the day, when he wasn't writing maudlin love poetry on the tear-dampened sleeves of his night-dress? (I think it may be a sad admission, but I actually have about five books in my professional library with the words "yûsoku kojitsu" -- 有職故実 -- in their titles. It's a hard term to translate, but basically it's something like "the way they used to have and do things," and it's all clothing and equipment and furniture and ranks and so on.

On a related note, I am fascinated by the power transition from the court in Heian Japan to the bakufu in Kamakura Japan, and the character of Taira no Kiyomori as a bridging figure. He literally was at once the last civil ruler, and at the same time the first martial class ruler -- a true bridging figure.

As a military junkie, the rise of the samurai fascinate me. The totally different natures and functions of governments of the three bakufu are startling, and actually something that most people probably don't even think about. A shogunate is *not* just a shogunate, and all things are not equal.

OK: You’ve already mentioned Taira no Kiyomori. Is he the most interesting persona from Japanese history for you? If not, who do you find the most interesting and why?

Miyamoto Musashi.

No, just kidding.

At different points in time, I have dad different "heroes" so to speak. I have, in due course, cycled through Yoshitsune, Takeda Shingen, Kusunoki Masashige,

As I read more, I find my opinions changing, though, as I begin to realize that much of the Western concept of the ideal samurai (whatever that may mean) and characters conventionally deemed worthy of respect, are what I consider the product of "lies told to gaijin" -- a variation on "lies told to children." For example -- yes, Yoshitsune was a tragic figure. He was also, apparently, rather capricious, a bit overly impulsive, and either naive or stupid beyond sane levels. Either he didn't realize he was being used, or was willing to let himself be for personal gain -- and that was a fatal character flaw. Was he a great hero, or just another mook?

To say I was interested in Nobunaga, Ieyasu, or Hideyoshi would be almost a cliché.

As I did research for Sekigahara, I found myself more and more being drawn to the personalities of Ishida Mitsunari and Kobayakawa Hideaki -- mostly because SO much is really not known about their true goals and motives, as those left to tell the story were not on their sides. I think it might be precisely the very opacity of the history there that is the reason I like them so much. Much of their "bad press" may be (I emphasize *may* be) attributable to their hostile biographers, and so much more is up for speculation that it's a never-ending source of speculation and opinions.

OK: What you just said about Ishida Mitsunari and Kobayakawa Hideaki is quite interesting. These are fascinating characters. Why do you suppose that they’ve been largely ignored in English-language scholarship and publications? Can you really attribute this, though, to hostile Japanese biographers? After all, the pickings in English are slim or next to none about some of the other titans of the Kamakura, Muromachi, Sengoku and Momoyama periods. This bothers me, as I’d love to see well-researched and equally well-written books on people like Uesugi Kenshin, Ashikaga Takauji, Date Masamune, Hojo Soun, Kato Kiyomasa, etc.—just to name a handful. Why do you think this is the case? Has there been an Edo period “bias” among researchers in the past?

Well, by "hostile biographers" I mean their immediate biographers. People who kept the records, and wrote diaries, shortly after the events transpired. And, certainly, through the Edo Period. In the police state that was the Edo bakufu, you wouldn't expect to find anyone doing the research to prove that the dynasty's founder was actually a crafty and Machiavellian usurper -- but that's exactly what he was. So the histories naturally would have painted Mitsunari, at least, in the worst possible light. The only question that remained for them was motive, and there's a host of possible suggestions, none of which would have been to the credit of a good man. So I have to wonder if they were protesting a bit too much. Mitsunari clearly was an ass, someone greatly lacking in the social skills to carry off his great endeavor, but I have to think he was also loyal to the one person who'd always been good to him -- Hideyoshi. That's why I tend to think his motives really *were* to preserve the Toyotomi. He just didn't think it through as well as he should have, and managed to cheese off the wrong people on the way.

The reason he and Hideaki and others have been largely ignored, I think, is that they're really just barely more than footnotes on Ieyasu's juggernaut onslaught to historical importance. Ieyasu is *such* a dominating person, and he had *such* an effect on the history of Japan that everyone else is in his shadow. And, really, it's always been like that. How many people can name the kings and princes Napoleon crushed in his effort to dominate Europe?

As to the English language world -- all those great names you mentioned are still suffering from the "extremely foreign" disease. Japan does not share the roots of our Western heritage in the same way that Thermopylae, Carthage, the Gauls and Celts, the Vikings, the Crusades, and the Renaissance and Age of Reason do. They are *outside* of that. Thanks to geography and Heroditus, we in the West are even more connected to Asia Minor (and especially a perennial favorite of Discovery TV, Ancient Egypt) than we ever will be to China or Japan. They are always going to be "the Other."

As a result, any market for books about them -- especially serious academic studies (which have a notoriously narrow interest *anyway*) -- is bound to be, sadly, small.

It's one of the reasons why, when people tell me they want to learn all about this or that really specialized area, I tell them to learn Japanese. There really is no option in the forseeable future.

OK: How did you find the Samurai Archives and what drew you to its forum?

Ancient history.

I was involved with a couple of Delphi forums, so one day I did a search of their forums for "Japanese History" and found the old Delphi Samurai Forum. (I think that was in 1837, when computers were powered by gerbil wheels.) And I've been with the gang ever since, through the various incarnations.

OK: Let’s talk about your books. Your works are often labeled as “MUST-READ” for those who want to start learning about samurai history. What made you decide to write? Were beginners the intended target audience of your three general books on samurai?

It's an honor to hear something like that, but I don't know if I totally buy it.

I don't know if I'd consider them "must read" books, but I *was* trying to make books that were popular -- and by that, I mean popular in the sense of "Japanese history for everyone" rather than academics. I think to an extent I paid for that academically -- a few people clearly had me pegged as "non ivory tower material" for trying to get the hay off the loft and onto the floor where the horses can get at it.

I like to think of my books as the gateway drugs to Japanese historical studies -- that after reading mine, they might find their way to read Elisonas, Friday, Gobbel, Farris, Jansen, Mass, et al.

The popular history aspect has paid off in some ways, however, as people seem to view me as more accessible, perhaps, than cloistered professors may be.

As to what made me start, though... well, that's really serendipity. When I wrote my first book for Osprey, there was only ONE other Japanese title -- Steve Turnbull's "Samurai Armies 1550-1600." I was really into Kamakura at the time, and living in Japan, so I knew there was a big hole there. Centuries of uncovered material. So I wrote Osprey a letter, suggesting that I should write a complementary book taking samurai up to 1550, and provided my professional and "interest" qualifications. (At the time, I was editing Tokyo Journal, so I had plenty of experience as a writer.)

They suggested, instead, that I should write a more detailed book on the samurai for a new line they were starting, called "Elite" -- and after that one, asked me to do a second Elite title that was more in line with my original suggestion. If memory serves, they actually asked me to write the last two or three I did. By the time I finished Sekigahara, I was back in the States and removed from general access to Japanese museums and battle sites.

OK: I guess it’s inevitable, but as you both have been published by Osprey, your works and those of Dr. Stephen Turnbull often get compared as you both have written about similar subject matters. Both you and Turnbull have done an invaluable service in terms of making samurai history accessible to the English-speaking world. However, I tend to view your books as the “next step” after reading Turnbull’s non-specific campaign or fortification-related Osprey works. He focuses on the “general”, while you tend to focus on the technical details—such as arms and armor and how they correspond to the times you are writing about. Do you think this is a fair assessment?

Well, my big thing is armour, after all. What they wore, what they had with them -- it's that "yûsoku kojitsu" thing.

I think people expect me to have a love-hate relationship with Turnbull -- but I've never actually met, spoken with, or even written him.

I probably should drop him a line someday. Wink

The thing is, the first HISTORY book I read about Japan -- not Shogun, but a real book about real Japanese people -- was his The Samurai, published in 1977. It went with me to Japan, and I *still* have it with me today. That book, as much as anything else, set my feet on the path I eventually followed.

OK: I believe that like Clavell, many of us also owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Turnbull, who is often on the receiving end of a lot of scorn by the academic community. How has the academic community reacted to your writing and research? I believe that Sekigahara is used as a text in some university classes that focus on samurai history.

That would please me immensely.

Actually, it was rather a schizophrenic response. In some ways, as a grad student, the fact that I'd actually *published books* on what I was studying was a bonus -- but in other moments, the fact that they were so... well, basic, all-encompassing, and (gasp!) unacademic hurt.

I do remember with some pleasure in one of my history seminars as we approached the battle of Sekigahara, the teacher started his lecture by actually quoting the first line of the book to us. And then he MENTIONED the book, and pointed to me, and said "He wrote the book on this battle." He gave the lecture, but allowed me to frequently interject commentary. That was the single best day I ever had as a graduate student, and I'll never forget Professor Wilson for that kindness.

OK: How do you feel about the current state of Japanese historical academia? As alluded to before, many people feel that the Sengoku period seems to have fallen by the wayside among academic circles. As a specialist of the Sengoku period, have you ever had the desire to pursue a full-time career in academia?

Sore subject, but the short answer is, yes. That *had* been the goal.

OK: You are also an expert on samurai armor and the art of how they are made using the traditional techniques. It is my understanding that you spent a considerable amount of time studying this art and have made some beautiful pieces yourself. Would you consider picking up the tools of the trade again? While the market is small, I’m sure that some collectors would pay handsomely for custom-made armor sets. Do you have any pictures of some pieces that you made that you’d like to share with us?

Not anymore, I don't. I have a nasty habit of giving things away. When I got into stained glass for a few years in college, I did a pile of windows, boxes, and so on. I don't have a one. Ditto wood carving, oil painting, etc.


If I am ever in a position, however, to have the *space* to start something up again, I would like to. I am currently suffering "apartment hell" -- with too many hobbies and not nearly enough space for any of them.

OK: As you know, some SA Citadel Forum members as well as friends have been pressuring you to write something new on the battle of Sekigahara. Your book of the same title is a gem, but the 96-page format of the Osprey Campaign Series of books doesn’t leave you the room to go into the details that many of us hunger for. Are you considering a return to this fascinating topic? I’d also love to see you take this topic on in a way that inclusively covers the run-up to the confrontation between Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu as well as the Kyushu and northeastern Japan campaigns and associated political intrigue.

Yes, and I've found it's really difficult to touch-type with one arm wrenched behind one's back.

As a matter of fact, I have notes now, and vague outlines, for a sort of Sekigahara "double-whammy" -- a *real* serious, and more in-depth history of the battle, as well as a novel about it. The novel is the one I really like the idea of, as THAT'S where I'd get to let all my evil theories and rampant speculation take wing. The trick would be finding markets for them.

This all started again when I was doing the research for the BBC's docudrama episode "Shogun" about Tokugawa Ieyasu and Sekigahara for the series "Heroes and Villains." As I started going back through my research, I found out (again) how fascinated I was by this battle, and all the political machinations that took place before it. It was invigorating -- to fall in love with the history all over again. And to realize how much never made it to the Osprey book.

OK: Well, we’re all waiting for those Sekigahara books, so get on with them! Don’t make us wait too long, okay? Do you have any other projects that you are working on that you can tell us about? Would you ever consider a foray into the world of historical Japanese fiction?

Well, I just finished a round of edits on a book called Himiko for Kurodahan. The author is an Italian gentleman by the name of Massimo Suomare, and it is an almost painfully annotated and examined look at Japan through the eyes of writers of the early Chinese chronicles. It's amazing how much history is in them, and how much history is *not* in them. So much -- so very, very much -- is speculation on the part of modern historians trying to read between the lines.

Who was Himiko? What was her connection to Amaterasu? And to Empress Jingu? And where -- and what -- was Yamatai? Or was it Yamai? Or was it Yamadai? And what was Wa?

It's a fascinating -- but very difficult -- book. The format is slightly intimidating, but when it comes out, I think a lot of people will like it.

As to my own projects -- wow, historical Japanese fiction.

I'd love to. I have so many ideas for things -- but I remain concerned about marketability.

OK: In terms of Japanese history, what have you recently been reading for leisure?

Promise you won't laugh.

I just picked up Selling Songs and Smiles: The Sex Trade in Heian and Kamakura Japan by Janet Goodwin. So far, it looks great but... well, the darned thing's not illustrated. Wink

OK: Who are your favorite historians and what books would you recommend? What about for Japanese historical fiction?

I have to start with my old boss at IU, Jurgis Elisonas (who did most of his publishing under George Ellison). His Deus Destroyed is *the* history of Christianity in Japan, and one of my favorite books on Japanese history.

The late profs. Marius Jansen and Geoffrey Mass left an incredible void -- their work, and the work of their erstwhile students, is incredibly valuable.

Anyone interested in samurai per se should definitely look into the works of Wayne Farris and Karl Friday.

Really, the list of recommendables would be way too long.

As for Japanese historical fiction -- well, it depends. I love JAPANESE Japanese historical fiction. I enjoy Yumemakura Baku's Onmyôji series, and I loved Tsuji's Azuchi ôkanki (which was translated into English as the must-read novel The Signore).

As for Western-written J-fic, however... I'm not overly impressed too much with some of what I've seen. But then again, I'm hyper picky. I can't read Shogun anymore -- the book that started it all for me -- for the picky errors in it.

Like a cop who's thrown out of a story mentioning a silencer on a revolver (pointless -- they work on semi-autos, but not revolvers), I'm thrown out of a Japanese historical story for mentioning the wrong garment, the wrong color on a robe, wax candles in a Heian mansion, etc. And so many writers have the "exotic disease" -- they HAVE to use Japanese words when there's a perfectly fine English one, just because the novel is set in Japan.

Maybe I've been an editor too long. It's hard to read for pleasure sometimes.

OK: Thank you, Tony. This has been a lot of fun, and as always, very interesting!

All of Tony Bryant’s books can be purchased from the Amazon-run Samurai Archives Bookstore http://astore.amazon.com/samurai-20.

If any blog readers have a question for Tony, post them to the comments before October 10th and I’ll forward them to Tony, to be answered in a later post.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Katanas And Joysticks: The Newest Wave Of Video Game Samurai

New for the Sony PSP (Playstation Portable) is 侍道 Portable (Samurai Dou Portable, or Way Of The Samurai Portable). This comes only in a Japanese language version but will work with any PSP. It's a handheld version of the popular series (with part three of the console version due to hit this November). It puts the player in the sandals of a ronin who drifts into town, and allows them to choose his role in a conflict brewing between rival samurai clans, merchants, thugs, and townspeople. This is done by having conversations with various people you meet around town, and the path the game takes branches depending on your answer. You can join any faction, join them all and play one against the other, or screw over all of them. There are lots of swordfights along with many missions and tasks given (depending on the faction you ally with), not to mention a multitude of different swords to collect.
This time, the story centers around a state called Gishuamari during the Sengoku period. By slaying the late ruling family, the Sakurai clan, a man named Fujimori became the state's Daimyo. As a ruler, he keeps an iron fist on his domain and the way he dispatched his former lord made him enemies of the peasants and old noble families. With the freedom provided in the game, you can betray your old employers and go with a new one, remove yourself from corrupt forces and join the battle for justice, or simply kill everything that moves. The game has excellent replay value, providing all sorts of endings both good and bad for the player to discover. The series is a particular favorite of mine-it's like an interactive chambara film that never unspools the same way twice.

Also out for the Japanese Wii and Japanese PS2 systems is the popular SNK fighting game, Samurai Spirits: 六番勝負 (Samurai Spirits: Rokuban Shoubu-'Sixth Match'). As the title would indicate, it's a compilation of five previous entires in the Samurai Spirits franchise along with an all-new sixth entry (天下一剣客伝-Tenka Ichi Kenkakuden-'The Legend Of The Country's Greatest Swordsman'). It's like getting six games in one! Online play is also a strong component of the release (at least for the PS2 version) along with lots of options to customize characters, along with extra training and versus modes in addition to the games. I haven't tried it myself since I usually don't care for fighting games, but it seems like a great value for a very storied line of games.

Released back in May was Kunitouri Zunou Batoru Nobungaga No Yabou (国盗り頭脳バトル 信長の野望-Nobunaga’s Ambition: National Domination Leader Battle) by Koei for the Nintendo DS (will work on any DS system, but is in Japanese language only). You might see this on assorted game sites as Owari Zunou Battle-not really sure where they came up with Owari, though, as that’s clearly wrong. This is a portable version of Koei’s extremely popular Nobunaga’s Ambition series, and is a bit different than the regular entries in the series. Here, you push ‘chess pieces’ representing famous generals over a map of Japan (board game style) in order to fight battles and conquer provinces. The elaborate province and government development of the normal games is absent, but it’s a fast moving, involving, and fun game. I’m finding it very enjoyable-nice graphics and portraits for such a small unit as well. You can download a trial playable demo for the game HERE.

Nobunaga No Yabou 2 (信長の野望 2-Nobunaga's Ambition 2) made its debut on the Nintendo DS (any system, but Japanese language only) in July. Looks like it's a port of the old Super Nintendo game Nobunaga's Ambition:Lord Of Darkness and will be back to the traditional province grabbing and developing routine.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Questions from the Audience: Patrick Galloway

Here are some of the questions that have come in for our first interviewee, Patrick Galloway:

How have samurai films changed in the last 50 years, and how do you think they will evolve going forward?

PG: While I try to avoid the somewhat tired comparison of Japanese samurai films and Hollywood westerns, in this case it's helpful, as both genres have seen similar mutations over the decades (popular and fairly conventional in the 50s and 60s, more experimental in the 70s, declining popularity during the 80s, 90s and 00s yet more post-modern and/or sentimental). Culturally, the two genres have become increasingly "old fashioned" in the minds of modern pop culture consumers, and have thus become less popular with these audiences. Politically, the samurai and the cowboy can be seen as right-wing icons, an issue that has affected their relative popularity over the years. And of course television has had its impact, particularly in Japan, where jidai-geki found a new home during the 70s and has remained in the form of series and annual taiga dramas.

Looking at a recent example of what I call the neo-samurai film, something like When the Last Sword is Drawn, Love and Honor or Hana, one notices a softening, a feminization if you will. There's less emphasis on the sword and more on human drama and human relationships. This is not to denigrate these films, (they're both quite good), but it points to yet another development in the genre. And, once again, this shift is mirrored in a western like 3:10 to Yuma, a recent remake of Delmer Daves' 1957 classic: While the original film was stripped down, basic, primal, the remake added loads of additional character development and personal drama.

Looking forward, I think it's safe to say the samurai, like the cowboy, is such a cultural fixture that he will never fully fade from view. However, barring another big fascist turn in Japan, I doubt the samurai film will ever regain its former glory as a film genre.

I'm a big fan of older Japanese cinema and bemoan the fact that (apart from Fujita Makoto and a handful of survivors from the glory days) there don't seem to be any modern leading men with the presence and charisma of Mifune Toshiro, Katsu Shintaro, Wakayama Tomisaburo, and Shimura Takashi. (Maybe Takenaka Naoto, but he also accepts so many parts unworthy of his talents that it's kind of a stretch, IMO.) In your opinion, who are the best modern jidai geki/chambara actors and actresses? Who do you think will stand the test of time and be talked about decades from now? Are SMAP members really the best the Japanese film and TV industry can come up with?

PG: Oh c'mon, Kimutaku wasn't so bad! But your point is well-taken. Frankly, my area of expertise lies further back in the 20th century, for the simple reason that I find samurai cinema of the 50s, 60s and early 70s to be the most compelling, exciting, and well-made. The old saw "they just don't make 'em like that anymore" is particularly apt in this regard. So I can't really address your question about who the best modern jidai-geki actors are -- I'm afraid I'm just not that interested. I've enjoyed the contemporary samurai films I've seen, like Yoji Yamada's Twilight Samurai/Hidden Blade/Love & Honor trilogy, but these films featured stunt casting and thus don't really address your question.

It is gratifying to hear you're with me in your appreciation of actors like Takashi Shimura, Japan's answer to Spencer Tracy in gravitas and quiet dignity. You know, before I became interested in samurai films, I was heavy into Hollywood films of the 30s and 40s, so perhaps that explains something about my tastes -- rather than keeping up with what's current, hip and happening, I'm perfectly happy to spend my time with William Powell and Myrna Loy in the 30s or Toshiro Mifune in the Sengoku period -- you can't get much further away from today, and I must admit the escapist value is important to me as well.

It seems that jidai-geki tend to overwhelmingly revolve around the one lone wolf-- the rebel or the reject, whereas Japanese society is very "group-oriented”. And since in Japanese society the nail that sticks up usually gets hammered down, many jidai geki seem to run contrary to the very nature of Japanese society, where the norm would be to expect a samurai to go down fighting for his lord. Yet in the case of the American Western, the lone gunman fits almost perfectly with the American ideal of the rugged individual. Why is it that Japanese seem so fascinated with the lone wolf figure in their samurai films when it is so far away from their cultural ideal? Is it purely the influence of Westerns on Japanese filmmaking, or what?

PG: The story of an individual who stands up against an oppressive group, institution or society is a universally compelling narrative. It's not surprising that this narrative would resonate with the Japanese, whose rigidly group-oriented society has, at times in its history, plumbed the depths of personal subjugation. What you are observing is the dichotomy between creative culture and maintainer culture. Creative culture (poets, painters, musicians) is traditionally at odds with the more powerful maintainer culture (government, industry, the military), each group embracing a very different set of values. When the latter co-opts the former, you get propaganda. Sure, the US has traditionally championed the so-called "rugged individual," but this is more a matter of propaganda than genuine policy. The fact is, the state, any state, has a vested interest in keeping its citizens in line, regardless of whether that state has endorsed some romantic notion to the contrary. Japan just happens to be more up front about it. In response, over the centuries, the Japanese have adopted a healthy cynicism in regards to their leaders and institutions, as seen in a sentiment known as hoganbiiki, essentially "sympathy for the loser." Etymologically, the term refers to the tragic fate of Yoshitsune Minamoto, and with it comes the understanding that such heroic figures are ultimately crushed by a system more concerned with maintaining the status quo.

It's worth mentioning that not all samurai films involve a straight-up lone wolf. The Japanese have found ingenious ways of merging rebellious narratives with a line-toeing obedience to the state. Take for example, the Chushingura, the Loyal 47 Ronin defy the state in exacting their revenge, but so fully embody the ideals of bushido that they serve a larger propaganda purpose (plus they were all sentenced to an "honorable and face-saving, samurai's" death by committing seppuku, rather than having to endure the humiliation of being executed like common criminals via crucifixion or beheading ... ). Tales of unflagging loyalty to an unscrupulous lord provide another way around the issue; the samurai's tragic demise comes wholly out of his devotion to his lord, however misguided, and thus all is forgiven. Examples of this can be seen in Raizo Ichikawa's character in The Betrayal and Mikijiro Hira's ronin in Sword of the Beast.

At the end of the day, fiction is about conflict. Nobody wants to hear a story about a man who knuckled under and did what he was told. Tension and conflict are the engine of any narrative, no matter the genre, no matter the nation. It's in us. It's primal. So it's no surprise that the giri/ninjo conflict occupies such a pivotal position in the jidai-geki canon.

You previously mentioned an enthusiasm for manga based chambara, stuff like Lone Wolf & Cub, Hanzo the Razor, Bohachi Bushido and Lady Snowblood (all written Kozue Koike and reviewed in Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves). What other manga adaptations have you discovered? Do you (or have you) read much manga, either older stuff like the Koike material or anything which is currently being released? If yes, what would be your recommendations for worth-while manga reading? What manga titles would you personally like to see released in an English language edition? Which could have been made into a great film but never was?

PG: In my book Asia Shock, you'll find plenty more manga movie reviews, as well as a sidebar discussing the genre. Stuff like The Story of Ricky, Female Prisoner Scorpion, Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl, Oldboy, MPD Psycho Detective--all manga adaptations.

As for me and manga: I used to have all the Akira trade paperbacks; I was a subscriber to sadly-now-defunct Pulp magazine, where I got exposed to great stuff like Strain (written by Buronson, art by Ryoichi Ikegami), Toyokazu Matsunaga's Bakune Young and Junji Ito's Uzumaki (the movie version of which didn't hold a candle to the manga -- how could it?); I still have a big stack of Takehiko Inoue's Vagabond; and looking at my bookshelf, I see the compilations Comics Underground Japan and Secret Comics Japan, Fred Schodt's classic overview Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, Osamu Tezuka's The Phoenix, and, on the dark side of the shelf, Yoshihiro Tatsumi's The Push Man, Suehiro Maruo's oh-so-wicked Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show and Ultra-Gash Inferno and, last but not least, Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino (who was also responsible for the second and fourth Guinea Pig movies). Oh, and I subscribed to Shonen Jump the first couple of years but found it a bit too middle school-y for my taste (although I did like Hikaru no Go and Shaman King).

As for live-action adaptations of any of this stuff, I'm all for it! Can you imagine a live-action Akira? I know Kon Ichikawa shot The Phoenix back in the 70s (in fact I know where to get it, just haven't gotten around to it yet). I suppose I could be really transgressive and suggest a film adaptation of some of Suehiro Maruo's stuff, but that's not going to happen -- he's way too beyond the pale. Ero-guro guru Edogawa Rampo is a big influence on his work, so I guess you could substitute something like Horrors of Malformed Men or Blind Beast. Hideshi Hino's manga is gruesome good fun and ripe for film, but for godsake, don't let him direct!

How has your writing style changed from the time of writing Lone Wolves and Stray Dogs to the writing of Warring Clans and Flashing Blades? Is there any drastic differences between Lone Wolves and Warring Clans? What exactly can we expect from the new book and when is it supposed to be released?

PG: I've noticed a slight change in my writing style, namely it's become a little more serious, not as kooky and flip as it was in the first book. If you've read Asia Shock, you'll see what I mean. The first book was an explosion of pent-up enthusiasm, and getting that out of my system was a step in the direction of a more refined style. Not that I'm disowning SD&LW -- it's still very near and dear to my heart. And I'm not about to become some dour critic, dispensing pompous pronouncements. I've got a sense of humor and an irreverent world view, and that's going to come across in whatever I write.

Format-wise, Warring Clans, Flashing Blades is a synthesis of the first two books. I've included new biographical sketches, cultural background and Takuan the Know-It-All Priest sidebars, but the reviews are longer and I've included capsule reviews as well.

For the record, WCFB is set for a Fall '09 release. It was originally slated for Fall '08 (the manuscript has been finished since February), but unfortunately the vicissitudes of the publishing industry, combined with the global credit crunch and the machinations of my publisher's Japanese parent company, have all combined to create certain cash flow issues that have delayed release of my book (along with a dozen other titles). It's frustrating, but what can I do? I already spent the advance!

Jidai-geki and chambara seem to deal with similar themes as the Japanese yakuza film genre (honor, redemption, revenge, and failure/self destruction). Do you see any influence on jidai-geki and chambara from the Japanese Yakuza film genre, or vice versa? And, have you considered writing a book on the Yakuza genre?

It's important to distinguish between sub-genres when discussing yakuza films. It sounds to me like you are referring to ninkyo-eiga, the traditional "chivalrous" yakuza picture (think Ken Takakura wielding a short sword), as opposed to matatabi-eiga, "wandering gambler" films (Zatoichi springs immediately to mind) or the grittier jitsuroku-eiga, the "true story" yakuza film popularized by Kinji Fukasaku during the 70s in the ground-breaking Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Jingi Naki Tatakai) series and numerous one-offs like the Bunta Sugawara classic Modern Yakuza, Outlaw Killer.

As for the whole samurai/yakuza genre overlap, it was inevitable, as the history of the two groups overlap, leading to a certain measure of cross-pollination (both culturally and, later, in film). The codes and rituals of the yakuza originated during the Tokugawa period. Although influenced by the samurai class, the yakuza developed in very different directions, concerning themselves with gambling, prostitution, and other activities of the demimonde.

Since the majority of samurai films are set during the Tokugawa period, you've got yakuza popping up in them and, conversely, plenty of samurai populating the landscape of yakuza pictures set during this period. (And, of course, directors working in one genre often made pictures in the other.) The big difference is that while the samurai class (and the feudal system in general) went kaput early in the Meiji era, the yakuza have continued to thrive to the present day, bringing the yakuza film genre along with them. Modern yakuza culture has provided fodder for experimental filmmakers like Beat Takeshi, Takashi Miike, Sabu and others, providing a plethora of innovative, off-kilter films.

Oh, and as for me writing a book on yakuza films, don't look for that one any time soon. I enjoy the genre, but the passion level isn't sufficient to warrant the amount of time and energy required. Other authors like Patrick Macias and Mark Schilling have done good work in this area, so I can move on to something else.


Well, that brings this interview to a close. On behalf of the Samurai archives, I'd like to thank Pat for taking the time to chat with us. It's been a lot of fun and very interesting. My "must watch" film list just got longer! Very Happy

If you do have any additional questions for Pat, please feel free to visit his website at http://www.cyberpat.com and drop him a line.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shadowboxing: Kagemusha or the Real Deal? Kenshin Vs. Shingen

I thought I'd revisit Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin again for this week's blog post, this time looking at their purported hand-to-hand combat during the 4th battle of Kawanakajima. The typical depiction of this event, from the Koyo Gunkan, is as follows:

While the Uesugi and Takeda armies clashed in mortal combat, a lone mounted warrior with a white cowl covering his head rushed into Shingen's battlefield headquarters, directly at Shingen, who was sitting at his camp stool, and drew his sword. Shingen had no time to draw his sword, and instead was forced to catch the blows on his war fan. Shingen's attendant, Hara Osumi no kami, ran to Shingen's aid, and struck at the rider with a spear but missed, hitting the horse instead. The horse reared, and the mounted warrior retreated.

This is the same famous scene found in books and movies; The warrior in the white cowl is Uesugi Kenshin, and Takeda Shingen's warfan bore eight sword cuts. However, did this really happen as described, or is this just the stuff of legends? It is plausible. Kenshin is known to have held Minamoto Yoshitsune in high esteem, and as such always rode with his men, and personally led his men into battle to emulate his hero. It would not be unreasonable for him to have made his way to Shingen's camp. According to one book (Sengoku Busho Omoshiro Jiten), there are historical records that have been discovered that dispute this personal combat. According to this book, the Kenshin Nenpu (Kenshin Chronological Record), states:
Arakawa, who was dressed as Kenshin, rode at Shingen and attacked. Shingen was unable to draw his sword, and so blocked with his war fan. Hara Osumi no kami ran to Shingen's aid, and drove off the mounted warrior.
Arakawa Izu no kami was supposed to have been Kenshin's kagemusha (double) during the 4th battle of Kawanakajima (although I couldn't seem to find him in the Sengoku Jinmei Jiten). According to the above source, it is thought that the man that Shingen fought at Kawanakajima was Kenshin's kagemusha, rather than Kenshin himself. To further confuse the issue, according to the Hokuetsu Gunki, some time after the battle, Shingen received a visit from a monk by the name of Tenkai, who would later become an advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tenkai would tell Ieyasu that Shingen told him during thier meeting that "the man who fought with Kenshin that day was not me, but someone who looked like me". Meaning that apparently it wasn't Shingen but his Kagemusha that fought off the attack.

We are left with the somewhat boggling possibility that that they were both kagemusha. Moreover, it is believed that Kenshin and Shingen had never seen each other's face, which likely would also have added to the confusion. Although the personal combat between Kenshin and Shingen is recorded in the Koyo Gunkan, there doesn't seem to be any other additional evidence to support this, however I only flipped through a few books in preparation for this post, so I welcome any comments or sources to dispute or enhance what I have here. In particular, I have to wonder if Terje Solum's Saga of the Samurai series (Which I don't have, but is on my "to buy" list) on the Takeda clan covers this.

Some references for this post:
Koyo Gunkan. (Edited by Yoshida Toyo), 19th edition, Tokyo, August 2005.

Narumoto, Tatsuya. Sengoku Bushou Omoshiro Jiten, Japan, 1998
Sato, Hiroaki. Legends of the Samurai, Overlook, 1995
Arakawa Izu no kami - SamuraiWiki

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Interview with Patrick Galloway Part 2

This week continues Obenjo Kusanosuke's two-part interview with Patrick Galloway, Author of Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook and Asia Shock: Horror and Dark Cinema from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong & Thailand. Enjoy!

OK: Hi Pat! Welcome back for part two of our interview. We left off part one with you mentioning some fabulous films that were directed by some of Japan’s all-time great jidai geki directors. I know from past discussions that you are fan of Mizoguchi Kenji’s films. Mizoguchi was a master filmmaker in his own right but never found the kind of overseas commercial success that Kurosawa enjoyed. Can you tell us what it is about Mizoguchi’s directorial style that is so appealing to you? Why do you think that Mizuguchi remained relatively unknown in some key overseas markets such as America?

PG: Kenji Mizoguchi is considered one of the Big Three Japanese auteurs, along with Ozu and Kurosawa (a triumvirate demarcated decades ago by film critics here and abroad). His style is fluid, graceful and magnificent. There are three reasons why Mizoguchi's profile in the US has never been as high as Kurosawa's: 1) Kurosawa was at Toho, a studio with distribution deals and a chain of theaters in the US (as opposed to Mizoguchi's studio, Daiei, which had neither); 2) Kurosawa's style is far more influenced by American film (he idolized John Ford), and is thus more accessible to American audiences than Mizoguchi's; and 3) Mizoguchi's choice of subject matter was a bit dark for American audiences -- cruelty and prostitution were two big themes for him, not the kind of topics that are going to sell a lot of popcorn. Mizoguchi was much bigger in Europe, particularly in France. Andre Bazin, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard lauded him in Cahiers du cinéma during the 50's, considering him greater than Kurosawa. Style-wise, the fundamental difference between Kurosawa and Mizoguchi is that, as Mizoguchi himself famously stated, his films unfurl like a scroll, rather than moving from cut to cut like the turning pages of a book. Mizoguchi's takes are longer, the camera often moving from scene to scene, rather than cutting like Kurosawa.

OK: And it’s a little strange, but while Mizoguchi got the credit he deserved in Japan, Kurosawa was often panned. Why was that?

PG: Ironically, it was due to Kurosawa's early success in Europe and America. Rashomon won the Grand Prix at the Venice International Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1951. Japanese critics, in a stunningly xenophobic turn, assumed that if Western critics liked his films, there must be something wrong with his work, that it couldn't be authentically Japanese (for then, surely it would be incomprehensible to the West). Bear in mind this was just a few short years after Japan's defeat in World War II, and some measure of antipathy towards the West is understandable. Plus his films did exhibit a Western influence. Nevertheless, he was ill-served by these early critiques, and they disturbed him deeply.

OK: Staying on the subject of directors, some have had an incredible ability to make their stars shine brighter than usual on the silver screen resulting in some very special director - actor collaborations. We all know about Kurosawa and Mifune, but take an incredible actor like Nakadai Tatsuya—who possesses an unbelievable range of talent. But is there one director, whom in your opinion made Nakadai’s star burn brighter than it normally does?

PG: Well my first thought is Masaki Kobayashi who gave Nakadai his start, introducing him to the world in profound and disturbing films likeBlack River and the Human Condition trilogy. But Tatsuya Nakadai had already been acting on the stage prior to his screen debut with Kobayashi, and his particular star tends to burn quite brightly no matter which director he's working with. Take a look at his performances in Satsuo Yamamoto's Blood End, Hideo Gosha's Goyokin, Kihachi Okamoto's Sword of Doom, Kurosawa's Ran, Kon Ichikawa's The Key, Kenji Misumi's Zatoichi -- The Festival of Fire, Masahiro Shinoda's Buraikan, Shiro Toyoda's Portrait of Hell, Mikio Naruse's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, hell, even Tonino Cervi's spaghetti western Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die (Nakadai plays a psychotic Mexican bandit in that one). He's always brilliant, always gives 100% and is, in my opinion, the greatest Japanese actor of the 20th century (and beyond ... ).

OK: Do you think Shinoda Masahiro brought out the best in Iwashita Shima? By the way, I was surprised she didn’t make your list of favorite actresses! But seriously, she has an unnerving beauty and sensuality that when combined with her on-screen intelligence, is enchanting to the point of lethality! I intend to rest my case by mentioning her collaboration with Shinoda, who is also her husband, in his amazing Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees. You wrote a very good piece about this film in your book, Asia Shock. Would you agree that this film is a perfect marriage of the jidai geki and horror genres? The film is violent, sexually charged and downright spooky!

PG: I would put Shima Iwashita in the same class as Nakadai, a consummate professional and transcendently gifted performer who tends to shine no matter who she's working for. I think it's the lesser talents that need a director to "bring out the best" in them (like, say, Brad PItt needs David Fincher -- I've never seen Pitt top his performance in Fight Club). So yes, Iwashita's terrific. Having said that, she's not one of my favorites. You mentioned the term unnerving, and that's what I get from her, an ice queen vibe that makes a performance like that in Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees all the more disturbing. The scene where she suckles a severed head -- not for a minute did I doubt her sincerity, and that's pretty shocking! Incidentally, I give her her props in the new book, Warring Clans, Flashing Blades.

OK: What other jidai geki horror films would you recommend?

PG: Well there's Kobayashi's Kwaidan for starters. That's four films in one, so you definitely get your money's worth there, plus a great cast: Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tetsuro Tamba, and Katsuo Nakamura as Hoichi the Earless! Then there are a number of film versions of the classic The Ghost of Yotsuya to check out; I'd particularly recommend the 1959 version directed by King of Japanese Horror Nobuo Nakagawa. Teruo Ishii's The Joy of Torture is fairly horrendous, cataloging heinous acts of cruelty down through the ages. In the new book I discuss freaky jidai geki films like the bloody revenge thriller Shura, the supernatural, Heian era drama Kuroneko and the gruesome Toei exploitation flick Quick-Draw Okatsu (all highly recommended).

OK: Yes, those are indeed very good films. I do think that one of the great things about jidai geki, is that as period pieces, you can drop any kind of genre into them, such as musicals and comedies and make them work quite well. And regarding comedies, I really think that Okamoto Kihachi was able to bring a very sharp and witty sense of humor to his jidai geki directorial efforts. Which of his films make you laugh?

PG: I think Kill! and Warring Clans are two of his funniest, most uproarious films. But what's amazing about Okamoto is his ability to blend comedy with drama, action and violence, often in the same scene! Okamoto fought in World War II and experienced his share of carnage. The dark absurdities of war instilled in him a gallows humor that shows up in many of his films, particularly the ones in which he had the most creative control. Unfortunately, he was often at odds with the Toho brass, and some of his films clearly show a stifled Okamoto phoning it in (see Battle of Okinawa).

OK: Sadly East Meets West , Okamoto’s 1995 “samurai in the Wild West” comedy, hasn’t been legitimately released on DVD in the US or other overseas markets. It’s a shame as nearly half the movie is in English and I thought Takenaka Naoto was a real treat to watch. He kept me in stitches! Have you managed to see it?

PG: No, that's yet another film on my ever-lengthening wish list.

OK: And what about another samurai western, Red Sun, featuring the fearsome threesome of Mifune Toshiro, Charles Bronson and Alain Deon? What do you think of this movie?

PG: Not bad. But take Mifune out of the equation and it's a pretty routine affair. There are some great set pieces, though, with Mifune and Bronson fighting together against hordes of attackers -- the sword 'n pistol combo is exciting and unique. And as always, Alain Delon is super cool and Ursula Andress is smoking hot!

OK: Ah, yes, I see what you mean. And thanks for bringing up the fact that Ursula Andress starred in that movie as well. It seems that after this film, she went on to star in some not-so-great soft-core Italian exploitation films. And speaking of exploitation movies, this is also a genre that has shown up under the guise of jidai geki to give us some surprisingly entertaining B-style films during the 1970s and early 80s. One such series of films were the Hanzo the Razor movies starring the late and great Katsu Shintaro, of Zatoichi fame. You wrote about this series in Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves and this convinced me to plop down the cash to buy the set, even though I’m not the biggest fan of exploitation jidai geki. I actually really enjoyed these films! What’s your take on the Hanzo the Razor series?

PG: It's all in the book, Obenjo. The fact that I wrote reviews for all three movies, rather than a blanket review of the trilogy, speaks to my enthusiasm for this short-lived, severely twisted, boisterously priapic series. As you may know, the films were based on a manga by Kazuo Koike (of Lone Wolf & Cub fame). I have a particular passion for manga movies, as they tend to occupy most outrageous corner of Japanese cinema.

OK: Yeah, the “enormity” of it all was quite funny! But I do have to say, I thought Brick McBurly, in Samurai Sexecutioner put Katsu’s “Hanzo” to shame in oh so many ways. What did you think of this film? I thought it was another McBurly masterpiece!

PG: Since our last interview, I took it upon myself to screen a film starring this McBurly guy you seem so keen on, the very film you mention in fact. It didn't merit more than a two-word review so I guess I'll go with "pond scum," or better, "shit sandwich."

OK: What’s up with you and Brick? I guess it is fair to say that none of Brick’s films will make your desert isle top ten list! So, if you were on a deserted island all to yourself with a TV, DVD player and a power source, what would be the top 10 samurai movies you’d want with you?

PG: Well Yojimbo and Sanjuro, I couldn't really live without those. Gosha's Hunter In the Dark, that's one you can watch over and over. I'd need a Nemuri Kyoshiro picture, so I'd take my favorite, Sleepy Eyes of Death: Sword of Seduction (no wait, that's only on VHS ... ). A Bloody Spear on Mt. Fuji, now there's a great film! And Kenji Misumi's The Last Samurai is incredible. What are we up to? Six? Hmm. Oh hell, this is ridiculous. There are so many great samurai films, there's no way I can pick ten without it being a random sampling. But to honor your question and round out the list, let's say Harakiri, Lone Wolf & Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx, The Ceiling at Utsunomiya and Ran.

OK: Excellent list! I think you and I could talk about samurai films all night—as our wives can attest to! Therefore, why don’t we give some other people here the chance to ask you some questions? How does that sound to you?

PG: Fine by me, so long as they don't involve someone named "Brick."

OK: Alright, so if you have a question for Pat Galloway, please respond to this post, and I’ll submit them to Pat. Answers will be posted soon after that. Also, don't forget to check out Pat's website at http://www.cyberpat.com

Pat Galloway says: Oh oh, I think I just
saw Brick McBurly...I did!!! They are filming
an episode of "Abarenbo Gaijin" here!

If you have any questions for Pat, please feel free to post them in the comments for this thread!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Why Kawanakajima? Shingen and Kenshin's Five Battles

Sengoku Daimyo Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin are two well known figures from Japan's Sengoku period who fought five battles on the Kawanakajima plain in Shinano province (Modern day Nagano prefecture) between 1553 and 1564. (The fouth battle was depicted in the 1990 Kadokawa Haruki movie Heaven and Earth) Why did Kawanakajima become the main battleground for these two warriors? What made Kawanakajima such a contested area? I thought I'd tackle this question for my blog post this week. After a combination of poking around and deductive reasoning, I can come up with a few reasons. Although, there is no way to really know which reasons might be correct, a little theoretical guesswork never hurt anyone.

1. Shingen was looking to expand his territory. Just like every other Sengoku Daimyo, Shingen wanted to expand his lands. More lands meant more rewards for his retainers, which meant more loyalty, as well as more resources. Kai province, Shingen's home province (Modern day Yamanashi prefecture), did not have ocean access, and as such was at a disadvantage (the need for salt would be an example of a critical disadvantage, and the lack of a ready supply of fish could also be seen as a disadvantage. The lack of access to ocean trade, yet another). In 1554, Shingen entered a three-way alliance with the Hojo and Imagawa, which effectively cut him off from direct ocean access to the south. His only option for direct ocean access would be to go North - Through Shinano and Echigo, through Kenshin's territory.

2. Uesugi Kenshin was the only Daimyo powerful enough to stand up to Shingen. Shingen handily defeated Murakami Yoshikiyo and Ogasawara Nagatoki, leaving Kenshin the only roadblack between Shingen and domination of Shinano province. From a military standpoint, the plain of Kawanakajima was a key route between both Shingen and Kenshin's territory. The Kawanakajima plain was a mere 60 kilometers from Kenshin's home castle of Kasuga, and an occupation by Shingen here could have proved extremely dangerous. From Shingen's standpoint, Kawanakajiima would be a key access point to block southern movement by Kenshin.

3. Kawanakajima was an important key intersection of politics and trade. The Kawanakajima plain falls between the Sai and Chikuma rivers, and are fertile and productive lands. Also, the roads of Kai, Kozuke, and Echigo all intersect here. It was an important highway for the politics and economics of Mino and Totomi provinces. It would also be an important launch pad for Shingen's invasion of Echigo, or a strike south by Kenshin.

The main cause here is Shingen's military aggression. Shingen was, by default, the aggressor. As mentioned above, he wanted ocean access, and to expand his lands. He was boxed in, and after the Alliances of 1554, had nowhere to go but North. Peace with Kenshin would have meant the end of Shingen's expansion, and based on the experience of other Daimyo during the sengoku period, could have meant the end of Shingen. It is likely he had to keep his generals busy with war, or have them turn on him in eventual dissatisfaction. So it is even possible that ocean access might have been a lesser motivation than simply keeping his army busy. Despite this, Shingen still suffered the rebellion of three vassals, Katanuma Nobumoto, Obu Toramasa, and his son Yoshinobu.

Regardless of the reasons, five battles were fought at Kawanakajima, and neither Shingen nor Kenshin were allowed to overtake the other or realize their full potentials as Daimyo. They canceled each other out, and at least in Shingen's case, his expansion was stalled a decade or more, leaving the field open to Oda Nobunaga, who would eventually outdo them both.

A few references for this post:
Kanaya, Shunichiro. Sengoku Jidai Ga Omoshiroi Hodo Wakaru Hon, 2003
Narumoto, Tatsuya. Sengoku Bushou Omoshiro Jiten, Japan, 1998
Takeda Shingen - S-A Wiki

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

S-A Interview with Patrick Galloway

Recently, after discussing various things we could do to keep everything fresh and interesting, fellow Samurai Archives blogger Obenjo Kusanosuke came up with the idea of interviewing people preeminent in their respective fields. Obenjo kicks off the first of many interviews with Patrick Galloway, author of two books on Asian cinema.

Recently, I sat down for a fun-filled email interview with Patrick Galloway, author of Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook and Asia Shock: Horror and Dark Cinema from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong & Thailand . We are honored to inaugurate the Samurai Archives’ Author Interview Series with such a distinguished guest and valued forum member. This is the first part of our on-going discussion and once the interview is finished, the thread will be unlocked so people can post comments and a few additional questions for Patrick. So without further ado, let’s get on with the interview! Very Happy

OK: Tell us, what got you interested in samurai films? What was the first one you saw?

PG: Way back when I first discovered the Criterion Collection -- that's where I found Yojimbo and Seven Samurai. So like many others, I entered the world of the samurai through the doorway of Akira Kurosawa. I had also been a student of Eastern philosophy for many years, and the Zen aesthetic was attractive to me. Later I found Zatoichi and began to develop an awareness of chambara in terms of the different studios (Toho, Daiei, Shochiku, etc.)

OK: What motivated you to write Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves? I thought this was one heck of a book and it was ‘love at first read’. You really take the reader by the hand on a grand tour of samurai cinema in a way that entertains and educates at the same time.

PG: At the time I wrote the book, there was only one other text wholly devoted to the samurai film genre, Alain Silver's then-out-of-print The Samurai Film. While I've gotten much from Silver's book, there's no denying it's written in a dry, academic style. I wanted to create a book that was informative and fun to read, expressing my personal enthusiasm for the genre. In this way I could offer an alternative to Silver and establish my own style.

OK: How did you come up with the idea of Takuan, "the know-it-all priest"? This was quite a clever idea.

PG: This was a Q&A device to help people new to Japanese film/culture get a handle on some of the more bewildering cultural traditions they're bound to encounter watching the films. I appropriated the irascible yet wise Takuan from the Musashi Miyamoto saga, one of the first stops on many a journey through samurai film.

OK: Is there a specific period of Japanese history you have become interested in because of samurai films?

PG: Since the majority of samurai films take place during the Tokugawa period, that was, of course, my initial fascination. But many films are set during the Sengoku, and a few in the Heian, and these periods have definitely caught my interest as well. The Meiji era is technically no longer jidai geki, but there have been great films set then as well, such as Kenji Misumi's The Last Samurai and the Lady Snowblood films. I think the Meiji is of particular interest to Westerners, as it was a period of rapid westernization, a time when, almost overnight, topknots and kimonos gave way to top hats and frock coats.

OK: How did you find the Samurai Archives? What was it that led you here?

PG: Initially it was my own curiosity, inspired by the films. Once the samurai film obsession had taken hold, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the history and real personages portrayed in the pictures I was discovering. Later I came to rely on the SA as a valuable resource for my research, both with SD&LW and my upcoming Warring Clans, Flashing Swords: A Samurai Film Companion (out Fall '09).

OK: Has the study of Japanese history helped give you any additional insights into the samurai films you view?

PG: I'm always interested in distinguishing samurai fact from samurai fiction. A deeper understanding of the history serves to enhance one's enjoyment of the films. You get a kick out of seeing an historical figure or event faithfully represented, but it's also fun to know when things are getting changed around for dramatic effect (which is more often the case).

OK: Who are your favorite jidai geki stars and what is that you specifically like about these actors/actresses?

PG: Good lord, where to begin? Big name stars I particularly like include Tatsuya Nakadai, Raizo Ichikawa, Shintaro Katsu, Kinnosuke Nakamura and Toshiro Mifune. However, I'm also quite fond of a whole range of character actors and second-tier stars like Tomisaburo Wakayama, Tetsuro Tamba, Eijiro Tono, Makoto Sato, Yoshio Harada, Shigeru Amachi, Kamatari Fujiwara, Kunie Tanaka, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Rentaro Mikuni, Etsushi Takahashi, Mikio Narita, Yoshio Inaba -- and that's just the guys. As for the ladies, there's Isuzu Yamada, Yoko Kagawa, Yoshiko Kuga, Machiko Kyo, Nobuko Otowa, Kinuyo Tanaka, Meiko Kaji and of course the girls of Daiei: Masayo Banri, Shiho Fujimura and Miwa Takada.

OK: I noticed Brick McBurly didn’t make your list. Why? I’m struggling to understand this. I thought he was brilliant in his jidai geki debut The Dog Style Shogun. Even though we couldn’t see his face throughout the movie, his portrayal of Hattori Hanzo left me speechless.

PG: Brick who? Is that the white guy who plays a samurai in Kiss makeup? Otherwise I don't know who you're talking about. Why would you bring up some silly-named nobody in an interview like this? You were doing pretty good until this last question...

OK: Umm... that’s me who wears the KABUKI, not KISS makeup! Well, fine. Brick didn’t make your list, but I think he deserves some credit for his portrayal of Hanzo. Speaking of ninjas, there are a lot of folks out there who are fans of ninja films. There are some highly entertaining films out there, but it is really easy to fall into the trap of believing that ninja existed as they are portrayed in so many of the schlockier films. Did you fall into this ninja trap? I know I did!

PG: Actually, I took this issue to heart in my research and discussions of ninja films in my upcoming book. Although there were real, historical ninja, they were essentially just spies, and operated in much the same way spies do in all eras i.e. gathering intelligence, creating political instability, carrying out assassinations, etc. The black pajamas and super powers are the stuff of kabuki theater.

OK: Can you tell us which ninja movies you’d recommend? Are there any we should avoid?

PG: The ninja films I review in the new book run the gamut from classics like Shinobi no Mono and Samurai Spy to fun stuff like Watari, Ninja Boy. I think the worst thing I ever saw was something called Master Ninja with Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten.

OK: Yeah, that Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten thing was actually also a TV show. As a kid, I was surprised to see that ‘Salami’ (Van Patten’s character in the TV show ‘White Shadow’) became a ninja after graduating from Carver High School! I hate to get philosophical on you, but I’ve got to ask this. Do you consider chambara and jidai geki to be distinctly different film categories, or do you consider chambara to be a sub-genre of jidai geki?

PG: I'd say the latter. The term jidai geki, "period drama," covers historical periods up to 1868 (gendai geki picks it up from there to the present). So any film set before 1868 is technically jidai geki. It could be a chambara, an art film or a melodrama -- it's all jidai geki, at least as I understand it.

OK: The reason why I asked the above question is because some people turn their noses up at chambara, thinking that they are too low-brow. But I think it could be said that some chambara films rank as some of the best jidai geki films ever made. Would you agree with this statement? If so, what films come to mind?

PG: My feelings on this can be summed up by two words on page 12 of SD&LW, "chambara rocks!" As you know, chambara is an onomatopoetic term, referring to the sound of clashing swords. So any jidai geki film that has a fair amount of swordplay qualifies, I suppose, although some critics reserve the term for what they consider cheap, forgettable program pictures. Frankly, I've never seen such a picture. Even the most routine chambara film, at least among the ones I've seen, has a certain character, a certain intensity borne of bushido and the giri/ninjo conflict. And, as you mention, there are scores of chambara films that are true masterworks of cinema. Take any of the chambara films of Hideo Gosha, Kihachi Okamoto or Kenji Misumi, filmmakers who are to their genre what John Ford, Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher are to the American western. Even such luminaries as Akira Kurosawa and Masaki Kobayashi have worked in the genre, creating landmark films like Harakiri, Sanjuro, Samurai Rebellion and Seven Samurai. So I think it's safe to say that, far from some derogatory term, chambara encompasses a wide range of fabulous films that continue to enrich and entertain year after year.