Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Revenge of Revenge of the Ninja

Last month I reviewed the movie Ninja Assassin, and was thus compelled to go back and watch the 1983 Ninja classic Revenge of the Ninja. I hadn't seen Revenge of the Ninja since 1984 or 1985, at a friend's birthday party, but my memory of it was that it was violent, realistic, and that the short time spent in Japan was a realistic depiction of what Japan was like. Well, right off the top the movie opened with a view of the Kinkakuji temple in Kyoto, which was listed as "Tokyo, Japan", and I knew I was in for a strange and disturbing ride. Suffice it to say, my memory and reality really didn't match up on this one.

The first scene opens with an attack on the home of the Osaki Ninja clan by a group of black and red clad ninja, which upon close inspection seems to consist of a mix of slightly overweight Asians and Caucasians strategically hidden behind black ninja gear with red bandanas. The location of this attack, ostensibly "Tokyo, Japan", looks more like an isolated Japanese-style house dreamed up by an American, in the middle of a forest, rather than the middle of a city of 8 million people. Where, it should also be mentioned, apparently everyone wears kimonos.

Ridiculous as the whole scene appears now, I'm sure in the pre-internet days of 1983 this strange movie version of Japan not
only seemed reasonable to American audiences, but probably expected. In this battle the Osaki clan is, for the most part, wiped out, (Therefore probably not a very good Ninja clan...) until Cho Osaki, played by Sho Kosugi, gets home with his American buddy, Braden, and terminates all of the Ninja. Braden talks Osaki into fleeing the incessant Ninja attacks that are apparently commonplace in Japan, to America, where he can start a new life as a Japanese doll dealer... Or can he?

It turns out that Osaki's buddy Braden is actually a heroin dealer, who has been using Osaki's Japanese dolls as a medium for drug trafficking. It also turns out that - major spoiler - Braden is a NINJA! And probably orchestrated the original Ninja attack on the Osakis in Tokyo. When Braden's goomba Mafia connection - a 1983 version of Joe Pesci - refuses to pay for the heroin, he goes on a killing spree, Eventually Osaki is drawn into the intrigue, and is forced to go after Braden, because, as Osaki so eloquently puts it - "Only a Ninja can Kill a Ninja".

Production values are, of course, horrible - bad hair, bad corduroy (This was 1983 after all), editing screw ups like Osaki's son Kane walking around a corner bareheaded and then suddenly wearing a baseball cap as he comes around the corner, and terribly overdramatic deaths, where people cut with swords throw both hands up, yell "AAAaaaaahhhggghh", and slowly slide down the wall until they flop to a standstill. "Revenge of the Ninja" is entertaining for those times when you just feel you need to get a dose of a bad martial arts movie... and it is not a good movie by any means - but it IS a window into the 1980's Ninja Craze that taught Westerners all of the things about Japan that actually were completely wrong and ridiculous, but at the time, completely believable. Sho Kosugi's "Ninja Trillogy" (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination) were the ill conceived grandparents of Ninja Assassin, and kicked off the Ninja Craze that spawned the likes of Gymkata, The Master, and Stephen Hayes, and extended Michael Dudikoff's movie career by about five movies. Thanks for that, Revenge of the Ninja. Really.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Space Aliens To Mongols: Bugger Off!

Those wacky folks at the History Channel are at it again. Not content with merely turning Musashi into a god, one of their plethora of UFO programs is retrofitting flying saucers into Japanese history. I only caught the last fifteen minutes of the 'Dragon's Triangle' (obviously being compared to the Bermuda Triangle) but it was enough. In short, any time there's a maritime disaster in Japanese history or some kind of portent in the sky, it's attributed to flying saucers and an undersea UFO base. It's also sad to say that Japan seems to be as full of nuts as the USA, as most of the 'experts' were Japanese.

Highlights of the fifteen minutes that will live in infamy:

-the fabled 'Dragon King's palace' of legend is said to be a UFO base that has been controlling the Dragon's Triangle for centuries.

-Commodore Perry's sighting of a comet/meteor in 1853 was really a sighting of a flying saucer. No, rly, it was.

-a shipwreck survivor of 1803 was an alien being and her ship, the Utsuro Bune (Hollow Ship), was a spaceship. Since this story takes place in different locales with different details at different times in different books during the Edo period, it couldn't possibly be simple folklore. Nah!

-sightings of various meteorological phenomenon taken as omens throughout history (dating back to the Kamakura Period) are also flying saucers.

-It's strongly hinted that Japan was closed to the outside world for all those years in the Edo period because the authorities were under the sway of aliens that wanted to keep their operation under wraps.

-best of all, the Mongol Invasions of both 1274 and 1281 were destroyed by storms created by the 'sekrit' alien base. The timing couldn't have been a coincidence, ya know. Never mind that the Mongols were stupid enough to invade during typhoon season in an area that regularly saw the storms blow through and in the case of the second invasion hung around long enough to make sure encountering one was a statistical probability. The clueless nature of the production is further reinforced by using the long outdated troop numbers for the Mongols and stating that the Japanese had absolutely no hope of stopping the Mongols...even though that's what actually happened BEFORE the typhoon hit.

While it was at least probably more accurate than the Musashi special, it was another in a long line of howlers that makes one wonder why there's a History Channel if it's not going to bother with history.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Five Films For Five Rings-Animeigo’s ‘Miyamoto Musashi’ Boxed Set

It’s no secret that a lot of us here at the SA don’t think much of Miyamoto Musashi’s popular image as ‘The Ultimate Samurai’, feeling instead he’s the ‘Most Overrated Samurai’. There’s a lot of misinformation in the English language world bandied about concerning Musashi, much of which you can read about in a prior post that dissected the godawful History Channel/Mark Dacascos Musashi love fest, ‘Samurai’. However, this criticism doesn’t extend to films-as works of fiction, we rate them solely on their artistic merit and entertainment value. Since many Japanese films dealing with famous historical figures are based on novels, it’s really the only way to go-one can hardly fault a film that’s based on a work of fiction for being inaccurate. Rather, one can look at them as taking place in a fantasy/different timeline version of Japan-much like the Last Samurai, Shogun, or even Taiga Dramas that play fast and loose with the facts. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Animeigo’s newest boxed DVD set, Toei’s five film Uchida Tomu/Nakamura Kinnosuke ‘Miyamoto Musashi’ series. For those who like their symmetry, there’s a film here for each of the rings in Musashi’s autobiography/sword training manual “The Book of Five Rings”. Animeigo’s set is a sword slash above any other multi film or TV series dealing with Musashi, and only the 2003 film ‘Ganryujima’ keeps it from being the best cinematic treatment of the man (well, unless you count the zombie Musashi in ‘Samurai Resurrection/Makai Tenshou’-jidaigeki doesn’t get any better than that).

The series is based on Yoshikawa Eiji’s novel ‘Musashi’ (which was originally serialized in a Japanese newspaper in the 1930’s). Yoshikawa’s novel is almost wholly responsible for the deification of Musashi and his popularity today and has formed the basis for most films portraying him. One of these that many viewers will already be familiar with is the well known Inagaki ‘Samurai Trilogy’ starring Mifune Toshiro. While the Inagaki series has a good reputation in the west (thanks in no small part to Mifune and its inclusion in the ‘Criterion Collection’), we’ve always found it rather pedestrian and lacking. One might say it’s as overrated as Musashi. Mifune turns in a one note performance as Musashi and the other performances come up flat. The Nakamura series also contains a better sampling of celebrated incidents from the Yoshikawa book, with one notable exception. Musashi’s battle with the kusarigama (sickle and chain) master made it into the Inagaki films but not Uchida’s. Interestingly enough, Uchida and Nakamura reunited years later to produce a film based around this omitted incident. Uchida died before the film was completed but it was eventually released. Some consider this to be a ‘sixth film’ connected to the 1961-65 series, but we don’t. It obviously isn’t part of the original cycle’s concept and overview, and is better considered a separate treatment of the character using the same director and star. In any case, the Uchida/Nakamura ‘Musashi’ series outshines the Inagaki version in acting, presentation, emotional impact, and depth.

The first film in the series, “Miyamoto Musashi (1961)”, follows the early years of Musashi beginning with the aftermath of the battle of Sekigahara. Musashi (here still known as Takezo) and his friend Matahachi find themselves on the run after having joined the losing side. The two end up hiding out at the home of Oko and her daughter Akemi. Matahachi falls for the older woman and when the home is threatened by bandits, Takezo stays to fight while Matahachi leaves with the women. Takezo returns to his hometown to inform Matahachi’s mother Osugi and fiancĂ©e Otsu what has happened, but finds himself the object of Osugi’s anger and hunted by pro-Tokugawa samurai. Zen monk Takuan manages to lure him out of hiding without further bloodshed, but the sputtering Takezo finds himself hanging from the branches of a thousand year old tree and left to die. The monk’s ultimate plan plays itself out, but will it be too late for Takezo?

“Duel At Hannya Hill (Hannyazaka No Ketto, 1962)” opens with Takezo studying the ways of the samurai while restricted to the haunted tower of Himeji Castle. Upon ending his three years of isolation, he forgoes an offer of employment from Lord Ikeda, changes his name to Musashi, and embarks on a musha shugyo (a pilgrimage taken by a samurai to gain experience, see the world and hone their sword skills). He also abandons Otsu, who has fallen in love with him and waited three years for his release. Musashi seeks outs challenges from warriors and martial arts schools of all types, from the sword skills of the Yoshioka dojo to the Hozoin monks and their distinctive spear style. Along the way he picks up a child apprentice, is pursued by Osugi (seeking revenge for her son Matahachi, who she believes to be dead) and manages to make enemies of a large group of local ronin. The final showdown at Hannya Hill sees him pitted against the full might of the Hozoin monks and the lawless ronin.

Musashi’s feud with the Yoshioka School comes to a head in “Birth Of The Nito-Ryu Style (Nitoryu Kaigan, 1963)”. Before battling Yoshioka Seijuro in the penultimate duel, Musashi attempts to extort a lesson in swordsmanship from the venerable Yagyu Sekishuusai. This film is also the first in the series to feature an appearance by his ultimate nemesis, Sasaki Kojiro. Kojiro is played by Takakura Ken and presents a more physically intimidating Kojiro than most of the actors who have essayed the part. We also find out more about what has happened to Osugi, Oko, Akemi, and Matahachi as they make their own way through life-but still have fates that are intertwined with Musashi’s.

The Yoshioka School plans their revenge on Musashi in “Duel at Ichijyo-ji Temple (Ichijoji No Ketto, 1964)”. While trying to hide his fears early in the film, Musashi is ridiculed by a famous geisha whose company he has been gifted with. She sees beyond his surface calm to the fears and frailty within him-this after he has just returned from killing the younger of the Yoshioka brothers. After hiding out in the geisha’s teahouse, Musashi emerges and is confronted by the assembled Yoshioka. He agrees to fight one final battle against them-one which uses a child as his ostensible opponent with 73 members of the dojo acting as his seconds. In my opinion, this is the best of the five films, not so much because of the wild duel near the end but because of the moral dilemmas Musashi faces.

Finally, “Duel At Ganryu Island (Ganryu-jima No Ketto, 1965)” has as its centerpiece the famous duel between Musashi and Kojiro. It ties up several loose ends from the earlier films (such as the fate of Akemi and Matahachi, along with the resolution of Osugi’s vendetta against Musashi). Musashi, in an effort to redeem himself for having slaughtered a child, takes up farming with a boy whose father has just died. He is called back to the way of the sword when Kojiro issues a challenge to him-one which Musashi may not survive even if he wins. Takakura Ken is especially effective in this film, as he presents both a Kojiro who is full of confidence-and yet also one with a subliminal realization that he might have taken on more than he can handle.

Unlike most movies dealing with Musashi, the films don’t over glorify his every action-many times he’s portrayed as a shallow and hard headed jackass. Despite the fact that he spends three years locked up in Himeji Castle reading, studying, and supposedly making himself a more worthy person, it becomes apparent throughout the series that Musashi has just acquired a somewhat more civilized veneer-his core remains the same. His actions are continually questioned by other characters throughout the series. Otsu tells him that continued dueling will not result in any self improvement, but just more blood on his hands. Musashi deliberately provokes a fight with Yagyu swordsmen who have invited him to a blossom-viewing party. Buddhist monks eject him from their retreat on Mt. Hiei for the crime of killing a child-a deed which Musashi petulantly denies culpability for, trying to lay the blame on his foes and equating striking down the child with destroying a flag. Musashi angrily reacts to a Buddhist priest who states strategy should be used for the betterment of society and not for one’s own aggrandizement. Even Sasaki Kojiro wryly observes that Musashi is following the ‘Path of the Loser’. Musashi only realizes the truth after he has achieved what should have been his greatest victory-he disgustedly throws down his weapon and cries out to the heavens that following the way of the sword has left him empty inside, spiritually bereft and unfulfilled. It’s a moment unmatched in any other Musashi film.

Nakamura Kinnosuke still manages to make Musashi a sympathetic character with an outstanding performance. Nakamura, who is just beginning to have his films commercially released in the west, shows the emotional range he displayed in another recent Animeigo release (Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai). His Musashi not only presents the fierceness and primitive rage of Takezo, but of a more understanding and educated Musashi later on. Throughout the series he allows the dark side of Takezo to emerge, usually at moments of high stress, to crack the facade of the cool, capable swordsman Musashi wishes to be seen as. Many of the films end with Musashi ranting in denial at a particularly tough lesson he has just learned. Nakamura allows us to see a man who is truly trying to conquer his evil side, taking two steps forward and one step back. This Musashi is allowed to show kindness and consideration for those around him and develop somewhat deeper relations with other characters than one usually sees in Musashi films-certainly moreso than Inagaki’s trilogy, where Mifune is basically in ‘master swordsman’ mode 24/7. This results in the ‘Uchida’ Musashi being a more complex, subtle, and layered character than the simple martial arts superman he’s usually seen as.

While there isn’t as much emphasis on the second tier actors as in some Musashi adaptations, they all turn in believable performances. Oka Satomi as Akemi is particularly good-while many actresses have portrayed her as a bitch, Oka gives her a sweet and vulnerable side that makes her a likeable character (having said that, Uchiyama Rina from the NHK Musashi Taiga Drama still ranks as the best Akemi). Irie Wakaba as Otsu also manages to infuse her character with dignity and conscience, making her more than the hysterical obsessed Musashiphile she usually is portrayed as. Naniwa Chieko’s Osugi is the perfect crotchety old Japanese grandmother-she’s way over the top, but it works given her character’s personality. While the actors portraying Musashi’s friend Matahachi (the role changed hands after the first film) and Takuan (Musashi’s spiritual guide) come off a bit flat, overall the supporting cast does an excellent job.

Director Uchida Tomu always keeps his focus on the story and characters-it’s a workmanlike job but effective. There’s not much in the way of obvious ‘art house’ shots, but Uchida subtly stages settings and lighting to underscore the action on the screen without drawing attention to it. And occasionally an ‘art house’ shot does turn up, as when Musashi is seen lying amongst a sea of blood red ferns after having carved his way through the Yoshioka School (scenes which were shot in hues of green and blue). The symbolism is stark and effective-Musashi has immersed himself in bloodshed. There’s also a striking sequence in the first film where Musashi is confronted by the ghosts of his ancestors in Himeji Castle while blood pours forth from the walls and floor.

And as everyone has come to expect, Animeigo’s translation and subtitling are the best in the business. Different levels of subtitling can be selected to match the viewer’s proficiency in spoken/written Japanese. Extras for the set include an audio commentary by film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, trailers for each of the films, program notes, and image galleries. As with many of Animeigo’s boxed sets, the program notes are spread out across five films and seem a bit sparse when compared with their single disc releases. There’s surprisingly little information given on the historical Musashi, with most of the content devoted to cultural issues. Disc one does contain bios for Musashi and Kojiro, but leaves out large chunks of Musashi’s career. The image galleries are well done, and a particularly nice touch is that the film’s posters are reproduced-both in full screen and in individual close up shots of sections of the poster that allow viewers to read the text. The real gem of the extras is Stuart Galbraith IV’s commentary on disc one. Galbraith (who also provided the excellent commentary for Animeigo’s Tora-san set) packs an incredible amount of film history into 110 minutes. Ranging from cultural observations to cast and crew information as well as commenting on the film itself, he keeps his presentation lively and engaging. Particularly interesting is the discussion of how Inagaki’s ‘Samurai Trilogy’ became famous in the west while it was considered inferior to the Uchida version in Japan (it was largely due to a famous Hollywood actor’s response to the popularity of ‘Seven Samurai’ in the USA). Also brought on board is Charles Ziarko (first assistant director from the classic miniseries Shogun) to discuss how Japanese filmmaking differs from Hollywood. Going the extra mile, Galbraith gives an extended overview of the historical Musashi that doesn’t omit the ‘embarrassing’ parts (such as his participation in putting down the Shimabara Rebellion).

So it is that we find ourselves in the unusual position of writing words of praise for Musashi-or at least the Nakamura version in this five film set. The series will be of interest to both fans of Musashi and for those looking for a somewhat different presentation of the man. Depending on your point of view, ‘Miyamoto Musashi’ can be seen as a glorification of martial adeptness-or a condemnation of placing objects and technical skill before one’s soul. Nakamura breathes life into the Musashi legend and gives the character real humanity and depth. You can order the Miyamoto Musashi DVD boxed set directly from Animeigo or from Amazon through the SA Store.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Gamers Guide to Feudal Japan: "Daimyo of 1867"

Every year the Samurai Archives runs its Samurai Fiction contest and every year we get a few entries that are woefully lacking in terms of realistic historical background. Names that couldn’t exist in Japanese are bandied about along with unrealistic depictions of government and culture at any given time. The SA Citadel message board also sees a steady stream of gamers of all varieties looking for available sources to help them out in building more realistic and believable environments and situations for their gaming scenarios. Up to now, there hasn’t been much in the way of resources tailored specifically to this market. There have been RPG’s such as Sengoku, Bushido, or Land of the Rising Sun that have given some background but being tied to a specific rules system sometimes makes them difficult to adapt to other efforts, and information is often abstracted to make it work within the system. Finding what they need in regular history books is possible for gamers and authors, but can be frustrating and time consuming. Filling this void is Different World's recently published gamer’s guide to feudal Japan, “Daimyo of 1867: Samurai Warlords of Shogun Japan”.

Author Tadashi Ehara was born in Sapporo, Japan and is well known in the gaming community. Tadashi was a publisher for Chaosium (and a contributor to its landmark Call of Cthulhu series) and the editor for Different Worlds magazine. In the 1980’s Tadashi received a copy of E. Papinot’s Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan. Papinot’s book, despite at times containing outdated information, remains an invaluable reference work. For example, most of the biographical sketches in Steven Turnbull’s Samurai Sourcebook were copied from Papinot (although Turnbull unfortunately did not credit the book or mention it in his sources). Combined with his love for chanbara films and Japanese history, Tadashi decided to make Papinot’s long unavailable book the foundation of a guide meant “for creating more realistic backgrounds for role-playing games, boardgames, miniatures games, and computer games. It is also useful for those writing historical novels, screenplays, graphic novels, comic books, anime, and other creative works”. While it certainly does that, as we’ll see it’s also a useful guide for the Japanese historical community in general.

One of the first things we do when reviewing a book is to check out the types of sources it uses. “Daimyo of 1867” uses many of the better sources available in English. Besides the aforementioned Papinot, it has listings for works by George Sansom, A. L. Sadler, Hiroaki Sato, Marius Jansen, John Whitney Hall, Engelbert Kaempfer, Helen McCullough, Jeffrey Mass, Ivan Morris, Paul Varley, the ubiquitous Stephen Turnbull, and many other authors that will be instantly recognizable to SA members. Even casual sources tend to be reliable, such as A. J. Bryant’s Sengoku Daimyo website and of course the Samurai Archives itself. Absent for the most part are the questionable histories written by martial artists (although the notorious ‘Secrets of the Samurai’ does rear its ugly head), so the book is built upon a solid foundation. Author Ehara further establishes credibility in his introduction by addressing the differences between the Japanese lunar calendar and the western Gregorian calendar, establishing Japanese naming conventions, and providing a pronunciation guide to Japanese. The book features hundreds of black and white photos, maps, woodcuts, paintings, mon, and other visual aids-rare is the page that isn’t enhanced by some sort of illustration.

The book proper begins with a look at the geography, climate, and topography of Japan and quickly moves on to a general summary of Japanese history from 660 BC to 1192 (the period where the Emperors of Japan or the representatives of their court held real power) and 1192 to 1868 (the period that saw warrior rule come to the forefront). This is followed by an excellent 17 page chronology that covers the years 660 BC (when the first Japanese Emperor, the presumably fictitious Jimmu, came to the throne) to 1877 (the Satsuma Rebellion led by ‘Last Samurai’ Saigo Takamori). These 17 pages provide an excellent framework upon which those new to the study of Japanese history could build on. The major roads and thoroughfares of Edo period Japan are examined, with a focus on the Gokaido (the five main routes leading to and from Edo). However, there are more than a dozen other more obscure routes examined that should provide ideas for authors and gamers alike. Ehara then proceeds to address the culture of Japan. Mainly centering on the class structures of the Edo period, other topics include population centers and their numbers, short sections on religion and the monetary system (both koku and coinage), a history of the different Shogunates, and an introduction to the structure and offices of the Tokugawa’s Bakufu.

A gamer’s guide addresses how to use the book’s information to enhance one’s game system of choice, even in how to lend ahistorical campaigns a solid grounding in reality. Many of the more storied legends of Japanese history are presented as examples, such as the vengeance of the Soga brothers and the 47 Ronin. The account of the 47 Ronin’s famous ‘drive-by’ at Lord Kira's estate follows the ‘Chushingura’ version rather than actual history-for example, it has the Ronin fighting dozens of Kira’s guards rather than the three to five they encountered in real life. While this would be unacceptable for a regular history book, it’s fine for a work intended to be used for real, imagined, or legendary situations. Topics such as martial arts training, sankin kotai (the alternate attendance system used by the Tokugawa to both have direct control over the daimyo and deplete their coffers), heirs, marriage, concubines, the role of women, ronin, sanctioned and unsanctioned vendettas, and yes, even shudo (the practice of an older, powerful samurai taking on a young page as a sexual partner) are examined. The gamer's guide section on ninja walks the middle ground between fantasy and reality, making it useful for either type of campaign. A daimyo name generator is given to help provide gamers and authors with authentic names, along with a short section detailing naming conventions, the coming-of-age ceremony, and how to go about choosing an 'auspicious' name.

Several pages of “Daimyo of 1867” are devoted to a listing of samurai themed games, their year of release, and manufacturer. These extend across the entire gamut of gaming-there are boardgames, RPG’s, wargames, miniatures rules systems and figures, card games, computer games, and video games. Many of them are obscure little treasures that even we hadn’t heard of. Ranging from commercial releases such as ‘Legend of the Samurai’ to the quirky and varied home brewed efforts from Warp Spawn Games, we spent the better part of a morning downloading them off the web. Many of the listings can be downloaded for free or at low cost, making this a feature that will be highly appreciated by any gamer. One disappointing aspect of the book was that there was no listing or discussion of chanbara and jidaigeki films, usually a standard component of books of this type.

Until now, most of the material in the book appears in one form or another (although with the exception of Sengoku usually not as accurately as here) in most RPG games and sourcebooks dealing with samurai. 'Daimyo of 1867' sets itself apart from the crowd in the section that takes up most of the book (a little over 200 of its 346 pages). Here you'll find an overview of each daimyo in existence at the end of the Edo period-all 270 + of them. As you can see by the sample page, there's a lot given in each listing. While the listings sometimes vary slightly due to the availability of information, a typical entry will have a province broken down into han, each of which will have it's daimyo's name, mon, domain name, revenue, class (both tozama and fudai daimyo are given the numerical rankings used by the Tokugawa), headquarters castle, succession, biographies of notable ancestors, and related branch families with their locations. Ehara has taken the information found in Papinot's book and presented it in a fashion that not only gathers scattered data into one spot, but also draws attention to things that wouldn't be noticeable in Papinot's text. For example, who would have thought that at the end of the Edo period there would still be four members of the Oda family who were daimyo? That the Go-Hojo, who most thought dispossessed and eliminated by Hideyoshi after the siege of Odawara, would still be tending a domain? That an entire province (Noto) contained no han and did not have a daimyo? Or that the Naito had fully six branches that held daimyo status? This is a real treasure trove of information, and not just for gamers or authors-it would be extremely useful as a reference for would be historians as well. Ehara has also taken the trouble to index these pages using not just one, but four different methods. You can look up entries by han, clans, province, or daimyo name, meaning that you can go straight to what you need without having to dig it out. Want to know what han comprised Echigo province? Where a certain han was found? Where the Yagyu daimyo were located? It can be frustrating trying to look it up elsewhere, but it's easy here. The only shortcoming I can see is that many famous samurai whose clans did not survive into the late Edo period (like the Takeda) or that never regained daimyo status (like the Chiba) have no biographical entries (while of course both the Oda and Uesugi daimyo have listings for Nobunaga and Kenshin). However, the book IS focused on the Edo period and its daimyo, so their lack of inclusion is understandable.

As with any survey of this scope, generalizations are sometimes made and certain topics simplified but make no mistake-there is a cornucopia of detail in the book. Authors can use the information herein to set up scenarios and backgrounds that are historically and culturally accurate. Gamers, especially those of the RPG and LARP persuasion, will be able to do so as well. The emphasis on the relatively peaceful Edo period means miniature enthusiasts and wargamers might find it a bit disappointing due to the lack of detailed information on armor, tactics, and weaponry. However, these concerns are addressed in detail in any number of rules systems readily available-the book can still be used as a complement to these to set up campaigns and battles that reflect real history, particularly in the turbulent Bakumatsu era. Apart from its value to the gaming community and writers, the ‘han’ section of “Daimyo of 1867” along with many of its details on other aspects of Japanese history makes it a useful and handy reference work for amateur scholars. Despite author Ehara’s statement that “This is not a scholarly piece of work”, there was a lot of research, hard work, and care put into the production of this sourcebook. “Daimyo of 1867” is available directly through Different Worlds Publications. You can learn more about the book, check out sample pages, and order a copy HERE-or order through Amazon at the Samurai Archives Bookstore.