Friday, April 22, 2011

The Death of Takeda Shingen - A Translation

The Sengoku Daimyo Takeda Shingen's death has been tackled before on this blog, but this time I decided to translate a section from Takeda Shingen, a biography written in 1970 by Isogai Masayoshi that addresses the topic:

The Death of Takeda Shingen

Shingen was ill during the siege of Noda castle. The departure from Kofu prior to the siege was unusually slow because of this illness, and there was clearly worry about his health.  After the fall of Noda castle, Shingen was unable to continue his military campaign, and withdrew to Nagashino, and it's said that Shingen went to Houraiji to recuperate, but when his condition didn't change, he packed up his army and returned to Kai.

Shingen's sickness was a lung illness, and symptoms began to worsen. A skilled physician recommended a course of medical treatments and potions, however, day by day it became clear that this was an incurable disease.  Now deathly ill, Shingen retired to Shinano province, Ina district, Ikkaneki-Komanba (Modern day Nagano prefecture, Shimoina district, Achimura city, Komanba).

Near death, Shingen called his son Katsuyori to his bedside and said, "I have some small lands, and have invaded other districts and provinces, and for the most part have no regrets.  However, the fact that I wasn't able to raise my flag in the imperial capital has been my most obsessive, if unrealistic, regret.  If it becomes known that I have left this world, my enemies will take the opportunity to rise against you. Therefore, for the next three to four years, keep my passing a secret, and secure and fortify the defenses of the domain, build the military forces, and if you are ever in a position to take the capital, I will be satisfied." That was Shingen's final message.  This was the 4th month, 12th day of the first year of Tensho (1573), and he was 53 years old.  He had held the rank of Daizen Daibu Shinano no Kami, Jushiinoge, and his Buddhist name was Erinjidenkisangenkoutaikoji.

A hero of his generation, even Takeda Shingen couldn't defeat illness, and his ambitions disappeared like mountain mist.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Messin’ With The Shogun-Animeigo’s “The Secret of the Urn”

It’s not often one can enjoy the pleasure of seeing the Tokugawa Shogun being taunted face to face by a crazy man who’s also just exposed his closest advisor as a crook AND broken up his formal chanoyu (tea ceremony). Tange Sazen not only does it with style from the top of a towering pagoda, but manages to survive the occasion intact. Well, relatively intact-he’s still missing an arm and eye, and there’s more trouble to come. The self-styled God of Death is still out there somewhere-and Fuji probably needs to put her clothes back on. It seems messin’ with the Shogun is only one of the many pleasures to be found in Animeigo’s new DVD release of Toei Studio’s 1966 “The Secret of the Urn”.

As brought up in Animeigo’s press release, the character of Tange Sazen is to Japan much like the characters Zorro and the Lone Ranger are to the West. Created by Fubo Hayashi (one among many pen names of Hasegawa Kaitarou), he appeared in all sorts of stories that have been adapted dozens of times on the big screen and Japanese television. Some have even featured a female version of the character. And of these, no story has been filmed more than the story of the ‘Million Ryo Pot’-the ‘Earless Monkey Urn’ (as Animeigo’s notes explain, this refers to a pot with broken handles-although the pot in this film obviously never had any). These films usually include Sazen’s ‘support group’-shady singing teacher Fuji, thief Yokichi, and Sazen’s unwanted kid sidekick, Chobiyasu.

Sazen wasn’t always a one eyed, one armed monster-when the film starts, we see him as Tange Samanosuke-a straight laced, clean cut retainer of the Nakamura fief in Oshu. Samanosuke’s been summoned by his superior to the scene of a brutal interrogation. A castle maid has admitted under torture that’s she’s a spy, and that she isn’t the only one. As the best swordsman in the clan, Samanosuke is ordered to kill the remaining enemy agent. This is to be the fateful assignment that transforms him into Tange Sazen-and it’s best experienced without further spoilers. All we’ll say is that Samanosuke should really be more careful about who his friends are…Time passes and we learn that the Shogun is having the Nikko Tosho-gu shrine of the Tokugawa’s ‘founding father’, Ieyasu, refurbished. This is an extremely expensive undertaking and would normally be assigned to a wealthy clan. However, his councilor Guraku advises him to have the Yagyu clan (yes, the same clan that screws over Ogami Itto in the “Lone Wolf and Cub” films) foot the bill. Guraku knows that the clan won’t be able to afford it through normal means and will have to resort to drawing upon their secret horde of a million ryo. The evil councilor intends to steal this for himself and then have the Yagyu disenfranchised by the Shogun for their failure, grabbing their position and status. When informed of their alleged ‘honor’, the Yagyu realize the only way to raise the money is to access the clan’s hidden treasury-which can only be found through the symbols located inside the ‘Earless Monkey Urn’. Yagyu Genzaburo transports the urn to Edo and is set upon by a large group of Guraku’s disguised ninja-not to mention two thieves, Fuji (played by Awaji Keiko) and Yokichi, who have learned about the plot. This results in a spirited game of ‘hot potato’ involving the urn and a running sword battle where none of the three parties is able to keep their hands on the relic-instead, it’s given to Chobiyasu (a young boy sleeping in a boat) by a dying Yagyu samurai with instructions to bring it to the Yagyu in Edo for a reward. A fifth party is introduced into the fray when Chobiyasu runs into an abandoned shack for cover. Pursuing ninja are cut down by the shack’s occupant-Tange Sazen. The contrary Sazen decides that if the urn is getting so much attention, it’s something he wants to hold on to-and when Fuji and Yokichi offer him a quick escape in a boat, he happily accepts.

Of course, Fuji and Yokichi waste no time in trying to get rid of Sazen and acquire the urn for themselves. While Fuji seduces Sazen, Yokichi attempts to spirit the urn away-but he’s foiled by his own clumsiness and stopped by the angry one-armed swordsman. When Fuji pulls a Western pistol on Sazen and demands the urn, he simply uses it as a shield and dares her to shoot-a stalemate, at least until Guraku’s ninja lurking outside decide to crash the party. There’s another running fight, this time across the rooftops, and when the last ninja is dispatched Sazen still has the urn. Seemingly having forgotten his fight with Fuji and Yokichi, he tells them they need a new hideout. Chobiyasu, hoping to get the urn back for himself, follows them to their new lodgings in an abandoned temple taken over by thieves. Here Sazen strikes up a strange friendship with the criminals, winning their trust and support when he gives them a cut of the proceeds when he sells a fake ‘Earless Monkey Urn’ to Guraku. He also settles into a relationship with Fuji, who finds herself attracted to him despite his scarred face and missing limb. However, when Hagino (Sazen’s love from his days as Samanosuke) turns up and recognizes him, Fuji and Sazen have a falling out and she decides to sell the real urn to Guraku. Guraku’s managed to have the Yagyu invited to a formal chanoyu given by the Shogun and ‘requests’ they bring the fabled Earless Monkey Urn (which was a gift given to them by Tokugawa Ieyasu). He knows that not being able to produce a clan treasure gifted to them by the first Tokugawa Shogun will be the final nail in their coffin. Taiken, Guraku’s ninja chief and the self-styled “God of Death”, has also disguised himself as Sazen and killed several Yagyu samurai-focusing the Yagyu’s recovery efforts away from Guraku.

At this point, Sazen is opposed by the forces of the Yagyu and Guraku as well as by Fuji, Yokichi, and Chobiyasu. Legendary Shogunate Magistrate Ooka Echizen has also organized a large force to oppose Sazen, having been warned by Guraku of a planned ‘assassination attempt’ on the Shogun during his tea ceremony (which is just an attempt to set up Sazen when he attempts to recover the urn). Sazen is seemingly readying himself by pounding down sake, distraught over both the appearance of his former love and his argument with Fuji. And the God of Death awaits his turn to cross swords with the one-armed monster. While it doesn’t look like there’s any way this situation can end well for the people that deserve it, it seems that Sazen has a few tricks left up his empty sleeve-not to mention Nakamura Kinnosuke’s badly camouflaged arm.

Star Nakamura Kinnosuke gives the film much of its appeal. Mirroring his award-winning performance in “Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai”, Kinnosuke in essence plays two characters in the film: the steadfast, loyal and dutiful Samanosuke and the wild, disrespectful and violent Tange Sazen. As was the case in “Bushido”, it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor. His Sazen is a real pleasure to watch, with outrageous mugging to the camera and an over-the-top vocal delivery that perfectly captures the essence of the character. Sazen’s insane grin and lifted eyebrow never fail to elicit a laugh as he prepares to go off on his enemies. Animeigo gets our thanks for bringing Kinnosuke to the attention of Western jidaigeki audiences, now taking his rightful place beside the other J-Stars better known here such as Mifune Toshiro, Nakadai Tatsuya, Wakayama Tomisaburo, and Katsu Shintaro. Check out Kinnosuke in other films like “Bushido”, “Musashi”, or in his turn as Ogami Itto in the TV version of “Lone Wolf and Cub” (where, in our opinion, he made a much better Ogami than Wakayama did in the film versions). For our money, Kinnosuke’s the premier figure in the jidaigeki tableau. While other stars could match his intensity, few displayed the type of range he routinely did.

Also interesting in a limited part is Amatsu Bin, whose stern look and commanding physical presence made him a heavy in quite a few films (most notoriously in yakuza films). Often playing a ninja or gangster, Bin is best known for portraying master ninja Fuma Kotaro in the TV series “The Samurai/Shintaro the Samurai”, a series that was to 1960’s Australia what the Batman TV series was to the United States. Here he plays Taiken (while we don’t know what kanji this uses, it can be translated as “Great Sword”), the leader of Guraku’s ninja and Sazen’s deadliest enemy. He styles himself “The God Of Death” (translated as “The Grim Reaper” by Animeigo) and provides the film with one of those Zatoichi/Sanjuro style ‘second endings’. Amatsu provides Sazen with a foe worthy of his sword.

It is somewhat odd seeing director Gosha Hideo directing what was for all intents and purposes a programmer. However, it came fairly early in his directing career and displays much of the humor and light touch seen in his first film, the excellent “Three Outlaw Samurai” (which one would hope Animeigo picks up at some point). Gosha’s films were to become increasingly darker and more serious from this point on with entries such as the two “Samurai Wolf” films, “Goyokin”, “Tenchu”, “The Wolves”, “Hunter In The Dark”, “Onimasa”, and “The Geisha”. Often featuring Tatsuya Nakadai as their star, these films form the basis of Gosha’s reputation in the West (although we tend to prefer his early work). Gosha allows Nakamura to chew the scenery and doesn’t meddle with the proven Tange Sazen formula. His directorial style enhances the film without trying to draw attention to itself-there are many instances of cleverly framed shots (such as shooting the actors through torn shoji screens) and framing (using pillars in the foreground to set Sazen and Fuji apart from the band of thieves). He’s particularly good at setting up running battles, with the four way battle for control of the urn mentioned earlier being the most exciting example. Little touches such as the camera lingering on a shelf stocked with urns lined up in order of descending size before panning down to Sazen (in this case symbolic of how the urn is beginning to lose its importance in Sazen’s mind at the moment) are throwaways to be discovered in repeat viewings.

Comparisons can be made between Sazen and the subject of our last review, Nemuri Kyoshiro from the “Sleepy Eyes of Death” series. While on the surface the black clad Kyoshiro’s cool and detached manner (with a sword style to match) is completely unlike the white clad Sazen’s boisterous personality and frenzied swordplay, underneath there are plenty of similarities. Both Sazen and Kyoshiro display contempt for authority and the two-faced world of the samurai where outrages are routinely excused by a hypocritical code of conduct. Common townsfolk (even those on the ‘wrong side’ of the law) and the rare samurai that does indeed embody the spirit of the warrior are the people these two find worthy of their help. The swordsmen also share some physical characteristics-spiky hair instead of the standard samurai chonmage along with wearing a close fitting simple robe, dispensing with a regular samurai’s hakama and kataginu. Let’s not forget that Ichikawa Raizo (Kyoshiro) also played a one-armed swordsman in "Samurai Vendetta".

As mentioned earlier, this is just one among many films that feature the story of Sazen and the Million Ryo Urn. Out of the eight or so versions we’ve seen (including a 1920’s silent version and an 80’s version featuring Nakadai in the starring role), this is probably our favorite. However, the 1935 version (“Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth One Million Ryo”) holds a special place in our hearts. Largely eschewing the tragic circumstances of Sazen’s situation and the whole ‘noble ronin’ shtick (which does get quite tiresome in jidaigeki at times-we like our ronin evil and the Bakufu good), star Okichi Denjuro portrays a grouchy but ultimately comedic Sazen, making for that rarity-a good samurai comedy that doesn’t rely on farce. Okichi was a huge star in Japan in that era-you might have seen him as Yoshitsune’s pal Benkei, bailing out his lord by faking his way through a recital of “The Subscription List” in Kurosawa Akira’s “The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail”. The actress playing Fuji in this film (Kiyozo) is an adorable sweetheart as well, and the film has a warm and humanistic feeling much like the recent film “Hana”. It’s sad that the film’s director, Yamanaka Sadao, fell into disfavor with the Japanese government and was shipped off to the Manchurian front where he died at the young age of 28.

Animeigo’s translation is again top notch with viewing options for every level of Japanese proficiency. The translation includes the complete cast and crew from the credits, something that’s rarely seen in releases from other companies. The print looks great with a good depth of color and nice clean sound. Extras include the film’s theatrical trailer, some short bios, and a few stills. The historical notes are interesting but only seem to cover the first third of the film. Since both the Yagyu family and Edo magistrate Ooka Echizen were taken from history (as well as being favored subjects of many other film series and television shows), it’s curious that they weren’t brought up in the notes. One interesting note points out a scene where you can clearly see Sazen’s “severed” arm alive and well. Another extrapolates the value of one million ryo via the going rate of cheap prostitutes!

This film is back-to-basics old-fashioned 60’s chanbara fun with little of the dark tone that Gosha’s later films veered into. Watching a cackling Sazen berate a befuddled Shogun while safely ensconced on top of a pagoda is the closest thing in a Japanese film to the ‘French taunter’ from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. The entire film is laced with kinetic energy and a good-natured disrespect of authority. See for yourself how much fun messin’ with the Shogun is. “The Secret of the Urn” is another great vehicle for Nakamura Kinnosuke and a classic chanbara effort from Toei Studios. Pick up a copy of “The Secret of the Urn” at a discount direct from Animeigo HERE or from Amazon through the SA store.

All images copyright and courtesy 1966 Toei Co. Ltd

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The AAS Conference - Podcast Series

The Samurai Archives podcast, which has been in process for the last 14 months has finally stepped up and started broadcasting.  Before we start the regular, standard format, we first put together the Samurai Archives Conference series, bringing you podcasts recorded live from the AAS/ICAS (The Association for Asian Studies and the International Convention of Asia Scholars) Conference held in Honolulu, Hawaii, from March 31st to April 3rd, 2011, as well as two follow up podcasts (one of which was released yesterday, and one which will be released next week).  After that, the regular podcast will start production.

As far as the conference series goes, here is a rundown of what you'll find in the first 4 episodes of the new Samurai Archives podcast:

Episode 1 - AAS/ICAS Conference, Day 1 (4/3/11)

For the first podcast in the conference series, we commandeered a table in the exhibition hall and discussed the first few seminars that we had attended. The seminars included: Security Policy in Asia, Religion Goes Pop: Manga and Religion in Post-1995 Japan, and Monks of the Five Mountains and Shogunal Patronage of Zen in the Making of Muromachi Culture (which we were pleased to find was done in Japanese).


Episode 2 - AAS/ICAS Conference, Day 1, Part 2 (4/4/11)

For part 2 of our live day one coverage, we broke into an empty conference room and did a pirate podcast from there.  The conference rooms in the Honolulu Convention Center have amazing acoustics, and this episode really benefited from that.  Although we had janitors meander in and take their sweet, sweet time in emptying the garbage cans, we were able to go over a few more of the seminars we had attended, including Digital Archives and the Study of Japanese Foreign Relations, and Language Ideologies in Japan: Power and Identities.

Episode 3 - AAS/ICAS Conference Wrap-up (4/11/11)

This episode was recorded after the conference, and serves as part one of our two part conference wrap up.  Joining the mix is Travis Seifman, author of the recently published article Seals of Red and Letters of Gold - Japanese Relations with Southeast Asia in the 17th Century, and also a conference attendee, and this time we cover a variety of conference topics, including:


Okinawa, Furusato, and the Creation of a Postwar Vision of Japaneseness, Thomas O’Leary
Celebrations of the Heart – Romantic Lit by Yuikawa Kei, Eileen B. Mikals-Adachi
Portraits of Modern Japanese Working Women – the Literature of Hayashi Mariko, Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase
To Be Beautiful, Or Not To Be Beautiful, That Is The Question—Himeno Kaoruko’s Seikei Bijo, Satoko Kan
Who is Aiko? ~ The Absent ‘Father’ in Natsuo Kirino’s I’m Sorry, Mama., Kayo Takeuchi
“Food Imagery and Parody in 16th Century Japan: About the Shuhanron Emaki (The Illustrated Scroll of the Sake and Rice Debate)”, Claire-Akiko Brisset
“From Warming Stone to Memorial Stone: Rethinking the History of Japanese Tea Cuisine”, Eric C Rath
Wine and Eau-de-Cologne: From the Introduction of Western Food to the Birth of Yoshoku, Shoko Higashiyotsuyanagi


Episode 4 - AAS/ICAS Conference Wrap-up Part 2 (4/18/11)

Our last podcast in the conference series covers the seminar that forced me to pony up the sizable fee to attend the conference in the first place - Negotiating One's Place in Japan's Long Sixteenth Century, and to say it was worth the price of admission would be an understatement. Not only was it extremely interesting, but it was superbly done, and was probably the best organized and run seminar I had attended over the four day period. The presentations in this seminar were:


Local and Social Space Factors in Merchant Success in the Late 16th Century
, Suzanne Gay
So Many Choices (And So Few Options) For Local Warriors, David Spafford
This Land is My Land: Masuda Motonaga and the Politics of Territorial Redistribution in Choshu Domain, David A. Eason
Warrior Conflicts With Their Daimyo in Early Seventeenth Century Japan, Luke S. Roberts


Here are some links you'll want to keep track of, please subscribe to the podcast, and make sure you rate it on Itunes too, to help us increase our exposure:

That covers the conference podcasts, and we'll have one more interview recorded last year, an interview with Travis Seifman about his paper mentioned above. After that, the standard podcast will kick off, with each episode covering a specific event or topic in Japanese history, and should be informative and fun, so look forward to it - we are.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Animeigo's Sleepy Eyes of Death Set 2: Good...Bad...He's The Guy With The Sword

As a ronin dressed in black walks down a lonely road, a young woman approaches from the opposite direction. They pass each other without incident, but suddenly the ronin spins around. In one fluid motion he draws his sword, strikes the woman down, replaces the blade, and continues on his way as if nothing had happened. While this would normally mark him as the villain of the piece, this is the Sleepy Eyes of Death series. Here, the slaughter of an unarmed woman by protagonist Nemuri Kyoshiro (Ichikawa Raizo) is not only justified, but practically demanded by the audience. Good...bad...he's the guy with the sword (apologies to Bruce Campbell).

The Sleepy Eyes of Death Collector's Set Vol. 2, Animeigo's newest DVD collection of Nemuri Kyoshiro films (that's what we purists like to call 'em) collects films five through eight in the series:

5-"Sword of Fire"-Kyoshiro is reminded why he doesn't like involving himself in other people's problems when, after lending aid to a woman pursuing a vendetta (with the attendant promise of sexual favors afterwards), he becomes the focal point of a three way conspiracy involving pirates, the Todo samurai clan, and greedy merchant Narumi. When everyone seems to be a crook, how do you make sure they all end up getting what they deserve? Kyoshiro is particularly brutal towards women during the course of this film, as he sexually assaults virtually every one that has more than 10 seconds of screen time.

6-"Sword of Satan"-when Kyoshiro insults the pride of a fallen woman of status, he becomes guilt-ridden after finding out his harsh words drove her to suicide. Wearing her discarded Noh mask as a reminder, he sets out to help Tsurumatsu, a young boy she had been trying to protect. He's the illegitimate son of the Iwashiro daimyo and was spirited away from the clan when marked for death by supporters of the rightful heir. When the heir dies, however, the clan is desperate to reclaim him to avoid being disbanded by the Shogunate. One problem-the kid hates samurai and has no intention of returning. As if fighting an entire clan isn't bad enough, Kyoshiro also has to deal with yet another scheming woman. Orin is the sister of "Banzo The Flying Squirrel" (who attacked Kyoshiro and was killed). She misses no opportunity to attack, betray, and generally be a pain in Kyoshiro's ass.

7-"The Mask of the Princess"-returning from part four ("Sword of Seduction") is the disfigured Princess Kiku. Having been set up and humiliated by Kyoshiro in that film, she sets out to make him-and everyone he comes in contact with-regret ever having crossed her path. Kiku and her Bushu Hayate ninja group don't care how much collateral damage they rack up in trying to off Kyoshiro, and the body count is high. Did we mention there's a great Black Mass scene in this film that gives Kyoshiro another excuse to cut down a fallen Christian priest? While it has little to do with the rest of the film, it's still the high point. This one is particularly enjoyable for the excellent direction by Inoue Akira, but more on that later.

8-"Sword Of Villainy"-when the followers of an executed would-be reformer plan to burn down the city of Edo to retaliate, Kyoshiro finds himself in the uncomfortable position of siding with the Tokugawa Bakufu-a prospect usually anathema to him. This is somewhat of a throwback to the early 'Sleepy Eyes' films as Kyoshiro now has a flunky in hairdresser/burglar Tetsu. You really have to pay attention in this film, as the plots and alliances are complex and overlapping. There's also a subplot where Kyoshiro is a dead ringer for a deceased rebel leader, but curiously this thread seems to lead nowhere (other than to provide a reason for Kyoshiro to be drawn in).

Our favorite from the set is probably "The Mask of the Princess", primarily for all the excellent directorial touches given to the film by Inoue Akira. For what was basically a programmer, Inoue does some amazing things with scene composition and particularly framing. Whether actors are filmed through the torn paper panels of shoji screens or between the slats of wooden windows, it gives the viewer a sense of eavesdropping on the conversation and reinforcing their secretive nature. Inoue also puts Raizo off center in many shots, filling the viewer with expectations of having the empty side of the frame filled-but by what? The film is full of subtle touches like this and after watching it once for the action it wouldn't be a bad idea to watch it again for the artistry. The other directors (Misumi Kenji on "Sword of Fire" and "Sword of Villainy" with Yasuda Kimiyoshi on "Sword of Satan") also have their moments, such as Misumi's 'First Person Perspective' sword attack in "Sword of Villainy", putting the viewer directly in Raizo's sandals as he carves his way through a host of attackers.

Don't fret, though-these aren’t art films that will have you taking a nap ten minutes in. The swordplay, blood, sex, and depraved goings-on that everyone watches a Kyoshiro film for are on full display. From a Black Mass to a woman about to lose her face to acid, the Kyoshiro universe features things you won't see in your typical samurai film-including a nude female acrobat jumping off a bridge to escape her pursuers, just because she can. There are executions, suicides, horny Christian nuns, a princess with a passing resemblance to Two-Face, murder frame-ups, cross-dressing actors, body mutilations, ninja monks, whores with masks, serial killers, and sexual encounters interrupted by snakes. Talk about symbolic. As set out in the opening paragraph, Kyoshiro's not above ravaging any woman he meets, not to mention callously striking down an unarmed woman that he deems evil. And twice during these two films, rival swordsmen attempt to beat Kyoshiro at his own game-engaging him in duels where they are also using Kyoshiro's trademark Full Moon Cut. There’s rarely a dull moment in Kyoshiro’s life-and he thrives on the action. Having dispatched his foes in "Sword of Fire" and helped a couple of deserving souls escape, he warns the last of the conspirators not to spoil his good mood, or he’ll kill him.

Much has been written about Kyoshiro being 'nihilistic', uncaring, misogynistic, and inhuman. Well, it's hard to argue with any of that-and those are the points that have gained the character such a cult following. He's the counterpoint to the typical samurai film hero, who would never behave in a less than honorable fashion. However, as we brought up in our review of the first four films, Kyoshiro has a bit more depth than that-indeed, he continues to demonstrate that at heart he's a frustrated idealist. In "Sword of Fire", after finding out he’s been duped into helping out Nui (the woman supposedly pursuing a vendetta), he devotes his time to helping out the pirates that have been marked for death by Nui’s employer, the Todo clan. "Sword of Satan" shows his guilt over having taunted a woman into suicide, and lending his aid to her charge Tsurumatsu. Kyoshiro ransoms a young maid, Haru, from a whorehouse in "The Mask of the Princess" before she can be defiled and then sets her up with steady employment elsewhere-all with no benefit to himself. When she’s kidnapped, he sets out to rescue her and even throws down his sword to ensure her safety. Finally, "Sword of Villainy" sees him do the same for the female acrobat, not to mention trying to save the city of Edo from being burned down. Kyoshiro’s humanity is buried deep, but he’s not the totally cynical, hateful monster he likes to pass himself off as (which also points to a large dose of self-loathing over his status as the half-breed son of a fallen foreign Christian-a self loathing that displays itself in Kyoshiro slaying the fallen Western missionaries he meets throughout the series).

Extras for the films are a bit on the light side, although there are several different trailers on each disc from Animeigo's extensive 'samurai cinema' line. The original trailer for each film is included as well, and some of these contain alternate footage and different takes than the finished film (notably the trailer for "Sword of Fire"). There are a few short bios and also cultural and historical 'liner notes' for each film. They're a bit on the sparse side this time around (although taken as a whole, they add up to what's on a typical Animeigo release). The notes for "Sword of Villainy" are more numerous and give some excellent information that even we hadn't known about (such as the Kuzunoha fox story and related poem, along with the rebellion of Oshio (Chusai) Heihachiro). The extras are rounded out by image galleries with stills from each film. As everyone has come to expect, Animeigo's translations are the best in the business-easy to read with lots of options to tailor the film to any individual's level of Japanese language skills. Even better for hardcore chanbara hounds, they also translate the entire list of credits. The films were taken from the re-mastered Japanese originals, with nice depth of color and cleaned up sound. The packaging even includes little touches like a fold out image on the cardboard inner DVD holder (and also a shot of the famous 'strobing effect' for Kyoshiro's Full Moon Cut). It's a solidly produced complete package.

This is Animeigo's second volume of "Sleepy Eyes" films, and a fine successor to the first. They've now released eight of the Raizo "Nemuri Kyoshiro" films, with four more to go. The four remaining films are the most bizarre, violent, and original of the dozen that Raizo starred in (after Raizo's untimely death, the series went on to a thirteenth and fourteenth film with a different actor in the lead role-while these are usually reviled by fans, we find them to be pretty good-it's just that Raizo defined the role to such a degree that he made anyone who came after look bad). So if you'd like to see Trail of Traps, Hell Is A Woman, In The Spider's Lair, and Castle Menagerie, make sure to get this set first. Not only will it convince Animeigo to release the final four, but you'll add four more classics to your present collection. We can't recall the last time Animeigo released a lemon (probably Demon Spies)-they've been on a roll for quite a few years now. Things are a bit rough for DVD producers in the current economy, so picking up this set will help keep the string of classic chanbara films coming. You can get a copy directly from Animeigo HERE or from Amazon through the SA Store.

All images copyright and courtesy 1965-66 Kadokawa Pictures Inc

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The AAS Conference - Religion Goes Pop


I and others of the Samurai Archives community have been attending the Joint AAS-ICAS (The Association for Asian Studies and the International Convention of Asia Scholars) conference currently being held in Honolulu. I have been to many, many lectures over the past four days, and only really now have time to start sorting through my notes to report on what I've seen.  So while the conference is still on, and after, I'll try to update everyone.  LtDomer will also be posting here, so keep an eye out for posts from both of us over the next few days.  I'll start off, well, at the start.  After getting up at an ungodly hour and grabbing a bus to the convention center and meeting up with LtDomer, we went our seperate ways for the first seminar.  I opted for Session 32: Religion Goes Pop: Manga and Religion in Post-1995 Japan to start things off, and it was an interesting subject. Not my regular area of interest, but it was interesting nonetheless.

It started off with Rebecca Suter of the University of Sydney presenting Creative Misreadings of Christianity in contemporary shojo manga. This lecture studied manga that take place during the late 16th and early 17th century, which is a timeframe that I am definitely interested in.  The main subject was portrayals of Amakusa Shiro, both of Makai Tensho fame and as the leader of the Shimabara Rebellion, in shojo manga. Sort of a young, feminized girlie version of what most people know as the demonic resurrector  of Miyamoto Musashi and other historical figures to take on Yagyu Jubei. Amakusa Shiro was apparently considered magical, and among other things could make doves appear from his hands - obviously a useful skill for an undead demon.  The manga in particular that became the subject of this lecture was Amakusa 1637, about a girl who, during the Kobe earthquake of 1995, somehow slips back in time to the Shimabara rebellion, and gets mistaken for Amakusa Shiro (I must have missed what happened to the real Amakusa Shiro in the manga - was he squashed by the girl's farmhouse?) - and uses her skills with a katana, a cellphone and as a Christian to save the day and prevent the violence of the rebellion.  All in all a whacked out concept, but fitting for manga I guess.  Suter's thesis (and I'm going purely by memory and notes here) is that these manga show a few things - 1. that the Japanese sort of idealize a strange unrealistic hybridized pseudo-American version of reality, and 2. that the Japanese have no real concept of Christianity as a religion, but maybe more as a kewl foreign thingy (case in point, "exotic" Japanese weddings done in a church with gaijin priests).  All in all an interesting lecture.

The second lecture was done by Mark MacWilliams, who spoke on Healing Humor—Nakamura Hikaru’s Seinto oniisan (Saint Youngmen).  Another interesting subject, this one tackled the use of Jesus and the Buddha in a lighthearted, non-religious capacity in manga.  I had never heard of this manga, but apparently Jesus and the Buddha are roomates in a suburb of Tokyo, and just hang out doing regular stuff, and good-natured hijinx ensues (did I just hear someone say WTF?).  Now, these manga apparently don't actually have any religious over or undertones, but still portray the sort of morality that Jesus or the Buddha stands for, and people read this manga, and feel better about themselves and life.  I guess the point here is that spiritual healing can be done via these religious figures outside of any actual religious context - in other words, watching Jesus and the Buddha navigate day to day life like any other regular Joe (Taro?) can be an inspirational thing.

Moving along to the third lecture done by Erica Baffelli, University of Otago, New Zealand, it was titled New Religions in/and manga, and this one was fascinating.  It detailed the use of manga to help explain and introduce "new religions" (read: cults).  Among others, Aum Shinrikyo (I  believe they also went by "The Light of Truth) used these manga, and I was treated to images of the stringy bearded, greasy haired cult leader Asahara Shoko on the cover of these manga.  I was in Japan during the Sarin gas attacks, and remember well the news images of this chubby blind guy who looked homeless bouncing up and down trying to fly, and to see him on a manga is pretty humorous (The only humor to be found in an otherwise bad situation).  My first immediate thought was that I bet you could pull in a ton for these Asahara Shoko manga on eBay- my second thought was to find myself a copy, but sadly, no cult manga on eBay today.  That aside, there was also mention of an Aum Shinrikyo cartoon that was comedically remixed with the Evangelion theme song, which I was able to find on YouTube, but admittedly I enjoyed the Doraemon version way more.

And, lastly, a very interesting lecture by John A. Shultz of Kansai Gaidai University titled Squiggly Seichi: Pilgrimage Rendered in Manga and Manga Pilgrimage, (I apparently missed what a squiggly seichi is) which essentially compared religious pilgrimage in Japan (typified by the pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku originally undertaken by Kobo Daishi), to the pilgrimages that crazy otaku manga fans undertake to visit places that show up in their favorite manga.  Basically, otaku spend a lot of time pinpointing real-world locations they find in manga, then they dress up as the character depicted in said manga, and proceed to make a pilgrimage to all of the places that they were able to find in the manga that have real-world counterparts.  I guess they then take pics flashing the peace sign, and go home.  This is apparently similar to people who dress as Kobo Daishi and travel the 88 temples (not sure if they dress "as" Kobo Daishi, or just wear religious garb.  And presumably some do neither, but anyway).  All in all, for this first seminar, I essentially just needed something to fill space since nothing particularly jumped out at me, and it was worth it.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Resolving Conflicts in Primary Sources in 16th Century Japan (with violence)

As you know, we have been covering the The Association for Asian Studies and the International Convention of Asia Scholars joint conference in Honolulu via Twitter and the Facebook page, and as mentioned in the previous post. Day one was eventful, to say the least, and resulted in an almost 16 hour day.  It's late, and tomorrow is going to be another early, and long day, so I just wanted to limit this first post to probably the most unforgettable seminar of the day - How often do you get to witness a fistfight at an academic conference?

He Said, He Said: Resolving Conflicts in Primary Sources in 16th Century Japan 
David Neilson, University of Oregon: Self-Published History: the case of the Buk├┤yawa.
Yosuke Matsuoka, Aichi Daigaku—Reflections of Warrior Rule in the Diaries of Nobility & Clergy 
Keiichi Oshima, Gifu University—The Cult of Nobunaga: Reconciling the Primary Sources around Nobunaga’s Death

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin with this one, so I’ll get cut to the chase. Madness broke out at the conference. This was one of the late breaking panels that was only announced in a handout given when we registered, but I blew off another panel I planned to attend in order to make room for it. I was looking forward to hearing Neilson speak and getting his opinions on the Shinchoki/Shinchokoki debate. I got way more than I bargained for. Neilson gave a decent talk, and if you’ve read his thesis that’s been covered on the discussion board before, nothing very new was in it—he mostly discusses the criticism the Bukoyawa has received from certain areas, primarily Fujimoto Masayuki. Just like in the thesis, he pretty much tears up Fujimoto as a pseudo-academic, but there wasn’t much different than what he had already written.
Next was Matsuoka, and it was interesting, but not part of the good stuff, so I’ll cover that in more detail later. I have more important things to cover in my limited time now.

So, the main event, so to speak: Oshima. Wow. The other members of the Samurai Archives staff can chime in with his input when he gets a chance, but this was easily the highlight of the day for me.

Bottom line: There apparently was (is?) a secret cult that centered around Nobunaga. Followers/worshipers of Nobunaga, some of whom were in his inner circle, were part of his contingent at the Honno-ji when he was attacked by Akechi Mitsuhide. These devoted followers actually spirited Nobunaga’s body away, and hid it in a remote temple, location unknown. Much has been made of the statements by Luis Frois ascribing self-deification to Nobunaga, but it really hasn’t been taken seriously by academics. Oshima claims that not only did Nobunaga proclaim himself a god, but that this group of devoted followers developed into a cult of Nobunaga, and after his death kept his remains in this secret location as holy relics. The cult included some very well known figures—Sassa Narimasa and Takigawa Kazumasa are two positively identified, and Oshima alleges a connection to Shibata Katsuie. Also prominent are the Maeno and Hachisuka clans, the focus of the Bukoyawa. Supposedly, with the destruction of Shibata at Shizugatake, the Nobunaga cult went underground, as Toyotomi Hideyoshi became the ultimate power. Open worship of Nobunaga became an act of defiance against the Toyotomi and later Tokugawa governments, and was suppressed with just as much fervor as the persecution of Christians was pursued later. In fact, Oshima claims that this was the real reason that Sassa Narimasa was eventually ordered to death by Hideyoshi. Oshima claims that this “Kakure Nobunaga” cult continued on in the mountains of Gifu to this day, and the influence of the cult ideas can be seen in modern representations of Nobunaga as an evil demon in games, manga, etc. This representation is the pop culture manifestation of Nobunaga as a “vengeful spirit” returning to wreak havoc on his enemies.

I’d think this was total bunk, but Oshima actually made a pretty good case for it. His “proof” draws heavily on Inoue’s theories about the Shinchoki, Shinchokoki, and Bukoyawa being complementary texts. When I first heard this theory through Neilson’s thesis, I thought it was insane. Oshima makes the case that Ota Gyuuichi is Nobunaga’s St. Paul: the Shinchokoki, Shinchoki, and Bukoyawa are the religious texts of the Nobunaga cult. As Inoue theorized, the three accounts are intentionally misleading/mistaken in parts in order to throw off the anti-Nobunaga cult Tokugawa authorities. Certain passages are written in code that gives clues to which other passages in one book mesh with passages in another. The Bukoyawa serves as a kind of concordance/key to illuminate which chapters in the Shinchoki and Shinchokoki contain the hidden information. It gets better: the Kano school of artists was part of the cult as well, and clues to the location of the hidden tomb of Nobunaga can be found by reading the coded passages in the Bukoyawa and matching it up with certain paintings by Kano Eitoku and his successors. It’s late and I’ve got to get a few hours of sleep before I get up to go back to the conference tomorrow, so I’ll try to get to the details later after I sort through my notes. We haven’t even gotten to the best part yet.

After Oshima finished speaking, the floor was opened to questions, and a Japanese man who was obviously agitated during both Neilson’s and Oshima’s talks wasted no time. I understood when he introduced himself—Fujimoto Masayuki! Neilson outlines his arguments against the Bukoyawa, as it invalidates his theory that Sunomata-jo never existed and was an Edo Period fable. However, he skipped right over Neilson, and went straight for Oshima’s throat! In VERY strong (and non-academic) language, Fujimoto dressed down Oshima, calling him a fraud, and going on about how the Shinchokoki is the only legit source of information about Nobunaga, and since there’s no mention of a cult or anything, this theory is bunk. He seemed very upset that anyone would suggest reading anything but the Shinchokoki. He pointed at Neilson and made some sort of comment like he expected it from uninformed gaijin scholars, that they wouldn’t know any better, but that Oshima should be ashamed of spouting these lies (all this was in Japanese, by the way, so I’m doing my best to remember. Turns out my digital recorder had filled up by this time). Oshima started to rebut, and tried to get out something about true scholars evaluating all sources , and that he was close to finding the exact location of Nobunaga’s mausoleum (I am assuming he means where Nobunaga is enshrined, as he would have been cremated, no?). I’m not exactly sure what happened next, but Fujimoto snapped. “Omae, koroshite yaru ze!” he shouted, and rushed at Oshima. Thankfully a few in the audience were able to get ahold of him and keep it
Per the U. of Michigan grad student who emailed me this,
this is the ambulance that took Oshima to the Hospital.
from getting even more violent, but Fujimoto got in a punch on Oshima before he was pulled apart from him. Security had to be called in and three rather large Polynesian security types escorted Fujimoto out. The moderator decided to close things down at that point, but everyone left wondering what the hell had just happened. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn’t get to ask any questions about this theory, but I’ll be trying to do some research and see what else we can find. We have more meetings over the next few days, so maybe I can find Dr. Oshima and get some questions in.

All in all, an interesting conference so far. I didn’t think I’d be playing war correspondent, but hey, at least I’m not falling asleep.