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Tag Archive: Japanese film

The Hidden Fortress: The Japanese Film that Influenced Star Wars

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  • January 16, 2017

In the next few years, December won’t only mean Christmas. It will also bring Star Wars! It began with 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” followed by “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in 2016. A series of upcoming movies from the same franchise is set to be released on December for the next few years. For all Star Wars fans, the 12th month of the year sure got more exciting!

The creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, credits one of Japan’s and the world’s most renowned and influential filmmakers, Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) for enhancing his creative juices while working on Star Wars. Kurosawa directed 30 films in his career that spanned 57 years, including the film that influenced Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress. Techniques from this film were used in Star Wars, such as narrating the story from the perspective of minor characters like R2-D2 and C-3PO. The plot and outline for Star Wars also showed strong resemblance to the plot of The Hidden Fortress, which was also reused for The Phantom Menace.

The Hidden Fortress poster.

The Hidden Fortress was told from the perspective of two lowly peasants who find themselves to be in the service of a princess and her general (similar to Princess Leia and Han Solo). The film is all about storming a large enemy fortress and coming to the aid of a princess.

Luke Skywalker and R2-D2. | Manoel Lemos

Certain elements in Star Wars also bear a strong resemblance to Japanese traditions and history. The popular Jedi knights seem quite similar to samurai warriors, the sōhei (僧兵) in particular. They were Japanese Buddhist warrior monks during Japan’s feudal years. This strikes a familiar chord to the Jedi’s iconic light saber, long flowing robes, and religious dedication to their craft. Darth Vader’s mask is also said to resemble the masks worn by samurai warriors.

Whether a Jedi or a samurai, may the Force be with you!

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher a.k.a. Princess Leia. | Tom Simpson

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Japanese Cinema: Gojira

This 1954 film by director Ishiro Honda is widely understood as an allegory for the devastation wrought on Japan by the atomic bomb. This is not Godzilla, the later remake starring Raymond Burr, but the original black-and-white version in Japanese. It is a stunning film, even with its hokey visual effects.

First, for a well-rounded foundation, here’s what rovi.com has to say—

As his visual metaphor, Honda uses a 400-foot-tall mutant dinosaur called Gojira, awakened from the depths of the sea as a rampaging nuclear nightmare, complete with glowing dorsal fins and fiery, radioactive breath. Crushing ships, villages, and buildings in his wake, Gojira marches toward Tokyo, bringing all of the country’s worst nightmares back until an evil more terrible bomb — capable of sucking all the oxygen from the sea — returns the monster to its watery grave. The original film is chilling, despite some rather unconvincing man-in-a-suit special effects, and brimming with explicitly stated anti-American sentiment.

Wikpedia also had a nice rundown of the movie.

I must say I didn’t notice any anti-American sentiment. I did notice the following:

  • An early SOS message in the movie (dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, etc.) was much more realistic—up to speed? not overplayed?—than I’ve seen it in American movies.
  • The monster itself isn’t shown for quite a while.  We’re led up to that by the very convincingly horrified expressions on the faces of the people who see the monster. Before we even get a look at the creature we’re immersed in everyone’s fear.
  • The monster’s fiery breath—okay, radioactive—was truly scary.
  • There is both a “mad scientist” and an older “voice-of-reason” scientist in the story.  The latter guy, strangely, doesn’t want to destroy the monster who is wreaking havoc everywhere.  He wants to study it and learn from it.
  • After so much horror and destruction, the ending is strangely, gently elegiac. There is an inexplicable sorrow.
  • I walked away from the movie with a sense of the interplay among risk, desperation, desecration, and inevitability.

Unresolved—

What exactly was an example of anti-American sentiment?

At the end, the voice-of-reason scientist hopes for more Gojiras. Why is that a realistic hope?

 

Anyone who has thoughts on those questions, please share them!

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