venerdì 18 dicembre 2015

Jedi and Samurai - Relationships between George Lucas and Japan

In 1977 came out in cinemas around the world Star Wars, now better known as "Episode IV - A New Hope". Directed by George Lucas, this movie is destined to become the founder of a great sci-fi saga, which is still continuing and active on several media fronts.

Proof of this is the continued production of video games, animated series, novels and every other kind of product that helps to expand the fictional universe created by the filmmaker. This is the result of a big success movie which influenced strongly the science fiction cinema and also producing animated and internationally comics. In particular in Japan is greeted with great enthusiasm and immediate influence on the nippon animation, creating a cultural exchange between U.S. and Japan. As previously Lucas also drew on the works and culture of the Rising Sun country for creating Star Wars.

Japanese Movie Poster

For the creation of his film saga, in fact, Lucas took inspirations on lots of sources, mixing american comics - Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers -, fantasy movie and cinematography - western genre, the british horror from the presence of actors Peter Cushing and David Prowse, robot design of Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang -, literature - from the novel The War of the Worlds came from Imperial AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Trasport), that appeared in the movie The Empire Strikes Back (1980, aka "Star Wars - Episode V") -, psychological - edipic conflict between father and son -, and religious - the Jedi Knight's Force -.

As noted above, there were also lots of references to Japanese culture: in Akira Kurosawa The Hidden Fortress (1958) we can found the sequence of the "dialogue" between the two droids walking alone on the desert planet Tatooine, bickering and then rejoin after a series of events and their friendship became more stronger.
A similar sequence is in fact presented in the beginning of Kurosawa's film, where two thieves walking in a desolate valley and then quarrel and divide, but after coming together and being friends.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is another point in common between the two movies: like the character played by Toshiro Mifune in The Hidden Fortress, Kenobi is apparently an old man who live alone in the mountains, but in reality is a brave warrior.

The Hidden Fortress
Lucas confessed that he was inspired to strict code of honor of the samurai, in particular after watching the film Seven Samurai (1954) by Kurosawa. This movie impressed George Lucas as seen by the following words: "The first time I saw Seven Samurai I was astounded by the extraordinary energy that came from the screen, it was an unforgettable cultural shock for me" (see the book Akira Kurosawa by Aldo Tassone, Il Castoro, 2004, p. 77).
In that movie Kurosawa tells the story of a few samurai who accept the risky task of protecting a village of poor peasants from wild bandits. Although the farmers, apart from gratitude, do not have much to offer in payment, the samurai decide to make this honorable mission, aware of the sufference of the peasants.

Seven Samurai Japanese Poster

The term "jedi" is inspired by the japanese word "jidai-geki" which is usually used to refer costume samurai's movie. Another japanese reference is Darth Vader's face inspired by the helmet of the ancient samurai which most of the time covers the whole face of the wearer. The japanese word for samurai helmet is "kabuto", which was used by Go Nagai for the last name of the main character (Koji Kabuto) of Mazinger Z (1972) to emphasize how it represented the mind of the giant robot that must drive.

Darth Vader

Mazinger Z and Koji Kabuto

Given the presence of these references to japanese culture it is therefore easier to understand how the saga of Lucas has been enthusiastically received in Japan, immediately becoming the object of citation in many anime. Some of the most striking examples of these quotes can be found in the robotic TV series Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3 (broadcast in Japan from June 1978 to March 1979), where in the opening there is a duel between two characters - the hero Haran Banjo and a meganoid enemy -, both armed with a lightsaber, which is the traditional weapon of the Jedi Knight. In episode 22 of Daitarn 3 there is a character wanted to create a remake of Star Wars, while in episode 32 the original name of the meganoid's satellite is "Death Star", the same name used in Star Wars for giant empire weapon.

From the opening of Daitarn 3
From Daitarn 3 Episode 22
In other anime series we can ben remember: Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980), where the robot main character's weapon is a laser sword; in Invincible Robo Trider G7, the evil lord Zakuron fight with a big laser sword; in the movie Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981) directed by Rintaro, the main character Tetsuro has to fight against a robot knight called Faust which face is almost covered by an helmet, as we can remember also Luke Skywalker fight against his enemy without knowing who is hiding behind the helmet of his opponent.

Mobile Suit Gundam
Faust and Tetsuro in "Adieu Galaxy Express 999"
Even after many years, the saga of Lucas continues to fascinate, influence and inspire japanese artists, just think that at the end of the 90s were made of the manga adaptations of the three films of the classic trilogy, along with comic book version of the film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) by Kia Asamiya (author of Silent Möbius and Martian Successor Nadesico).

Star Wars Manga by Kia Asamiya
What we want to emphasize here is understanding of how fascinating and potentially strong are the contacts and cultural exchanges between the two countries apparently far away as the U.S.A. and Japan, but where artists can receive interest, passion and curiosity for works produced in other countries, enriching their culture and creating points of contact even sometimes there is fear or intolerance towards everything is apart from us.

N. B. English edition of this italian article, first published in 2010. Special Thanks to Spaghetti-Zen Blog for the english translation.

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