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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 2: SHINSENGUMI – ASSASSINS OF HONOR

26 Mar

As part of my ongoing celebration of Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, leading up to his centennial on April 1, 2020, I decided to re-watch one of his most important films, SHINSENGUMI: ASSASSINS OF HONOR (1970), arguably his best film that wasn’t directed by Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi, Hiroshi Inagaki or Kihachi Okamoto. Mifune produced the film himself for Toho Pictures and had Tadashi Sawashima direct him for the first time. (It was also Sawashima’s very last feature and the only one of his films I’ve seen.) In the film, Mifune plays Isami Kondo, leader of the Shinsengumi, a sort-of paramilitary group formed in 1863 by sword-wielding farmers and ronin (masterless samurai) eager to defend the Shogun, Iemochi Tokugawa, and his entourage during meetings with the Emperor in Kyoto at a crucial time in Japan’s history. In the course of their self-imposed mission, they get into pitched battles with pro-Imperialist factions and kill dozens of their political opponents, often as a result of murderous raids on Imperialist meeting places. With the exception of small details here and there, the events depicted in the film are generally historically accurate, as far as I can determine.

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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 1: The Samurai Trilogy

11 Mar

April 1, 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, arguably the greatest film actor in history. (He died in 1997.) I have tons of Mifune films I want to write about and I realize I can’t do it all in one piece, so I’m putting together a series on Mifune leading up to his centennial date. I’ve written about the Samurai Trilogy before, including a planned blog post that got delayed once I learned Criterion had released a new, updated, remastered edition that I needed to acquire and watch first. (The previous Criterion edition suffered from inferior print quality and inadequate subtitles.) I watched the new edition this month.

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World War II on Film: “Crusade in the Pacific” (1951)

26 Nov

I’ve been immersed in World War II research lately. What started it was the random discovery of tons of material on the war on YouTube. I began watching all sorts of documentaries and collections of original footage from the war. I then plunged into my collection of Hollywood movies on the subject, watching or re-watching 18 so far. Then, and most importantly, I pulled books about the  war off my history shelves and began reading chapters on the subjects I’d just seen in the films and documentaries. For example, after watching a TV documentary about Guadalcanal and then a movie in which the battle is featured, I would look for chapters on Guadalcanal in various books to get the full story. My emphasis has been on the war with Japan and I began reading The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, written by eminent historian John Toland and published in 1970, in which the author interviewed many Japanese participants and read through Japanese transcripts and documents to get their side of the story. I’m over halfway through it.

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The Passing of Two Manga Greats: Kazuo Koike and Monkey Punch

25 Apr

Earlier this month, two great manga creators died six days apart. Kazuhiko Kato died on April 11 at the age of 81 and Kazuo Koike died on April 17 at the age of 82. Both died of pneumonia. Kato was best known by his pseudonym, Monkey Punch, and was the creator, writer and artist of “Lupin III,” a long-running manga about a not-so-gentleman thief and his band of uniquely skilled sidekicks, that formed the basis for numerous animated TV series, movies and specials made from 1971 to 2018. Kazuo Koike was a writer responsible for some of my favorite manga series, including “Lone Wolf and Cub,” “Crying Freeman” and “Lady Snowblood.” These titles and others he wrote were made into live-action films, TV series and animated films. The two men were sometime rivals whose careers ran parallel to each other and they even collaborated once, as indicated in this paragraph from Anime News Network featuring Koike’s reaction after Kato’s death had been announced:

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Osamu Tezuka at 90, “God of Manga”

3 Nov

Osamu Tezuka, known in Japan as manga no kamisama (God of manga), would have turned 90 on November 3, 2018. The creator of thousands of volumes of manga (Japanese comic books) from the postwar years to his death, he’s best known in the U.S. for several animated series based on his works, including “Astro Boy,” “Kimba, the White Lion,” and “Princess Knight,” in all of which he had considerable input. The very first Japanese animated feature I saw was one of his, PHOENIX 2772 (1980), which played at a film festival in New York in the summer of 1982. It was, in fact, the first work of Japanese animation I ever wrote about. Since then, I’ve seen hundreds of films and TV episodes based on Tezuka’s works, many produced by him, and have read dozens of volumes of his manga that have been translated into English.

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Sentai Locations 2018: Sumida River

10 Jun

On March 27, 2018, as the bus headed from Haneda Airport to the Tokyo City Air Terminal near my hotel not long after my arrival, we crossed the Sumida River and I looked to the left and even though night had fallen, I clearly saw a waterfront location that had been used in KAMEN RIDER ICHIGO, the 2016 Kamen Rider movie that I’d seen in a theater in Osaka during my 2016 trip to Japan, and which I now owned on DVD. As it turned out, it was only minutes from my hotel, so I resolved to make that my first stop the next day.

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Sentai Locations 2018: Chiba City

20 May

In Chiba City, about an hour’s subway ride straight east from downtown Tokyo, there are a number of locations often used for Japanese superhero shows in the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider franchises, usually for elaborate fight scenes. There’s an office complex that has two large plazas that I’ve seen used in many shows over the years. Just a short distance southwest of that is the Makuhari Messe International Convention Complex, which has a large convention center and a separate exhibition hall, slightly smaller, across the street from it. Adjacent to the convention center is a ground-level plaza that reminded me of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Next to the Exhibition Hall is a small park with a couple of unusual sculptures and fountains.

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