The world of the samurai has long enticed us. We have been held in thrall by the glamour, the glory, the honor and the code of the samurai. What makes a samurai special? It’s in the word itself. Samurai means ‘to serve’. The world of movies has looked at the samurai in awe and reverence for a long time. The question you need to ask is why? Surely this is about history, you must be thinking. However it is more than history. The influence of the samurai has crept into the bones of Hollywood. Now let’s see, what does that mean exactly? The notion of honor and service. The samurai embodied that belief. The cinematic world saw this and proceeded to be influenced by the stories of these noble warriors. One of the most noteworthy stories is one of the 47 Ronin. ‘Ronin’ means master-less samurai. A warrior who serves no lord. There are others too which have been adapted for the silver screen. This has given the world such movies as Yojimbo, Kagemusha, Seven Samurai and many more. But more on that some other time.
There many parts of the samurai that Hollywood has picked up and glamorized. The part we are most familiar with is the Katana. In other words, the samurai sword.
The katana is one of the most recognizable weapons of our time. It’s curved blade and legendary sharp edge has been featured in many a story. For example when Bruce Willis looks for a weapon in ‘Pulp Fiction’- yup, you know what I am talking about, he stops and looks at the katana. Picking it up, he checks it’s heft, the balance, the shine and almost immediately you know that all hell is about to break loose. The sword itself looks wholly unremarkable. However, in the hands of a trained warrior, the blade becomes a lethal extension of his being. This sword has powerful connotations attached to it. A samurai would never let another person touch his blade, nor will he give it up without a fight. Hollywood showed this quite nicely in the movie ‘The Hunted.’
One of the other aspects of the samurai that fascinated Hollywood was the armor. It looked simple and elegant, yet served a deadly purpose. A samurai clothed in his armor is ready for battle. In the movie, ‘The Wolverine‘, Logan a.k.a. The Wolverine goes toe-to-toe with the Silver Samurai. The huge mechanized suit of armor ,gleaming in silver, is a tribute to the samurai and their code of battle. If two samurai were to meet in battle, one of them could challenge the other to a duel. This would then be fought on foot, as two equals. The armor was significant for the samurai. He could be easily identified in the field of battle by the uniqueness of his armor. It was often passed down through the family. In the movie ‘ The Last Samurai’, Tom Cruise’s character is given the ‘Red Armour’ as a token of his acceptance into the village. As weapons evolved, the armor became more for ritual rather than purpose. However, the intention was the same. To wear one’s armor correctly was to prepare for battle. With that mind-set, nothing would be impossible.
One of the most well known things or lore about the samurai is the code. The code of the samurai or The Way of The Warrior. In Japanese, this is known as Bushido. This one of those things that takes time to understand. As you might have surmised, the samurai were warriors, whose lives were tempered by war and battle. The code of the samurai is one of those things that came out of these centuries of sword and blood. The mark of a warrior so to speak. The idea was that there should a code of conduct, much like the code of chivalry existed for the knights. When the westerners finally came to the shores of Japan, they were quite taken aback. This code made for interesting story telling. As the world turned to cinema, the stories and legends of this code came to life. The whole notion of honor and glory in battle came to life with movies like ‘Ghost Dog’ , ‘The Last Samurai’ , ‘ The Twilight Samurai’, ‘Zatoichi’ and many more.
In the end, what makes any samurai into a legend is the sword fights. Of course, the battles in the real world were tough and brutal. Quick and deadly, the aim of any fight is to defeat your opponent as you very well know. In the world of the samurai however, the aim was to fight fairly and with efficiency. The whole whirling your sword around and jumping from table to table and swinging from the chandeliers came about because Hollywood met Errol Flynn. But when the stories of the samurais had to be told, the fights became more stylized, more intense in focus and shot. In ‘Kill Bill Vol.1‘ for example when ‘The Bride’, Uma Thurman, faces off with ‘O-ren Ishii’, the camera zooms in on the eyes, and time slows down. Of course in real life, this doesn’t happen. But for a few minutes Quentin Tarantino tipped his hat to Akira Kurosawa, the master of the samurai movie genre. The huge fight sequence that took place earlier in the movie is also one of those which stylized the samurai’s skill at using the katana.
At the end of the day, we might not be samurai or ronin but for a few hours, we can pretend. The world of the samurai has given so much to cinema. With great stories and interesting plots, the movies transport us into that fantasy. In fact, with 47 Ronin, we get to see this fantasy retold. Watch the movie and tell us what you think about the samurai and ronin. Should be interesting, wouldn’t you agree?