by Andrea Grunert

Miike Takashi’s (1) 13 Assassins (Jūsan-nin no shikaku, Japan, 2010) is a remake of the eponymous film by Kudo Eiichi released in 1963. When I first watched it, I was struck by the number and variety of references to film history. Having stated that and to prevent possible misunderstandings, let me emphasize that Miike’s film is an important work in its own right in which the director develops a clear perspective on loyalty, social justice and individual choice. Moreover, the film’s intertextual dimension – an aspect absent in Kudo’s film as well as in an earlier remake for Fuji Television by Tominaga Takuji in 1990 – contributes to its rich signification. Adding another layer of meaning, it reinforces the director’s critical approach to misinterpretations of bushidō – the way of the warrior – and the values that are commonly associated with it, especially loyalty and honour.
One of the most obvious references to masterpieces of Japanese cinema is established by the figure Kiga Koyata, who shares numerous character traits with Kikuchiyo, the would-be samurai in Kurosawa Akira’s Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai, 1954). This article focuses on Koyata in Miike’s 13 Assassins and explores the similarities and differences between Koyata and Kikuchiyo, referring also to the performances by the actors who play Koyata and Kikuchiyo: namely Iseya Yūsuke and Mifune Toshirō respectively.

Rebellious characters
The action of 13 Assassins is set in 1844, twenty-four years before the end of the shogunate and the rule of the samurai. A group of samurai, led by Shimada Shinzaemon (Yakusho Kōji), is entrusted with a mission to kill the sadistic Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu (Inagaki Gorō) in order to prevent his appointment to the Council of Elders (2), which would make him one of the most powerful men in Japan after the shogun. The ruthless Naritsugu, portrayed as the embodiment of evil, is protected by law and must therefore be eliminated in a clandestine operation. In a small village that they have transformed into a killing field, Shinzaemon and twelve comrades-in-arms face Naritsugu and his escort of 200 samurai (3). Eleven of the men who have joined Shinzaemon’s fight for social justice are samurai or ronin (masterless samurai). When they lose their way in the mountains, they meet the hunter Koyata, who becomes the 13st assassin.
The plot, many of the characters and numerous details in Miike’s 13 Assassins – with a filmscript written by Tengan Daisuke – scrupulously follow Kudo’s original, a film based on a screenplay by Ikegami Kaneo, who was also the scriptwriter for Tominaga’s television film. All three 13 Assassins films start with the seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) of one of Naritsugu’s retainers, and some of the shots in this opening sequence of Miike’s film are almost identical with the first shots in Kudo’s 13 Assassins. The lighting is particularly exquisite in both films, with Miike exploring the contrast between light and shade in a colour film rather than Kudo’s black and white original. Miike’s approach to violence is more realistic, and in the long, final battle scene, the combatants are covered in blood and mud, limbs are cut off, and the burning village is strewn with the dead bodies of men and horses (4).
One main difference between the three films is in the character Kiga Koyata. In Kudo’s film, his first appearance is when Shinzaemon’s nephew meets him in the village in which the fight against Naritsugu is going to take place. Koyata (Yamashiro Shingo) calls himself a “peasant samurai“, a samurai of peasant stock, but the village headman expresses doubts about his samurai ancestry. Koyata has only a minor role in this film, mainly two dialogue sequences, during the second of which he is admitted to Shinzaemon’s group of samurai. In the television film from 1990, Koyata has an even smaller role as a samurai who joins Shinzaemon’s “band of assassins” before their departure from Edo (present-day Tokyo) to the village in the mountains. In this minor supporting role, he has hardly any individual features.
In Miike’s film, Kiga Koyata is a much more complex and even mysterious character and, a key figure in the film’s treatment of individual action. Koyata is a hunter but claims to be the descendant of samurai, which explains why he has a surname. In the strict class system of Japanese society ruled by samurai, only the members of this warrior class had the right to a family name. In Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai however, Kikuchiyo, the seventh samurai, is a peasant who pretends to be a samurai. He stubbornly follows Kanbei, an elderly samurai (Shimura Takashi) who is recruiting fellow samurai to protect a village from a group of bandits. At first rejected by Kanbei, Kikuchiyo is ultimately accepted as a member of the group. Similarly, in Miike’s film Koyata is initially not permitted to join Shinzaemon and his samurai. Shinzaemon’s nephew Shinrokurō (Yamada Takeyuki) in particular continues to treat Koyata as an outcast, advising him to return to the mountains because he does not belong to the warrior class.
Miike and also Kurosawa in Seven Samurai frequently highlight the topic of social class difference. In Seven Samurai, Kikuchiyo catches a fish with his bare hands and shows his catch triumphantly to Kanbei and the six samurai, who watch him from up on a rock. However, he does not join the others, and he eats his fish alone. In Miike’s film, Koyata kills a rabbit with his weapon, which is a kind of sling. Even though they are exhausted after their trek through the unknown and hostile mountain region, the samurai turn up their noses at the food, saying that they have more important things to do than to eat. Koyata’s reply “Is there anything more important?” reveals that he does not understand their attitude, which is based on the samurai ethic of frugality. These samurai are no longer warriors but live as bureaucrats in Edo (5), whereas the young hunter leads a life fraught with danger, as is revealed by the many scars on his body and the fact that one of his ears has been half ripped off by a bear.
Both Kikuchiyo and Koyata are depicted as rather unsophisticated characters and closer to nature than the samurai, who are prisoners of their social class. Kikuchiyo understands the mentality of his fellow peasants and succeeds in persuading them to leave their houses, where they are hiding in fear of Kanbei and the other samurai and unaware that they are not bandits. He also gives a helping hand during the harvest while the samurai, not used to such manual work, are just bystanders. Koyata is familiar with the forest in which Shinzaemon and his men lose their way and is quite at home in such terrain, but the samurai are disgusted by the leeches that cling to their skin and are soon exhausted by their trek through the dense and humid forest of the mountain region.
The unsophisticated aspect of the two characters is also suggested by their undisguised sexuality. Kikuchiyo expresses carnal desire while observing the village’s women arriving for the wheat harvest (“Where the hell have you been hiding these girls?”), his body language clearly revealing his excitement. Kudo’s 13 Assassins has a romantic love element with Koyata eager to join Shinzaemon’s men to prove his manhood and courage in order to win the hand of the village headman’s daughter (6). In Miike’s film, the twelve samurai find Koyata suspended from a tree in a net, put there as punishment for having coveted his boss’s wife. Moreover, Koyata is obsessed by Upashi, the woman he loves. Later in the film, he talks repeatedly about Upashi, in a daydream he has a vision of her, and at the end of the film, his only wish is to be reunited with this woman of his dreams.
Rebelliousness is a key characteristic of both Kikuchiyo and Koyata, and Koyata in Miike’s 13 Assassins is as untamed and rebellious as Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai. In one scene, Koyata provokes one of the samurai by putting a live insect in his mouth, and although Kikuchiyo has ambitions of becoming a samurai, in one long monologue scene he accuses the warrior class of exploiting the peasantry. Koyata refers to his samurai ancestry, but he nevertheless criticizes the warrior class, calling the samurai arrogant and inefficient. When Naritsugu’s swordsman Kitō Hanbei (Ichimura Masachika) says to him: “You are not a samurai”, Koyata replies that this fight is a fight between good-for-nothings, adding: “Samurai or not. Good-for-nothings stay good-for-nothings.” (7)

Flamboyant characters and extravagant acting style
Koyata and Kikuchiyo are both flamboyant figures, a character trait reinforced by Mifune’s and Iseya’s strong performances. Their acting is highly expressive and entirely appropriate to the rather wild and adventurous characters they play. Mifune’s energetic style contributes significantly to the portrayal of a character who, unlike the samurai, does not hide his emotions. Kikuchiyo’s exuberant gesturing and jumping, and his roaring laughter “present him as a true force of nature displaying life’s most elemental features.” (8). Cynthia Baron and Sharon Marie Carnicke, who explore the potential relationship between Seven Samurai and Japanese theatrical traditions, especially Nō theatre, write: “Kikuchiyo’s performance when interacting with the villagers reminds of a kyōgen figure who belongs to a realm of ‚humorous, stylized, theatrical representation‘ that illuminates ‚truth under the veil of the joke’” (9). Kikuchiyo has sounded the alarm to lure the villagers out of their houses, where they are hiding instead of welcoming the group of samurai who have come to protect them. The panic that his ruse creates delights the would-be samurai, who struts like a peacock, laughing, pulling faces and mimicking the peasants’ fear. His whole body is involved, creating a stark contrast to the restrained behaviour of the samurai.
Koyata, who hops rather than walks, in Miike’s 13 Assassins, gives a performance reminiscent of Mifune’s extravagant acting in Seven Samurai, Iseya’s acting style being an example of the intertext that Miike creates between his film and Kurosawa’s (10). Rather like Mifune’s, Iseya’s acting style is marked by movement. Wild gesturing and loud screaming emphasize that Koyata is a very emotional character, and parallel editing shows Shinzaemon and his eleven comrades discussing their strategy while Koyata moves around restlessly next door, then lies down on a bundle of straw, the expression on his face betraying the inner turmoil stirred up by his wish to join the samurai.
As with Kikuchiyo, Koyata’s body and his body language are constant markers of social class difference. Living in the forest and fighting wild animals, Koyata is presented almost as a savage, even if he is outraged when treated as one. His body is not only covered in scars, his face and chest are also blackened with dirt, making his eyes look even wilder. Make-up and also the way Iseya uses his gaze and his whole body to express feelings contribute to his portrayal of a multifaceted character. Face and body express his concentration – his keen eyes are those of an intelligent man who is curious about the world. In one sequence in the woods, Koyata, sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, communicates only with his eyes and his body. His face and body language express his disdain for the samurai who, at the end of their tether, are simply unable to see the path in the forest, even though it is right in front of them.
Kikuchiyo develops from a braggart looking for glory and adventure to a valid member of the group of samurai and a man prepared to fight for social justice. He inspires his fellow combatants and the villagers to continue their fight after the death of the first of the “seven samurai”. In the sequence in which he saves a baby, he reveals his own traumatic past. Bursting into tears, he stammers: “This baby. This is me. This is what happened to me.” When he arrives in the village, this peasant turned samurai states: “No way I’m gonna die in that dung heap.” However, it is there that he dies, face down in the mud, a wretched end for this man so full of life.
Kikuchiyo achieves what Kurosawa considered the highest samurai ideal – selflessness. However, Koyata, who like Kikuchiyo is eager to live out an adventure to the full, does not undergo any change. His only wish at the end of the film is to return to his beloved Upashi. The destruction around him – the village in ruins, dead bodies scattered everywhere in the smoking debris – does not affect him at all. He joins Shinzaemon’s group for his own sake, stating with sparkling eyes during the fierce battle: “I did not know that playing samurai is so enjoyable.” When Hanbei tells him a little later that the battle is over, Koyata replies: “How boring”, a sentiment underlined by the sullen look on his face.

Koyata, a superhuman being
Iseya plays Koyata as a carefree young man who enjoys the horrors of the battle. The fact that he does not undergo any emotional change can be explained by his ambivalent narrative status, his closeness to nature implying some kind of connection with the supernatural. On his first screen appearance, the samurai ask Koyata: “Are you a savage or a ghost?”, assumptions that Koyata angrily denies. However, his prowess with the sling he uses rather than a sword is extraordinary (11). Stabbed by Hanbei during the battle and his neck pierced by Naritsugu’s sword, Koyata is apparently dead. However, he reappears after the battle as if nothing has happened, jumping about joyfully in the ruins. “Are you immortal?” asks the surprised Shinrokurō.
The samurai’s journey through the mountains figures neither in Kudo’s nor in Tominaga’s film. The forest, filmed in bird’s-eye shots, is presented as an almost impenetrable natural environment. In other shots, the shroud of mist on the mountain landscape creates a feeling of mystery, and the mountains themselves are described as “full of gifts” for mankind but also as a threatening, haunted place that evokes fears of dangers and gives rise to superstitions about ghosts and demons. The eerie atmosphere makes nature seem like a more-than-human world, a liminal space in which the impish Koyata, his face smeared with dirt, might well be a ghost. His sudden reappearance after the battle implies some kind of reincarnation, supporting the idea that he is not simply human, and this link to a supernatural world is also suggested in a daydream he has about his beloved Upashi in which she is eating a fleshy and bloody substance she has taken out of her body and which could be a foetus.
Koyata’s miraculous reappearance, however, is not devoid of irony and can be seen as a reference to the larger-than-life figure Mifune plays in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (Yōjinbō, 1961) and to that protagonist’s mock resurrection. Seriously injured, the yojimbo hides in a coffin to escape from his enemies and he is considered dead. However, he heals his wounds and returns to purge the village of crime and corruption. In both films, this resurrection motif is used in an ironic rather than mystical way but in the framework of a realistic tale (12).

The importance of individual choice
In many ways, Koyata is the opposite of the devilish Naritsugu. The contrast is established by their dress and appearance – the lord wearing white or cream-coloured elegant garments, the hunter clad in black rags. Naritsugu is well-groomed, the hunter covered in dirt, and Koyata’s carefree attitude contrasts with the lord’s emotionless behaviour. Both enjoy violence – although in a very different way. Rather like a child, the hunter is looking for adventure, but the samurai kills for some dark pleasure and considers his lethal deeds a privilege of his class and a demonstration of his power. Koyata may perhaps be a demon, but he joins the good cause to destroy evil, his battle skills contributing to the restoration of order.
Koyata is also an important figure in the discourse on individuality in Miike’s film. In Seven Samurai, the conflict between individual and group and between different social classes is represented by Kikuchiyo (13). Kanbei lectures Kikuchiyo on the importance of solidarity after one of his solo actions has failed, and Kikuchiyo inspires the other samurai and the villagers with his courage, but he does not belong to either of these social classes. Only in death does he seem to become a samurai – his burial alongside the three samurai in the group who also died while protecting the village makes him a legitimate member of the group and combines the celebration of action with a strong sense of individual responsibility.
In all three versions of 13 Assassins, the conflict between giri (loyalty) and ninjō (human feeling) is expressed by Shinzaemon and Hanbei, who have been rivals since their youth (14). Hanbei defends the orthodox position, strongly supported by his lord (Naritsugu), that a samurai’s (15) duty is to serve his lord and that he should never question his lord’s intentions. Shinzaemon has chosen a different path, taking action against a lord whose sadistic impulses put human beings in danger and are a threat to society as a whole. Miike emphasizes the theme of individual action by challenging the authoritarian and militaristic interpretation of the concept of bushidō that was advocated by the Japanese military regime in the late 1930s and during World War II. Naritsugu’s vision of bushidō, requiring the blind obedience of his retainers, is close to this perverted bushidō concept of the war years. The psychopath Naritsugu is eager to use his power for warfare (16) and to establish despotic rule. Individuals like Shinzaemon and also Doi Toshitsura (Hira Mikijirō), who devises the assassination scheme in Miike’s film, pursue the idea of loyalty better than Hanbei as they fight for social justice and show that bushidō is a flexible code allowing room for individual choice (17).
Kudo’s and Tominaga’s films both end with a voice-over narration explaining that individuals, in this case Shinzaemon and his men, are excluded from the official records of the shogunate, which do not mention the battle but state that Lord Naritsugu died of illness (18). In the final sequence of Miike’s 13 Assassins, Shinrokurō and Koyata, the only survivors of the horrendous battle, meet in the smoking ruins of the village. Disgusted by the violence to which he contributed, Shinrokurō, now an outcast, is freed from the constraints of his social class that have imprisoned his uncle, who could only be free in death. Eager to choose his own lifestyle, Shinrokurō considers leaving the samurai and becoming a major criminal in America, where he would make love to a woman. In this sequence, the focus is on the young samurai who teamed up with his uncle Shinzaemon in order to leave a life of idleness behind and find a purpose in life. Koyata’s presence at this point in the film is important for Miike’s discourse on individuality. Koyata is both complementary to and the opposite of Shinrokurū. At the beginning of the film, Shinrokurū is as immature as Koyata, whose exuberant movements underline his youthful joy in killing and who seems unconcerned by the chaos around him. This hunter, who could be a yokai – a supernatural being that appears in very different shapes – represents liminality, and this is suggested by his unclear status between human reality and a different world. Despite his obsession with Upashi, he opposes stable codes as represented by Hanbei’s orthodoxy, and is more like a personification of Shinrokurō’s hidden but unfulfilled desires, thereby pointing to the complexity of modern society with its emphasis on a right to individuality.

(1) Japanese names are written according to the Japanese custom, the family name preceding the given name.
(2) The Elders (rōju) were among the highest-ranking government officers during the Tokugawa era (1603-1868).
(3) Only about 70 samurai are confronting Shinzaemon and his men in the original film and in the 1990 remake. However, the discrepancy in numbers between Shinzaemon’s men and Naritsugu’s escort is made very obvious in these two films too.

(4) This does not mean that Kudo’s mise en scène of the battle is – in cinematic terms – less effective than Miike’s. In the 1963 film, the brutality of the battle scene is very evident at every moment.

(5) The Tokugawa period is known as a peaceful era in Japanese history during which the samurai, the members of the ruling warrior class, were turned into bureaucrats. Miike’s film frequently refers to the fact that the samurai lack fighting experience.

(6) In Kudo’s film, the more romantic love element is also represented by the hedonistic Shinrokurō, who has left his beloved in Edo. This young man shows great understanding for Koyata and the daughter of the village headman, a feeling that amuses his uncle, who regards it as an expression of immature romanticism.

(7) Mifune Toshirō played rebels throughout his long career, starting with his screen debut in Snow Trail (Ginrei no hate, 1947, Taniguchi Senkichi). Iseya Yūsuke often plays young men in contemporary Japan who are deviant or rebellious characters – as in After Life (Wandafaru raifu, 1998, Kore-Eda Hirokazu), but also historical figures such as Yoshida Shōin in Burning Flower (Hana moyu, 2015), a taiga drama produced by the public television company NHK that was broadcast in weekly episodes for a whole year.

(8) Andrea Grunert, Kikuchiyo, the seventh samurai (Seven Samurai, 1954)”, The Big Picture Magazine (17 September 2017).

(9) Cynthia Baron and Sharon Marie Carnicke, Reframing Screen Performance. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 2008, p. 148. Kyōgen is a form of traditional Japanese comic theatre. Kyōgen plays are often performed as an interlude between Nō acts.

(10) In the television miniseries Lady Nobunaga (Nobunaga onna, 2013, Takeuchi Hideki), Iseya plays Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) who has risen from a low-ranking peasant-samurai to Japan’s powerful ruler. His acting in this series – lively facial expressions and exuberant gestures – also evokes Mifune’s performance in Seven Samurai.

(11) Koyata’s almost superhuman capacities extend to his sexual prowess as shown in a deleted scene. The village headman spies on Koyata making love to his daughter. A following shot shows the young woman leaving the hut in which the sexual act took place. She is completely exhausted by the lovemaking while three other women of the village, to whom Koyata has supposedly made love on previous occasions, are agonizing in front of the hut. However, Koyata’s sexual desire has not been satisfied, and when the village headman sees Koyata’s very impressive penis and wants to spare the women, he offers his services to quench the young hunter’s apparently insatiable lust.

(12) Just like Mifune’s ronin in Yojimbo, Koyata observes the village from a bell tower.

(13) The difference between the would-be samurai and the six others is supported by Mifune’s acting as well as by the music. A mambo-like tune is associated with Kikuchiyo and is heard when he acts of his own accord. For the use of music with regard to individualization and group association in Seven Samurai, see my article “The Music of Seven Samurai”, The Big Picture Magazine, 23 May 2020. 

(14) In the two other 13 Assassins-films, Shinzaemon and Hanbei are friends but also rival swordmen.

(15) Samurai derives from saburai, the nominal form of the verb saburau, which can roughly be translated as “to be in attendance” or “to serve”.

(16) Excited by bloodshed, Naritsugu dreams of a return to the age of civil war in the 15th and 16th centuries. He states that he intends to use his power to reintroduce war in Japan.

(17) Bushidō is a rather flexible concept as shown by its many interpretations over the last 120 years. The concept originated in the intellectual discourse of the 1880s after the end of the samurai reign and was based on ideas about samurai values and behaviour. Nitobe Inazō’s Bushidō: The Soul of Japan, first published in 1899 in English, is probably the best-known book on bushidō. See Oleg Benesch, Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism and Bushidō in Modern Japan, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004.

(18) In Kudo’s film, the voice-over accompanies a shot of the setting sun. In the television production from 1990, the final shots show Doi (played by Tanba Tetsurō, who had also been cast in this role in the 1963 film), the man who devised the plot to murder Naritsugu because it was not possible to take legal action against him for the crimes he had committed.

Subarashiki sekai (Under the Open Sky) von Nishikawa Miwa

von Andrea Grunert

Bedingt durch die Pandemie fand in diesem Jahr das japanische Filmfestival Nippon Connection erneut online statt. Neben den Filmreihen – Spielfilmen, Anime, Dokumentarfilmen, Kurzfilmen – gab es wieder ein interessantes Begleitprogramm mit Interviews und Vorträgen. Angesichts des vielfältigen Angebots hatte der Zuschauer die Qual der Wahl. Die meine fiel auf fünf Filme: Zeze Takahisas Rakuen (The Promised Land, 2019). Fukada Kōjis Yokagao (A Girl Missing, Japan/Frankreich, 2019), Nishikawa Miwas Subarashiki sekai (Under the Open Sky, 2020), Sono Sions Escher dori no akai posuto (Red Post on Escher Street, 2020) und Toyoda Toshiakas Hakai no hi (The Day of Distribution, 2020).
Erinnerung und Trauma sind die Themen, die sich wie ein roter Faden durch die Filme ziehen. In Rakuen, Yokagao und Subarashiki sekai liegt die Vergangenheit wie ein dunkler Schatten über den Charakteren. In Rakuen leidet die junge Tsumugi (Sugisaka Hana) auch zwölf Jahre nach den Ereignissen noch unter dem Verschwinden ihrer Schulfreundin. Die mysteriöse Entführung eines jungen Mädchens zerstört das Leben der Tante des Tatverdächtigen (Yokagao). In Subarashiki sekai versucht ein alternder Yakuza sich nach einer langen Haftstrafe verzweifelt in die Gesellschaft zu integrieren.
Nishikawas Film beginnt mit der Einstellung eines vergitterten Fensters, bevor die grauen Mauern eines Gefängnisses in einer Schneelandschaft gezeigt werden. Das Gefühl der Trauer und des Eingeschlossen seins, das diese Bilder ausstrahlen, durchzieht den gesamten Film, in dem der von Yakusho Kōji gespielte Ex-Gangster nicht nur versucht, wieder Fuß im Alltag zu fassen, sondern sich auch auf die Suche nach seiner Mutter macht, die ihn als Kleinkind verlassen hat. Die Vergangenheit lauert überall. Mikami hat die Gefängnisregeln verinnerlicht, marschiert in einigen Szenen im Stechschritt, was an Yakushos Rolle in Imamura Shoheis Unagi (The Eel, 1997) erinnert, in dem der aus dem Gefängnis entlassene Protagonist die gleiche Attitüde zeigt.
Mikami hat nicht nur Schwierigkeiten, im Gefängnis antrainierte Verhaltensmuster abzulegen, sondern muss sich einer Reihe von Hindernissen stellen. Der Alltag ist voller Tücken mit Neuerungen, wie der Mülltrennung, die ihm fremd sind. Dabei ist er nicht völlig auf sich gestellt. Sein Anwalt und dessen Frau versuchen ihm zu helfen, ebenso ein junger Sozialarbeiter und ein Journalist. Er findet sogar einen Freund in einem Supermarktfilialleiter. Doch der leicht erregbare Mikami hat sich nicht unter Kontrolle und fällt immer wieder in sein altes, von Gewalt geprägtes Gehabe zurück. Die mehrfach auftauchenden Totalen, die ihn nachts im Bildhintergrund in einer Telefonzelle zeigen, sind visueller Ausdruck seiner Isolation.
Während Mikami versucht, die Vergangenheit hinter sich zu lassen und ein anderer Mensch zu werden, jedoch immer wieder von ihr eingeholt wird, leben die Charaktere von Rakuen in der Vergangenheit. Zwölf Jahre zuvor hatte sich die Freundin an einer Wegkreuzung von Tsumugi getrennt. Kurz danach war sie verschwunden. Ihre Familie und vor allem der Großvater (Emoto Akira) leiden ebenso wie die nun Anfang Zwanzigjährige Tsumugi unter dem nach wie vor ungeklärten Schicksal des Mädchens. Der eigenbrötlerische Bienenzüchter Zenjirō (Satō Kōichi) kann den Tod seiner Frau nicht verwinden und klammert sich an die Vergangenheit. Tsumugi allerdings versucht, sich aus ihrem Trauma zu befreien, verlässt ihr Heimatdorf und findet Arbeit in Tokio.
Yokagao rekonstruiert in Rückblenden die Geschehnisse um die Krankenschwester Ichiko (Tsutsui Mariko), die nach der Entführung und möglichen Vergewaltigung des Teenagers Saki, der Tochter der Familie, deren bettlägerige Mutter eine von Ichikos Patientinnen ist, ihre Arbeit verloren hat. Von Rache besessen schmiedet sie eine Intrige und ändert dafür ihre Identität. Doch nicht nur sie wird von dem Verbrechen geplagt, sondern auch Motoko (Ichikawa Mikako), Sakis ältere Schwester, die Ichiko bei ihren Eltern denunziert, die nicht wissen, dass der Tatverdächtige ihr Neffe ist. Dabei war es Motoko, die Ichiko geraten hatte, die Verwandtschaft zu verheimlichen. Motoko zerstört mit weiteren Lügen Ichikos Leben. Diese verliert ihre Arbeit bei der Schwesternagentur; der Arzt, mit dem sie verlobt war, trennt sich von ihr. Während Saki nach ihrem Wiederauftauchen unbeschadet wirkt, wird Motoko als gestörte Persönlichkeit dargestellt, die sich der jüngeren Schwester gegenüber zurückgesetzt fühlt und starke Gefühle auf Ichiko projiziert. Als diese es ablehnt, mit ihr zusammenzuziehen, da sie vor hat den Arzt zu heiraten, verleumdet Motoko sie vor der Presse.
Die Vergangenheit, der sich die Charaktere stellen müssen, spielt auch in Escher dori no akai posuto eine große Rolle. Der Regisseur Kobayashi (Yamaoka Tatsuhiro) begegnet immer wieder dem Geist seiner verstorbenen Frau, die seine Ideen in Frage stellt und ihn inspiriert. Kiniko (Kohira Matsuri), eine der jungen Frauen, die sich zum Casting für Kobayashis neuen Film angemeldet haben, lebt in der Erinnerung an ihren bei einem Unfall verstorbenen Mann. Und auch in Hakai no hi hat die Vergangenheit Einfluss auf die Gegenwart: Das Monster, das in einer alten Kohlemine gefangengehalten wird, hat ein tödliches Virus in die Welt gesetzt, während der Film über traditionelle Gegenstände wie das katana (das Langschwert der Samurai) und Nohmasken Erinnerungen an die Ära der Samurai heraufbeschwört.
Wenngleich auf unterschiedliche Weise sind in allen Filmen Vergangenheit und Gegenwart von Gewalt geprägt, von Verbrechen (Rakuen, Yokagao, Subarashiki sekai, Escher dori no akai posuto) oder einer tödlichen Krankheit (Hakai no hi). Blut und Tod sind omnipräsente Motive aller fünf Spielfilme, die um Schuld und Sühne, Unschuld und Rache kreisen. In Rakuen fragt der verbitterte Großvater, warum Tsumugi lebe und seine Enkelin verschwunden und sehr wahrscheinlich tot sei. In Yokagao macht Mokoto Ichiko gegenüber eine ähnliche Bemerkung, als sie die Krankenschwester fragt, wie diese glücklich sein könne, nachdem deren Neffe Saki entführt habe. Dieses Glück, auf das sie neidisch ist, wird sie systematisch zerstören. In Sonos Film werden Themen wie Sünde und Reinigung von Schuld angesprochen, während in Rakuen eine der Personen sagt, dass der Selbstmord des Tatverdächtigen Befreiung von Schuld sei. Der junge Mann verbrennt sich selbst. Feuer und Wasser als reinigende Elemente : Ichiko wird, nachdem ihre mühevoll inszenierte Intrige fehlgeschlagen ist, ins Meer waten – nicht um zu sterben, wie die Szene zuerst vermuten lässt, sondern in einem Moment der Erneuerung, selbst wenn es keine Rückkehr zur vorher gelebten Normalität und keine vollständige Heilung geben wird.
Die spirituelle Dimension trifft auf die Beschreibung menschlicher Schicksale, Symbolik auf Psychologie. Alle Filme entwerfen kritische Porträts der Gegenwartsgesellschaft. Sie beschäftigen sich mit Vorurteilen und Diskriminierung, deren Opfer der ehemalige Yakuza Mikami ebenso wird wie der junge aus Korea stammende Einwanderer Takeshi (Ayano Gō), der in Japan nicht das gelobte Land findet, sondern vom Mob in den Tod gehetzt wird (Rakuen). Zezes Film verweist auf tiefverwurzelten japanischen Rassismus gegen Koreaner und Rassismus, der sich gegen eine neue Gruppe von Migranten – in diesem Falle Afrikaner –wendet, die von den Dorfbewohnern als erste verdächtigt werden, nachdem erneut ein Mädchen vermisst wird. Tsumugi stellt sich nicht nur ihrem Trauma, sondern reißt auch das Plakat ab, auf dem die Dörfler zur Wachsamkeit aufgefordert werden. Sie stellt sich gegen diesen Appell zur Denunziation, der nur Misstrauen schüre. Ichiko wird Opfer dieses Misstrauens, dass durch die Medienhetze, die sie mehr und mehr ausgrenzt, befeuert wird. Kritik an sensationslüsternen Medien findet sich auch in Nishikawas Film. Eine Redakteurin plant einen Film über Mikami zu drehen, doch ihr Interesse gilt nicht den Problemen des ehemaligen Yakuza, sondern spektakulärer Gewalt.
Nach Jigoku de naze warui (Why Don’t You Pay in Hell?, 2013) ist Escher dori no akai posuto ein weiterer Film Sonos über das Filmemachen. Über den Mikrokosmos der Filmwelt werden psychosoziale Probleme aufgezeigt wie der Wunsch des Einzelnen nach Beachtung und Individualität. Kobayashi will zu seinen Wurzeln als Indie Filmemacher zurückkehren, wird dabei aber mit vielen Hindernissen konfrontiert. Sein Name erinnert an Kobayashi Masaki, einen Regisseur, der ebenfalls Konflikte mit seinem Studio ausgetragen hat. Die Korruption innerhalb des Studiossystems findet ihren Widerhall auf der politischen Ebene. Die auf den ersten Blick künstlich erscheinende Filmwelt wird in der Realität verankert, wenn im Radio Nachrichten über Demonstrationen in Hongkong zu hören sind. Der experimentelle Hakai no hi ist ganz eindeutig eine Reaktion auf aktuelle Zustände: Das Leben mit dem Virus.
Allen Filmen sind ihre verschachtelten Strukturen gemein, die manchmal überraschende Wendungen zulassen. Alle arbeiten sie auf mehreren Zeitebenen mit Flashbacks und Flashforwards. Bereits im Titel von Sonos Film findet sich die Referenz an den niederländischen Künstler M.C. Escher (1898-1972), der sich in seinem Werk mit optischen Täuschungen, unmöglich erscheinenden Perspektiven und multistabiler Wahrnehmung beschäftigt. Sonos Film kreist um Wahrnehmung und Illusion, was durch die verschiedenen Zeitebenen, durch Perspektivwechsel auf ein und dieselbe Handlung und Variationen von Themen erzählerisch und visuell verstärkt wird. Außerdem greift Sono auf die Geisterfigur zurück und spielt auf vielen Ebenen mit Täuschung: von der Selbsttäuschung, in der sich Stars ebenso wie Statisten verlieren, bis hin zur Halluzination. Auch in Hakai no hi findet sich die Geistergeschichte wieder ebenso wie das Horrorelement, die das Monster verkörpert. Um Täuschungen geht es auch in Yokagao, in dem Sakis kurzzeitiges Verschwinden ein Rätsel bleibt, Ichiko eine andere Identität annimmt und in dem Malerei und die unterschiedliche Bedeutung ein und desselben Motivs bei verschiedenen Malern ein Thema ist. In Rakuen verbirgt sich hinter der Maske des freundlichen Bienenzüchters ein Misanthrop und Mörder, der aber selbst Opfer einer eingeschworenen Dorfgemeinschaft ist, während das Schicksal des verschwundenen Mädchens ein Geheimnis bleibt.
Am Ende von Escher dori no akai posuto scheint die Filmhandlung in die Realität zu münden, als auf einer belebten Straße mitten in Tokio gedreht wird und ein Polizist die Aufnahme stoppt, indem er die Hand auf die Kameralinse legt. Fiktion oder Realität? Kino ist Illusion und doch unabdingbarer Teil gelebter Wirklichkeit ist. Das zeigen die fünf Filme in komplexen Geschichten und Bildkompositionen. Über jeden dieser Filme wäre noch viel zu schreiben. Und dennoch – mir fehlte wie so häufig in den letzten Jahren – die Kraft der Filme der großen Meister der japanischen Kinos der Vergangenheit.


by Andrea Grunert

60 years ago – on 25 April 1961 – Kurosawa Akira’s Yōjinbō (Yojimbo) was released in Japan. Since then, much has been written about this highly influential film that inspired many Japanese and international productions, of which Sergio Leone’s Per un Pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars, Italy/Germany/Spain, 1964) is the best known. The Japanese film’s ambiguous central figure – the yōjinbō or bodyguard, played by Mifune Toshirō (1) –, its graphic violence (2) and its various mise en scène devices (3) have left their indelible mark on filmmaking both in Japan and in the West.

Subverting genre conventions
Leone turned Kurosawa’s film into a Western (made in Europe), and Yōjinbō itself contains elements reminiscent of this most American genre, including shots of the protagonist emerging on the dusty main street of a small town where the final showdown will later take place. There are also numerous details that evoke Westerns as well as elements of the hard-boiled genre in film and literature. However, the setting and many other aspects are distinctively Japanese. The many references to a great variety of narrative and visual elements in Japanese and other cultures (4) reflect the history of Japanese cinema (and of the country as a whole), contributing further to the originality of Kurosawa’s film.
With its many fight scenes, Yōjinbō could be called a chanbara, a swordfighting film, but its complexity makes the label jidaigeki (period film) more appropriate. The action is set in the early nineteenth century in the last decades of the Tokugawa era, which ended in 1868 after more than 250 years with the samurai no longer the official rulers of the country. As in Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai, 1954), Kumonosu-jō (Throne of Blood, 1957) and Kakushi toride no san akunin (The Hidden Fortress, 1958), Kurosawa offers a critical view of the samurai class and its codes of behaviour. However, in contrast to these earlier films, he openly challenges genre conventions. The yōjinbō defeats his opponents using their methods, and Kurosawa reacts to the jidaigeki and chanbara genres from within by subverting their conventions.
Distancing himself from the mass productions by the successful Toei studio – the champion of chanbara production with its stylized fight scenes and stereotypical plots and characters – Kurosawa pushes graphic violence to new extremes. The shot of a severed arm falling to the ground or blood gushing from the neck of a victim create gore effects unknown at that time in mainstream period films. As Yoshimoto Mitsuhiro writes, “there was no direct representation of blood in conventional chambara. Yojimbo destroys this convention once and for all!“ (5). In Kurosawa’s ground-breaking film, the realistic approach to violence is also explored in the sound effects – one particular innovation being the sound of human flesh being slashed.
Kurosawa’s shift from formulaic expression had already inspired Araki Mataemon: kettō kagiya no tsuji (Vendetta of Samurai, 1952, Mori Kazuo), for which he wrote the script and in which Mifune was cast in the leading role as the famous swordfighter Araki Mataemon. The film starts with a ballet-like swordfighting scene reminiscent of early silent films and their origins in Kabuki theatre. A voice-over informs the viewer that this form of representation belongs to the past, new films being more realistic. Both Mori’s film and Yōjinbō present realistic fight scenes and have complex main characters. However, the critical reworking of the samurai ideal in Araki Mataemon is mainly expressed through narration whereas in Yōjinbō aesthetic aspects are important in the critical discourse on the values attributed to the samurai and on genre conventions. Moreover, Kurosawa’s film eschews the didactic intention that is revealed in the first sequences of Araki Mataemon. Yōjinbō’s various cultural references and its rich intertextual dimension that is an integral part of Kurosawa’s filmmaking and Mifune’s media image enhance the critical exploration of the film’s genre renewal. It is this multi-layered approach that makes Yōjinbō a masterpiece of modern cinema.

Hero and mise en scène
The hero of Yōjinbō has been described as the “the narrative attractor” (6), and in the film, he openly talks strategy with the innkeeper Gonji (Tōno Eijirō), who identifies his role as manipulator and initiator of violence when, referring to a series of killings, he asks: “Did you write this play?” This hero, a ronin (a masterless samurai) is reminiscent of the nihilist samurai and ronin figures in the films of the late 1920s and 1930s (7) but is adapted to fit the 1960s, making him darker and also funnier. Whereas the traditional image of the ideal samurai celebrated the value of loyalty, Kurosawa’s hero sells his services to two masters and his sole aim seems to be to make money – a further aspect of the film that is in strong contrast to the ethos of the warrior class. He is part of a society still ruled by the samurai but in the nineteenth century largely dominated by the merchants, the lowest of the four classes (8) into which Japanese society was divided in the Tokugawa period. In this world, notions of honour and loyalty are meaningless and so is the conflict between giri (loyalty) and ninjō (personal feelings) that is at the core of many period films. When asked his name, the ronin, looking at a mulberry field, says that it is Kuwabatake (mulberry field) and that his first name is Sanjurō (literally 30th man, which is his age). Instead of exploring the conventional relationship between the samurai, who often had a short life, and the cherry blossom – the delicate flower which only blooms for a short time – Kurosawa offers the mulberry as an ironical alternative, reinforcing his criticism of the warrior ideal perpetuated in many of the Toei productions.
This materialist hero who kills in cold-blood is a pivotal element in Kurosawa’s bushidō criticism and also an important figure in the intertextual discourse as a means to subvert genre conventions. The disparity between this unkempt ronin and figures such as the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, whom Mifune played in Inagaki Hiroshi’s Samurai Trilogy (1954-1956), or the loyal general Makabe Rokurota in Kurosawa’s Kakushi toride no san akunin adds a touch of irony to the figure of this highly ambiguous ronin who then became the model for more modern cinematic heroes. However, the fact that Sanjurō does not hesitate to kill also reveals what the Samurai Trilogy and other period films of the 1950s only suggest – namely that their heroes are killing machines and alienated characters (9).
As in Shichinin no samurai, Kurosawa pursues a realistic streak in which external elements are a reflection of life conditions and an inner struggle and thus appropriate for this alienated loner hero. The yōjinbō’s kimomo is greasy, his hair unkempt, his face unshaven. To these physical aspects Mifune adds mannerisms that underline the character’s poverty, loneliness and marginality. Gestures are means of characterization. The way he tucks his hands inside his kimono to keep them warm, scratching himself frequently and chewing on a toothpick also contribute to the ironical detachment that inspires the portrayal of this hero (10). “Sanjurō never presents himself as a defender of social justice; he is a self-consciously humorous character who always maintains a critical distance from himself” (11), a description that Mifune’s economic acting supports magnificently with his amused, laid-back attitude. The speed with which he changes the expression on his face, – an ability that Kurosawa admired so much – and his enormous creativity as an actor made him the perfect choice for the role. As for his walk – swaying movements, his shoulders hunched –, it is Mifune’s own creation, heightened by framing, camera lenses and music (12).
Mifune’s performance is a marvellous match for Kurosawa’s complex mise en scène and Miyagawa Kazuo’s sublime cinematography. Constant use of deep focus, allowing maximum detail in the shot, together with unsettling close-ups create a highly elaborate visual experience. The unusual orchestration of Satō Masaru’s soundtrack prefigures Ennio Morricone’s music for Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. Its playfulness, contrasting with the violent action, creates a comic counterpoint that is a further contribution to the genre subversion at the core of the film. Humour is an important part of the narrative and is also captured in a number of caricatures such as the cowardly town constable Hansuke (Sawamura Ikio). In the Toei productions and in the “cinema of cruelty” that followed the success of Kurosawa’s film, humour is absent. It is also the element that most clearly distinguishes Yōjinbō from “other graphically violent films” (13) such as Kobayashi Masaki’s masterpiece Seppuku (Harakiri, 1962).

Post-war masculinities
The yōjinbō is a hero endowed with almost supernatural powers. The way he unbelievably escapes death in impossible situations also contributes to the film’s ironical dimension, bypassing realism. This combination of supernatural powers and alienation makes Sanjurō a symbol of his time, his marginalization creating a link to Japan’s recent past. “Although this film is set at the end of the Tokugawa era (1600-1868) when Japan was ‚forced‘ to open to the West and began to modernize, the roots of Yojimbo do not lie only in the imagined heroic past but also in the moral dilemma of the immediate postwar era.” (14) In one of the first sequences, the protagonist crosses paths with a stray dog carrying a severed human hand in its mouth. The sight of the dog with the human hand is a signal to the ronin of the state of anarchy in the town; and the viewer is also invited to identify the lone figure in his shabby clothes with the dog. Not unlike the animal, he lives on the margins of society, a reminder in 1961 of the Japanese soldiers returning from the battlefields in China or the Pacific who were regarded as outcasts by their compatriots and considered no better than stray dogs – a topic that Kurosawa addressed directly in Nora inu (Stray Dog, 1949). Here, Mifune plays a young police inspector who tries to overcome his war trauma and adapt to the new, peaceful Japanese society in a film dealing symbolically with the feeling of emasculation experienced by many Japanese men after defeat in 1945 (15). Sanjurō, by contrast, displays a newly regained masculine strength which is, however, tainted by alienation and loneliness as symptoms of a society dominated by materialism and greed. The past is inseparable from the present; and the historical setting becomes infused with social and political meaning. Addressing modern-day concerns about a corrupt society in which politics, the economy and crime are intertwined, Kurosawa’s 1961 jidaigeki continues the critical discourse of his previous film Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru (The Bad Sleep Well, 1960) set in 1960s Japan (16).
Intertextual elements support the film’s reflections on masculinity and heroism. The elderly yojinbō Homma, who leaves the town before the first fight, waving good-bye to his colleague, is played by Fujita Susumu, the star in Kurosawa’s directorial debut Sugata Sanshirō (Sanshiro Sugata, 1943). As Stephen Prince puts it, “the moment becomes self-referential, a scene in which the two heroes, past and present, of Kurosawa’s cinema meet.” (17) The idealistic young man represented by the judoka Sanshirō is replaced by the middle-aged alienated hero played by Mifune. “It is also a farewell to a more innocent conception of the past, as an era that could nurture Sanshirō’s childlike optimism and spiritual commitment. From now on, the force of history would be felt in terms incompatible with these conditions.” (18) This brief moment in the film is also a reminder that since Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel, 1948, Kurosawa), Mifune has presented a far more complex masculinity than Fujita did in Sugata Sanshirō and its sequel (19), a masculinity less concerned with physical prowess than with the inner struggle of the male protagonists.
However, this estranged and violent hero is still capable of altruism. He saves Nui (Tsukasa Yōko) and her family from violence and humiliation and, in giving them all his money, rejects his materialism. Nor does he kill the young peasant who has joined one of the gangs. Instead, he sends him back to his parents, repaying the couple for their kindness when they let him drink water from their well on his arrival in the town. Sanjurō’s violence contrasts with that of Unosuke (Nakadai Tatsuya), the younger brother of one of the gang bosses terrorizing the town. When the innkeeper asks whether he scripted the series of killings, Sanjurō answers: “Half of it. The other part was written by him”, referring to Unosuke. This reply perhaps suggests that he and Unosuke are two sides of the same coin, evoking the doppelganger motif Kurosawa so often explored in his films and with Unosuke, the incarnation of evil, being the yōjinbō’s dark side.
Unosuke, the younger of the two men and not a samurai is the symbol of a new, changing society and, as indicated by the fact that he uses a pistol, influenced by the West. He is the extreme version of modern Japanese youth, even though he does not wear an Aloha shirt like the yakuza Matsunaga in Yoidore tenshi or the rebellious teenager in Ikimono no kiroku (Record of a Living Being, 1955, Kurosawa). In Yōjinbō, the sword wins out over the firearm, tradition over modernity. Anarchy and crime are abolished, but order is only restored by resorting to violence and repression. There is no feeling of harmony or liberation in a world permeated by crime and corruption when the yōjinbō turns his back on the town to continue his solitary life on the road.

1. Shiba, the ronin played by Tamba Tetsurō in Gosha Hideo’s Sanbiki no samurai (Three Outlaw Samurai, 1964), is reminiscent of the character created by Kurosawa and Mifune in Yōjinbō. Mifune played the lead in the film’s sequel Tsubaki Sanjurō (Sanjuro, Japan, 1962, Kurosawa Akira) and he played the ambiguous, alienated figure of the yōjinbō in Inagaki Hiroshi’s Machibuse (Incident at Blood Pass, 1970) and Okamoto Kihachi’s Zatōichi to yōjinbō (Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, 1970), both produced by Mifune’s production company. He also portrayed the ronin/yōjinbō in several television series produced by his company such as Kaya no surōnin (Ronin of the Wastelands, 1973-1974) and Surōnin makaritorū (The Lowly Ronin, 1981-1983), where this figure is a much less rounded character.2. “A new genre of film called ‚cruel film‘ (zankoku eiga) emerged in the wake of the commercial success of Yojimbo and its ’sequel‘ Sanjuro. In 1963, for instance, Toei’s most successful film at the box office was no longer a formulaic jidaigeki film but Imai Tadashi’s Cruel Stories of Bushido (Bushidō zankoku monogatari), an omnibus film that graphically depicts the masochistic sufferings of the protagonists over seven generations.” (Yoshimoto Mitsuhiro, Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2012 [2000], p. 290-291). The heightening of graphic violence is also visible in the Spaghetti Western, a genre that began with Sergio Leone’s remake of Kurosawa’s film.
3. The perpendicular, medium-length shots frequently used in Yōjinbō became an action film convention and were exploited by directors such as George Lucas, one of the many admirers of Kurosawa.
4. With regard to these possible references, Dolores P. Martinez (“Kurosawa’s Noir Quartet: Cinematic Musings on How to Be a Tough Man” in Chi-Yun Shin and Mark Gallagher, eds.   London/New York, I.B. Taurus, 2015, p. 37-52) examines Yōjinbō in the context of film noir and Japanese folklore whereas Gerald Sim (“Cinematic Expressions of Rakugo in Akira Kurosawa’s Comedies Yojimbo and Sanjuro”, Asian Cinema, Fall/Winter 2011, p. 253-268) reveals the film’s close links with Rakugo, a traditional Japanese form of entertainment.

5. Yoshimoto, op. cit., p. 289.

6. Leonard Ginsberg, Rhapsody on a Film by Kurosawa, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013, p. 16.

7. The period film was very much an innovative genre in the second half of the 1920s and in the 1930s in which directors such as Shōzō Masahiro, Itō Daisuke, Itami Mansaku and Yamanaka Sadaō expressed social criticism through criticism of the bushidō. Their films, having abandoned the Kabuki-inspired style of earlier productions, contained spectacular swordfighting scenes and were characterized by more realistic acting. Their heroes often played by the stars of that period – Tsumasaburō Bandō and Ōkōchi Denjirō – were social outcasts and the settings the poor quarters of Edo (present-day Tokyo).
8. Japanese society of the Tokugawa era was divided into four classes: samurai, peasants, craftsmen and merchants. The merchants, whose world was money, were much despised by the ruling warrior class, whose ethos put honour above material needs.
9. In Inagaki Hiroshi’s Sohen Sasaki Kojirō (Kojiro Sasaki, 1950), Mifune had already played Miyamoto Musashi, a minor character in the film. This Musashi is clearly guided by his killing instinct, his savagery underlined by Mifune’s energetic acting and wild glares.
10. The reference to a toothpick has a historical foundation. Ruth Benedict writes: “They [the samurai] were forbidden to give way to hunger but that was too trivial to mention. They were enjoined when they were starving to pretend they had just eaten: they must pick their teeth with a toothpick. ‚Baby birds,‘ the maxim went, ‚cry for their food but a samurai holds a toothpick between his teeth.’” (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, Boston, Mass., Mariner Books. 2006 (1946), Kindle edition, no pagination. The fact that the poor ronin in Yōjinbō chews on the toothpick has nothing to do with honour – he is truly starving.

11. Yoshimoto, op. cit., p. 292.

12. See Donald Richie, who refers to a statement by Kurosawa (The Films of Akira Kurosawa, third edition expanded and updated with a new epilogue, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996, p. 155).

13. Yoshimoto, op. cit., p. 292.

14. Martinez, op. cit., p. 37.

15. Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel, 1948), Shizukanaru kettō (The Quiet Duel, 1949) and Nora inu.

16. Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru and Yōjinbō were the first two films produced by Kurosawa’s own production company, established in 1959.

17. Stephen Prince, The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa, revised and expanded edition, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1999, p. 230.

18. Prince, ibid., p. 230

19. Two years after the release of Sugata Sanshirō, Fujita Susumu played the role of Sanshirō in Zoku Sugata Sanshirō (Sanshiro Sugata II, Kurosawa, 1945).