For the average Star Wars fan this may come as a bit of a surprise but many Star Wars fanboys (and girls) and Japanophiles are aware of how much Star Wars was influenced by Japanese cinema and particularly the works of legendary director Akira Kurosawa.
Though some of the other Star Wars films and animated TV series’ include scenes, costumes and names inspired by Japan, the one that has been mostly influenced by Kurosawa’s samurai movies is the film that later went on to be retitled as ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope‘ but when originally released was simply called ‘Star Wars‘.
I’m sure that anyone reading this knows the narrative; the ultimate story of good versus evil. The definitive masterpiece with great casting, a superb score from John Williams, awesome locations, highly quotable dialogue and the feeling that this galaxy in a place far, far away really does exist.
There really is not much point in me reviewing the film as anyone reading this will almost certainly know the story. Instead, lets take a look at the close similarities between Japanese cinema and Star Wars. George Lucas created an outer-space version of the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa.
The most obvious likeness I guess comes from the similarity between the lightsaber’s and the katana (sword) and the fact that two generals duel each other whilst enemy troops look on from the sidelines.
The relationship between samurai armour and Darth Vader as well as the Stormtroopers, is also fairly commonly known yet I had absolutely no idea about such stuff until I arrived on these shores all those years ago. The likeness really is incredible.
Star Wars borrows a lot of great stuff from ‘Yojimbo‘ (1961) including the Mos Eisley scenes where the heroes arrives in a strange town and are questioned by the authorities. Threats are made and then suddenly there’s a flash of blade and before you know it, an arm lies on the ground.
‘The Hidden Fortress‘ (1958) is the one film that inspired Lucas in his story writing the most. It tells the story of a general and a princess behind enemy lines in feudal Japan, fighting their way to safety. This is done with the help of two bickering peasants who evolved into R2D2 and C3P0 two decades later. They go their separate ways but as luck would have it they both get captured, are thrown back together again and end up on a mission to help out a Princess in distress. Furthermore, the wipes separating scenes also came from Kurosawa and the rebels were even hiding in a place referenced on screen as a hidden fortress. Coincidence? I think not!
Lucas named his rebellion soldiers as Jedi after Jidai-Geki (basically period drama movies about samurai) and though not in ‘A New Hope‘ it is worth mentioning that Yoda (who first appears in ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘) was modelled in some ways on the esteemed samurai master from ‘Seven Samurai‘ (1954) known as Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura). When deep in thought, Shimada would run his hand thoughtfully over his head which is exactly what Yoda did en-route to the spaceship that would take him to Chewbacca’s homeland of Kashyyyk.
This timeless classic is still my favourite of all the Star Wars movies though admittedly ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘ (1980) has held that position at times. However, ever since I visited some of the Tunisian locations used during filming in 1976 it has been top of the pile for me….and probably always be! Put simply this movie has had such a huge impact on social culture and even those who have never seen it are often still aware of certain characters and dialogue. It has become a global beast, a marketing phenomenon and is the one that all other franchises envy and desire.
It is often my thought that if I hadn’t seen the original trilogy as a child then I wouldn’t be so into it as I am but this is far more than a misty eyed adult looking back with fondness at stuff he watched as a child. Unlike many other things I watched back then this has held up and stood the test the time and to this day is still very much prevalent in modern society.
Tokyo Fox Rating 10/10