Star Wars and the Japanese Connection

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Vaderai

Vaderai

by Michelle “Ms. Geek” Klein-Hass

Back before the 1960s, most people entered the American film industry through apprenticeships. Usually those apprenticeships were passed down from father to son, and there was no way for “outsiders” to get a toe-hold in the business. However, the collapse of the studio system allowed for outside talent to get a chance to create. One of those firebrand filmmakers was George Lucas. His first film, THX 1138, was not a success, but he managed to get a second chance. His teenage memories became the basis for American Graffiti, a modestly budgeted film shot in his hometown of Modesto, CA. One of the actors in the film was Harrison Ford. Ford joined Lucas in the cast of Lucas’ next film, The Star Wars.

americangraffiti11324

americangraffiti11324

The studios did not share Lucas’ enthusiasm for a throwback to 1930s pulp science fantasy. However, between 20th Century Fox and independent investors, a modest budget was cobbled together, and filming began. Of course, the result created a new cinematic era. Star Wars, later called Episode IV: A New Hope, became one of the most financially successful American movies of all time.

StarWarsNihon

StarWarsNihon

However, much of the ideas of Star Wars came not from the American cinema canon, but from Japanese Jidai-Geki (Samurai) film. Lucas had fallen in love with the post-war genre, especially with the films by master director Akira Kurosawa.

The Hidden Fortress poster 04 big

The Hidden Fortress poster 04 big

The Kurosawa classic The Hidden Fortress provided much of the inspiration for the first Star Wars movie, with a few scenes almost direct re-stagings of scenes from that film and Kurosawa’s most famous film Seven Samurai. Costuming also took cues from traditional Japanese clothing and armor, most notably in Darth Vader’s life-support suit, the armor of the Stormtroopers, and the tattered Jedi robes of Obi-Wan Kenobi. And Kendo and Iaido, the Samurai arts of swordsmanship, provided the foundation for the choreography of the duel between Kenobi and Vader.

By the time the first Star Wars movie hit screens in Japan, the inspiration flowed right back to Japanese live action film, anime, and manga. (Disclosure: TOKYOPOP distributed translated versions of the manga retelling of the original trilogy and the first prequel.)

MessageFromSpaceBaddie

MessageFromSpaceBaddie

Actually Message From Space, a tokusatsu film made by Toei and directed by Kinji Fukasaku, was made after Fukusaku and writer Hiro Matsuda saw Star Wars. However, by quirk of the timing of the Japanese release of the first Star Wars film, Message came out in Japan before Star Wars. This led to the idea among some Japanese SF fans that Star Wars ripped off Message and not vice-versa.

kamenvader

kamenvader

Over the decades, as the original trilogy and prequel trilogy were released, the influence of Star Wars has continued to be strong in Japan. However, shockingly, Star Wars: The Force Awakens did not enter the Japanese box office charts at number one. The Yokai Watch movie held the most recent Star Wars movie at bay for two weeks, with The Force Awakens pulling ahead in box office sales on the third week.

ReyNausicaa

ReyNausicaa

The influence of Star Wars on anime and manga, and anime and manga on Star Wars, has been quite reciprocal. Certainly there is a Miyazaki-esque feel to The Force Awakens, with a plucky self-sufficient female heroine, a conflicted, tortured villain, and wise women who advise the heroine. And anime fans with creative talent have brought together Star Wars and anime in a more direct way…check out the fan films here.

TIE Fighter: The Animation
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN_CP4SuoTU

Star Wars: The Anime (Nacho Punch) 
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0hU6PDrXco

Samurai Vader vs. Kamen Rider
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3VV28QO72E

SW: The Force Awakens as an Anime OP 
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWDey5e1uCk

Finally, here’s a really cool short about the history of Japanese cinema and how it had a direct influence on the Star Wars saga: 

Samurai films and Star Wars


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pU6B2zEFeg

Sources: http://geekandsundry.com/what-if-star-wars-was-an-anime/http://en.rocketnews24.com/2016/01/22/what-do-kamen-rider-and-darth-vader-have-in-common-theyre-both-in-this-insane-video/ Samurai films and Star Wars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pU6B2zEFeg