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09-24-2003, 10:43 PM
I was bored the other day, and I decided to rifle through my old videotape collection – looking for some movie I haven’t watched for a long time…

I came across “The Challenge” (titled Sword of the Ninja when it was released on TV). What a great flick. Scott Glen plays a washed out American boxer who gets tangled up in a private war between two Japanese brothers over their family’s swords. Toshiro Mufune plays the Japanese master and the martial art choreography (Aikido) was done by Steve Seagal (and a cool sword master for Mufune as he refused to be “taught” by a non-Japanese). The story is just fun, and even at 62 years old Mufune still rocked.

That of course made me dig deeper into the “vault” of tapes, and I came across a copy of “The Yakuza”, with Robert Mitchum and Ken Takamura (cool actor from Black Rain with Micheal Douglas). What an awesome story, and all of the actors suite their part. I have heard that Warner Brothers is planning on doing a remake with Seagal in Mitchum’s part. I think he would rock, and you would have great story and great action.

So then I’m stuck in Japanese flick-mode…I gotta have more, so off to the video store.

Believe it or not, I had never seen The Seven Samurai or Yojimbo before (Akira Kurosawa’s classic films) and the local video store just happened to have them both in the foreign films section. Now while I had heard that The Magnificent Seven (classic western with Yul Brunner) was based on The Seven Samurai, and A Fist Full of Dollars (with Clint Eastwood) was based on Yojimbo – I had no idea how much they were the same until I saw them. And even though I knew the story, I loved every minute of them. It’s crazy how good they were (Toshiro Mufune is good in both of them).

So now I’m all hooked on Japanese flicks, but I’m out of ideas…I know there is Black Rain (Micheal Douglas and Ken Takamura – excellent flick), and Rising Sun (Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes – marginally amusing flick) – but what else?

You gotta help me before I resort to watching really bad Chinese Gung Fu flicks where everybody flies around on wires (or Bullet-Proof Monk), or worse than that…I might even have to watch BloodSport or some other Jean-Claude atrocity!


Kensho Furuya
09-25-2003, 12:07 AM
It is not really a subject related to Aikido but if you are interested in Japanese "samurai' or "chambara" movies, there are so many one hardly knows where to start! They have been making this type of genre since the early 1930's with its golden age in the mid-50's and waning in the mid-60's. As Japanese became more Westernized, Japanese tastes also turned to more updated genres leaving the Samurai classics to the older folk and younger kids.

Akira Kurosawa is one of the great directors of all time and his works are easily available in stores for you. In addition to the classic, Seven Samurai, you should see Sanjuro along with Yojimbo, and perhaps Hidden Fortress (Kumonoso Jo) which was the inspiration for our Star Wars. By the way, Yojimbo was copied as a Western movie but the original script for Yojimbo was actually, in turn, based on a Western classic, Red Harvest. As for Kurosawa, please see Ran, Kage-musha, and many others. Kurosawa's very first movie debut is Sugata Sanshiro about a young Judo student and the founding, early days of Judo - this will inspire any Aikido student today, although slightly dated.

Others available here in stores for you are the Zatoichi series starring Katsu Shintaro as the blind swordsman-massuer, and the Lone Wolf series (Kozure-Ohkami) starring Wakayama Tomisaburo (Shintaro's brother). Btw, Wakayama is a high ranking Judo and Iaido teacher when he is not acting. Harder to find but very popular a while back is the Shinobi no mono series starring Ichikawa Raizo (Daiei Prod.) - these started the ninja boom in this country.

For classics, there is the Miyamoto Musashi movies - the most well-known here in this country is the three-parter starring Mifune Toshiro called Samurai Trilogy. My favorite is the classic 6-parter starring Nakamura Kinnosuke. The earliest version of the Musashi series starred Kataoka Chiezo in the 30's. Later, this role was taken by Takahashi Hideki and many others for the tv soaps.

Many like the Sword of Doom (Daibosatsu Toge) classic starring Nakadai Tatsuya but the earlier version in 3 parts starring Kataoka Chiezo is the best. The spear fight scene when he is blind is a classic of the chambara fight genre. The author of the original classic novel did some unusual research on an obscure sword style known as "otonashi no ken" or the "sword of no sound." He later wrote about his research in a two-volume work on swordsmanship - very interesting but in Japanese only and out of print. Very rare.

Hard to find but also popular is the Nemuri Kyoshiro series starring Ichikawa Raizo who plays a "crazed" swordsman, a product of the Black Mass, a foreign priest raping a Japanese maiden as the story line goes. Ichikawa, one of the great actors for the samurai genre died at the young age of 44 from liver cancer.

In the 50's, Toei produced thousands of movies - especially the Bored Hatamoto (Saotome Mondonosuke) series starring Ichikawa Utaemon - who made about 50 movies reprising this very same character - a true testament to its popularity. His son, Kitaoka Kinya, later took over the role and made about 5 or 6 movies in his father's place. Ichikawa produced over 600 full-length samurai movies in his career.

The Mito Komon series starring many actors in the movies and on tv has been playing for the last 25-30 years and recently celebrated their 1000 episode.

If you can find it - see the Kurama Tengu starring Arashi Kanjuro - great sword play. Or the Kuro-zukin series starring Otomo Ryutaro (his last role was in Itami Juzo's Tampopo) who plays a black-masked samurai who rides a white stallion and carries two six-shooters as well as a long sword to vanquish the bad guys!

There is too much to discuss here as far as samurai movies go. As a trivia point, one tv star, Matsudaira Ken, is a 3rd Dan in Aikido. Another actress, ***** Naomi (sorry, can't recall her name) is also a 3rd or 4th Dan in Aikikai Hombu Aikido. Years ago she starred in a short lived tv show - Beauty Tips with Aikido!

The only movie devoted to Aikido that I know of was Totsuzen Aikido by Toei (Sudden Attack! Aikido) starring Sonny Chiba (Chiba Shinichi) - I do not recommend this at all and fear that the mere mention of this montrousity might incur your interest.

Most recently, Aikido appeared on Japanese tv in the Lawyer-Geisha (believe it or not) series, about three were made. A lawyer is a part-time geisha who solves murders and uses Aikido to capture the bad guys! In one episode, there is a brief scene of a real Aikido dojo in Japan.

There are tons more info on this subject and I have left out a lot, but this is all off the top of my head at the moment and all for now. . . . Enjoy!

Jeff Tibbetts
09-25-2003, 01:28 AM
Funny you should mention this. I don't know what happened, but all of the sudden our local video stores are getting more and more Japanese modern films. I think it started with Ringu. Now they have that, Chaos (by the same director,) Gohatto (spelling?,) Onmyoji, Versus, Happiness of the Katakuris, Audition, and some other, more obscure ones. All of these films were worth watching, maybe with the exception of Versus (unless you're into cornball action.) Anyway, I like it, and I hope they continue stocking these. I know it's just a fad right now, but maybe some day people will realize that many of these are REALLY FREAKIN GOOD. Now if only they'd release Battle Royale... wishful thinking.

09-25-2003, 01:44 AM
Chambara! Chambara!

Thank you so much for the great advice Mr.Furuya, that’s a fantastic list!

Now I am supercharged, ready to get into Japanese swashbuckling movies even more so.

I had no idea there were that many.

I remember reading the Lone Wolf and Cub comic novels about 7 or 8 years back, that story would be a cool movie series. I didn’t know that Yojimbo’s script was based on a western (that’s a cool turn-about), and while I had heard Akira Kurosawa was a great director way back when I was in Fine Arts (University), I should have watched them sooner – he is great.

So now that I have a million choices, two questions:

(1) What’s your all time favorite that I have to watch?

(2) Which movie has THE best Japanese swordplay you have ever seen in a movie?

And on a technical side (cause you are THE person to ask), which sword art do you think improves ones Aikido the most – Iaido, Kenjutsu, or Tameshigiri? Obviously one style may be better than another, but in general.

Thanks again Mr.Furuya for a fantastic list of movies (way, way more than I was expecting). All I can say is sugoi!


09-25-2003, 05:06 AM
Now if only they'd release Battle Royale... wishful thinking

Battle Royale should be available from someone who holds the license in another country. Often a HK distributer will purchase the license to a movie and release it as a region free dvd with english subtitles as an option.

Search the web and you should be able to find a perfectly fine, perfectly legal, region free dvd.



Kensho Furuya
09-25-2003, 07:51 AM
Thanks. There are a lot of movies of more recent vintage available in the video stores today, I just wanted to mention some of the great classics in the chambara genre in my previous note. Onmyoji which is being released for American audiences and will soon be on the screen is more of a "magic" and "magical spells" romance type of movie with little "chambara" action and much of this is influenced by Western and Kung Fu movies, although the setting is very Japanese. Gohatto is supposely Ohshima Nagisa's re-debut into movie-making after many years but it has a rather odd adult (xxx) theme so I didn't mention it here. One objection I have to this movie is that Nagisa made this for tv several years previously and then reworked it for the movies in almost the identical format. This is not quite Kosher in my book for a "debut."

There are a lot of "chambara" movies focusing on the Bakumatsu or end of the Edo Period in recent years, featuring themes of young samurai and the opening of Japan to the west. The idea of finding a "new world" is a popular theme of Samurai movies today.

Of movies which are easily available today in the stores, the Kozure Ohkami or Lone Wolf series has the best swordplay action in my opinion. Also, Wakayama Tomisaburo is an experienced Iaido expert as I mentioned before. Some of the younger actors today have no concept of how to use a sword, earlier actors were trained in the Kabuki and Japanese dance and had a good feeling for beautiful sword-play action. Younger actors today do not even know how to wear a sword properly or even hold it correctly.

My personal favorites with the best sword action in my opinion is theYagyu Tabi Nikki (Yagyu Travel Dairies) series starring Konoe Jushiro and Otomo Ryutaro but I cannot find it in any archives today. Nakamura Kinnosuke in Hiken Ageha Cho is also a great, with the best two-sword style action. Tsukigata Ryunosuke is the best villain with the best sword action - great in Shingo Nijuban Shobu (20 Challenges of Aoi Shingo) starring Okawa Hashizo. In those days, there were many great samurai action stars such as Kataoka Chiezo, Ichikawa Utaemon, Arashi Kanjuro, Okochi Denjiro, Otomo Ryutaro, Okawa Hashizo, Nakamura Kinnosuke, Ichikawa Raizo, Tsukigata Ryunosuke, Konoe Jushiro, Satomi Kotaro, Azumi Chiyonosuke, to name just a few.

If you are looking for newer movies, not vintage, you might like Ame Agaru (The Rain Ceases) which is supposed to be from an unfinished script by Akira Kurosawa. This features some Iaido sword action. Also the very quirky Samurai Fiction is very good and entertaining. Very "Aikido" -like in feeling in its stars insistence on non-violence and not using the sword. I don't keep too close an eye on newer movies because modern actors today in Japan do not have the same training in sword and cannot "sell" the fight scenes well on screen. The most recent and last "new" chambara movie I happened to see featured the Samurai hero with his hair dyed red, and his buddy's hair was blond! Not my cup of tea. I forgot the name (and as much of this horrendous movie as possible) but it is released in the American market about yakuza gangsters who are really ninja in disguise but it turns out at the end that they are actually space aliens who are here to take over the earth but disguise themselves as ninjas who hide their identities as yakuza (got that?). This is not my cup of tea either!

I have background in Kendo, Iaido, Battodo and Tameshigiri. If you want to develop in Aiki-ken, then practice good Aiki-ken. I keep my other sword training separate from teaching Aikido sword work. One personal point where I see Aikidoists can improve more in Aiki-ken is that more often than not, the basic grip for holding the sword is almost always incorrect (very easy to knock the sword out of an Aikidoists' hands in many cases), and most students' suburi is very, very weak. Also, the ma-ai is almost always too distant in Aikido practice and I feel this distorts and detracts from the "real" tecnique; in actual cutting, such as in tameshigiri, you will notice the ma-ai is much, much closer to make actual contact- but all this is another thread and my opinions on sword practice will just irritate you! Please don't ask me. Anyways, hope this helps you out - enjoy!

PS: "Chambara" comes from "chan-chan, bara-bara" the sound of clashing swords in the movies! The more proper term is Jidai-geki or "period piece."

09-25-2003, 08:52 AM

Gohatto should be available for rental in better video stores in the US under the name "Taboo". Beat Takeshi (best known for his gangster films) is one of the stars.



Jeff Tibbetts
09-25-2003, 09:41 AM
Thanks for your response Furuya-san. I understand that you were thinking more along the lines of Chambara, I just thought I'd mention that there were so many videos out, now. I didn't know that Gohatto was a remake of a TV series. That's interesting, to say the least, that a movie with that theme would be played on TV. I like this movie simply becuase it highlights one aspect of the Bishonen archetype, which you scarecely find in products that are chosen for release in the Western market for obvious reasons. Oh, and as far as Onmyoji, I thought it was a decent movie, if only for the way that the Seinen was acted. I agree completely that there were some sub-par elements, and the fighting was exceptionally weak. I didn't think it was all that Western in style, however, but I wasn't looking for that either.

Paul, have you actually ordered one of these copies of B.R. or seen one? I've seen a few TERRIBLE region-free movies, I always thought they were all bootleg knockoffs from China. Please let me know if you know of a "real" copy for order from somewhere, and can attest to the translation quality. By the ways, I was messing around on IMDb last night, and I double checked something. One of the characters in Kill Bill (the Japanese schoolgorl) is indeed in B.R. and it would seem that she plays about the same character. At least, her uniform looks like the same one, but it's been a while since I've seen B.R.

Kensho Furuya
09-25-2003, 10:02 AM
I didn't make myself quite clear, it was not a tv series but one installment of a three or four part mini-series which aired on Japanese tv several years ago. I didn't pay too much attention to it and I can't remember the name exactly but something like Shinsengumi Fuunroku or Chronicles of the Shinsengumi, after the original novel.

Early on, I was asked to work on Kill Bill as a writer and consultant for the sword action. I think Taurantino (spelling?) is a great director but this movie seemed to emphasize a lot of gratuitous and graphic violence. Perhaps a bad career move on my part, but I turned it down because of this. I guess I am a hard-core Aikido teacher and prefer to continue to struggle on the mats trying to pay the rent.

09-25-2003, 10:12 AM
Paul, have you actually ordered one of these copies of B.R. or seen one?

Check out The HK DVDSuperstore (http://shop.hkdvdstore.com/product_info.php?products_id=1234)

While I've not ordered BR from them, I have ordered several other films from them and the quality and service has always been top notch.



09-25-2003, 11:16 AM
Gon! (The sound of a rock hitting Bruce’s head).

I thought chambara was kind of a weird Japanese word, “chan-chan, bara-bara”, now it makes more sense - a sort of slang term, I like it.

I prefer classic movies with authentic swordplay, and real story to current movies with mock martial arts. Good movies are timeless, bad movies make time drag – heh heh.

My favorite part of Seven Samurai was when Kyuzo (the master swordsman), who realizes that no one else has the skill to survive the riflemen takes off to confront them himself, then casually walks up without a scratch on him a day later and says, “I got two”, and then sits down to get some sleep! Katsushiro (the young guy) is so overwhelmed he needs to say something, so he says ‘I just think that you’re great!’ Kyuzo pretends not to care, but when the young guy leaves he cracks a tiny little smirk then goes to sleep. That’s Budo!

Thanks again for sharing your movie experience with me Mr.Furuya; I can’t wait to get into them.

Thanks also for your wisdom concerning the sword. I have an opportunity here to study a few different sword styles: Katori Shinto Ryu, and couple of others, and of course Kendo and Iaido. While I continue to practice Aiki-ken and Aiki-jo as they relate to Aikido principles, I have been told that Tameshigiri can really help you connect to your center (as it just doesn’t work with out it) – something I have been trying to improve in my Aikido for quite some time.

As for grip of the sword, I have seen two methods…perhaps you can tell me which you feel is better:

(1) Your left hand is placed mostly on the hilt, but with the pinky looped under the kashira (the sword hilt actually resting on your pinky to start with), a whole fist width between your left and right hands, and the index finger on your right hand touching the tsuba.

(2) Your left hand on the hilt completely with your pinky just above the kashira (one finger width from the bottom), two-finger width between both hands, and the index finger on your right hand touching the tsuba.

Both grips having the palms facing down, and both grips “wringing a wet towel” when actually striking.

I had always thought the first grip was for bokken, to prevent slipping since the bokken has no cloth to grip (tsuka-ito I believe it’s called), and the second was for a real sword.

Thanks for the great movie advice and answering my questions about the sword Mr.Furuya.


09-25-2003, 12:00 PM
And also thanks to you guys too, Paul and Jeff. I am more interested in the vintage swordplay movies though…they seem to adhere a little more to Budo principles (and the opposite of course in the bad guys), and be more concerned with presenting authentic martial arts than now a days (Movie-Fu I believe it has been coined).

And as for Kill Bill Mr.Furuya, although I can’t say whether it was (or wasn’t) a good move monetarily (I know you live in LA, so…), you are right to turn it away on ethical grounds. Quentin is part of a generation that wants to explore the violence side of art, which while artists are free to explore any aspect of art – movies are the main “intellectual” vehicle of our youth today (like it or not) and need to be more responsible.

Yes Mr.Tarantino will say his movie is half-camp exaggerating the violence aspects to make a point of how movies have tackled the subject in the past, and half-tribute to a genre worth mentioning (however Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba was in the latter part of the Chambara genre as far a s I know, and not THAT worthy of mention – I have seen at least one of his movies) – but he isn’t taking an responsibilities for changing the industry, he’s just trying to capitalize on it to push him back into the light again as his career is always waning.

While almost everyone will agree that Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” movie was a master piece (both in direction and story), I for one thought Pulp Fiction was retarded. But it was timely – capitalizing on the growing trend of ultra-violence for the sake of violence.

Kill Bill is the same sort of thing, except he is combining his ultra-violence with ultra-humor (to the point of camp humor) so he can justify it (Ya it’s really violent, but you know its pretend cause the humor is so dumb).

Ah well…I digressed into a violence sermon – sorry. It is interesting, however, that we are now going to see quite a few samurai movies all of a sudden. Hollywood always moves in cycles, and its samurai time again (cause we have left it alone for a long time), the youth of today don’t remember the good old movies, and due to politics in our world we can’t have movies with political bad guys (such as Russians, or terrorists) anymore so you’re going to see a lot of samurai movies, a lot of period pieces in general, and more alien movies (cause we can all feel good about whooping aliens without questioning our government’s political agendas :))


Kensho Furuya
09-26-2003, 02:40 PM
Glad to be of some help. In regards to the grip. In real practice, we use two grips. In the more conventional grip, the "pinky" should cover the kashira by a half-width of the finger. In Iaido, we sometimes grip with both hands close to the middle of the tsuka. Through a competent teacher and training, you will begin to understand how to use both grips and when.

Many people stick out the index finger of the right hand when gripping the sword. This in not done in traditional swordsmanship or in Iaido. It is common to see this in Aikido, but for practical purposes, all your fingers should be gripping the sword. You might say that in the real world of swordsmanship, anything sticking out like that gets cut off. A problem I should like to mention is that many students allow the wrists to fall to the side of the tsuka - this creates a weak cut and also makes it very easy to knock the sword out of the hands. Not enough training - the hands get fatigued and fall to the side of the tsuka is very common. Without getting too involved here, the wrists should be aligned properly with the top of the tsuka - enhancing the cutting ability of the cut and preventing, as much as possible, from getting the sword knocked out of your hands.

Also, in training, the sword should make contact with the target (partner-opponent) at the proper distance, to begin to understand the proper ma-ai. Usually, in practice, for "safety" reasons, we break our ma-ai, being too distant from our partner. Generally, my dojo rule for attacks in all Aikido training is "contact, but no impact" as in tsuki or menuchi, yokomenuchi, etc. . . . . should reach the target. It is up to the tori (nage) to move accordingly and neutralize the attack, not move against a "non" attack or "virtual" attack.

Finally, one should view the attacker's sword cut as an unstoppable and very fast attack, not something so easily blocked or so slow. This will alter your view on training but has the valuable aspect of greatly emphasizing "getting out of the way" and continually, "moving out of the line of fire." In Kendo, the sword (shinai) moves almost blindingly fast. In my humble opinion, in my own dojo, we are required to practice against very fast movement or cuts, or, at least, we must train the eye to catch and follow very quick movements. These are just very brief and quick hints for you. I hope I don't get a lot of feedback on this, I don't want to get involved in a lot of sword "talk." Practice! Practice! Enjoyed chit-chatting about chambara movies but maybe not appropriate here because it is not really related to Aikido - Many thanks!

09-26-2003, 03:03 PM
No more feedback necessary – your advice was excellent, and I will concentrate on improving my grip while I “practice, practice” to the sounds of “chan-chan, bara-bara” - watching some of those cool samurai movies of old.

Thanks Mr.Furuya. Sugoi!!!