Thursday, November 29, 2012

サムライ映画, American Mishima looks at The Sakurada Gate Incident

The Bakumatsu Period of Japan – The Last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate has made for great fodder for film makers seeking to tell the tales of Japan's turbulent series of dramatic historical events that took place during the nineteenth century. In such, 2010 Toei Company's Sakuradamon no gai hen is no exception. Better known here as The Sakurada Gate Incident Japanese Film Director Jun'ya Sato takes up the difficult task of recreating the events that set the stage for revolution and the ultimate goal of Imperial Restoration.
This story centers around a Mito-han Samurai who had just come out from being under confinement named Seki Tetsunosuke (played by Osawa Takao) is has joined a plot by other Mito Clansmen to assassinate the Tairo or Great Elder Ii Naosuke (played by Ibu Masato) who in the aloof Shogun Iesada's absence or interest in government affairs has signed treaties without Imperial Consent with the American Consul Townsend Harris in the Treaty of Amity & Commerce in order to head off Japan's most imminent threat to Japan that has sent the county into crisis. 
Being fully aware of Japan's ineffective coastal defenses, the Bakufu makes these decisions to bide time while they devise a strategy to deal with the threat poised by the black ships of the western powers. Having committing the crime of violating the Mikado's law (Emperor Komei) the Mito han informed the Imperial Court and sought sanction. An Imperial Writ from the Mikado was given directly by the court to the Mito breaking the protocol which angered the Bakufu in Edo. This resulted in the Ansei Purge – Ii Naosuke's reign of terror that resulted in over 100 arrests and eight executions of those who opposed Ii's actions which forces the hand of the Mito to take action. 
Aware of such plots and dire warnings of threats to his life, Ii Naosuke chooses to ignore them at his peril by not increasing the number of his guard. "The Bakufu sets the number."
One a cold morning of March 1860 the assassination is carried out in front of the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle in a bloody sword battle that resulted in the death of Ii Naosuke. It is truly a brutal yet exhilarating scene and the highlight of this film depicting realistic sword action in the most ugly violent of terms.

While Seki Tetsunosuke is merely tasked to record and confirm the Tairo's death, his battle for survival in the face of betrayal by other Han who had pledged to support their cause of Sonno Joi must be overcome. While their timing was not supported by Sakamoto Ryoma, it is up to Seki to live long enough to see the fruit of the Mito's actions and those who died as a result were not in vain. 
Now we have read other bloggers take on this film many of which universally loathed it's slow pace and difficult action. If you are looking to compare this to 13 Assassins, you are going to be disappointed and perhaps by billing this as an action film is in error. In contrast, if you love the history of the Bakumatsu period this is worth viewing. We appreciate that each member of the Mito plot was listed with their ages at the time of death. 
In one such poignant scene we see a father and son cornered by the Magistrates in Osaka. In their attempt to escape, the father jumps from the second story of a Ryokan and injures his leg making escape impossible. With no way out and swords drawn, he limps over to a nearby Buddhist Temple and asks as a warrior to be given use of a room so he may die like a Samurai. 
Minutes later, both the father and his 19 year old son are tragically found dead atop blood soaked tatami mat. But the tragic consequences doesn't end there.
For many of the captured plotters, those associated with the Mito, and those charged with failing to protect the Tairo, such dignity is denied as they are led out to be beheaded. It's scenes like this I believe many viewers who tune out after the first thirty minutes miss out. 
Telling such a complex tale of this nature is never an easy task. Just ask the makers of Kon Ichikawa's 47 Ronin. The 47th NHK Taiga Drama Atsuhime tried to tell the story of Ii Naosuke & the Ansei Purge in the span of two months where director Jun'ya Sato accomplishes this in just a little over two hours. We will concede, at times this film's pacing seems flat and its most exciting scene is the assassination itself. The real story in our minds from moment one should have been solely on what happens to Seki as he tries to evade the Bakufu Magistrates pursuing him. With wanted posters circulated everywhere and no place to go, he will be challenged by swordsman and anyone who fails to protect him. Anyone who loves good fugitive movies can appreciate where this film took in the second hour. To us that was the real story behind these tragic events that cost the lives of anyone connected to him. While some features may look familiar to Samurai Assassin, and it's second hour flies through like Toshiro Mifune's Shinsengumi, this film will challenge if not educate audiences and history buffs alike. While some people may find the first hour uninspiring, the overall film with it's lighting, set design, costume, great cast, and locations makes the grade. Anyone looking to write a paper of the Ansei Purge or that of the Mito Han would be remiss to pass on this film. It very well may change your view of the Mito Samurai who died doing what they believed was in the best interest to save Japan.
While history can be entertaining, this is not mere entertainment. This is an important film conceived by people of the former Mito domain containing serious drama not for the light hearted or easy action oriented. It is both a tragic tale and one of the most important events of a turbulent time that forever changed the course of Japan's future. As said in closing scenes during the Surrender of Edo Castle, Saigo Takamori of Satsuma seen in command of the newly formed Imperial Army says: “It all started here.”

To find a copy of The Sakurada Gate Incident with good English Subtitles please visit our good tomodachi Eddie @

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In Commemoration: Yukio Mishima Remembered

It was on this day 42 years ago on November 25th 1970 that visionary author & playwright Kimitake Hiraoka better known as Yukio Mishima and four members of the Tatenokai (The Shield Society – Mishima's own private Army) entered the Tokyo Headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Ground Self Defense Forces where he staged a failed coup d'etat. For 42 years since his ritual Seppuku that both shocked and mystified Japan and the larger world, Mishima's influence continues on to this day. We would be remiss to not say his actions as his life were not without controversy. Just ask any Isei over 50 and you will get some form of reaction to his name that helped inspire this blog. In commemoration of his death, we at American Mishima would like to offer this small tribute to his memory and great works of literature that earned him three nominations of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was considered the Ernest Hemingway of Japan. Albeit there is no way we could easily summarize his complex life or his works in a few short paragraphs. Rather we leave you with this visual essay from the Paul Schrader film Mishima – A Life in Four Chapters. Please enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2012

一日の画像 - Picture of the Day

This has to be one of the happiest photographs to have been featured here on American Mishima. Newly re-elected President Obama gives a hug to Myanmar (Burma) opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Anyone who knows the story of her decades long struggle for democracy and freedom in her country against the brutal military junta that has ruled her country since the assassination of her father in the 1940's can truly appreciate this photo. Awesome! 

Not familiar with Aung San Suu Kyi? Check out her biographical movie starring Michelle Yeoh - The Lady

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Los Angeles Koyasan 100 Year Centennial

Today marked the 100 Year Centennial Celebration of the founding of the Los Angeles Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo. Established in a room in the Miyako Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles by Aoyama Shutai Sensei in 1912, the Temple has endured many challenges from Discrimination to the forced internment of Japanese-American during World War II. Through the resilience of the Isei & Nisei generations both the Temple and the teachings of Kobo Daishi have flourished to propagate Shingon Buddhism here in the United States culminating in today's heavily attended ceremony to which we were fortunate enough to attend.
For this special occasion, various priests from Japan flew in to partake in the 100 year ceremony most notably Ekan Ikeguchi the head minister of the Saifukuji Temple in Kagoshima who in 1968 visited the Los Angeles Betsuin in Little Tokyo and helped establish the Goma Fire Ritual which has become a mainstay in the Koyasan Temple to this day. Among the 20+ priests attending were resident Bishop Emeritus Taisen Miyata Sensei and an appearance by our former minister and dear friend Reverend Seicho Asahi Sensei who performed Taiko during the Goma service portion.
As both practitioners of Shingon Buddhism and members of the LA Koyasan Temple we at American Mishima would like to wish the Los Angeles Koyasan Betsuin in Little Tokyo another 100 Years success and the continued propagation of the teachings of Kobo Dashi here in the United States.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Look at LA Opera's Production of Madame Butterfly

The following photos are from the LA Opera's current production of Madame Butterfly. Yes we know this is Puccini but it still makes a great story. Please enjoy!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

一日の画像 - Picture of the Day

おめでとうございます! US Ambassador to Japan John Roo's seen here with happy Tokyo High School Students celebrating the US Election results re-electing incumbent President Barrack Obama. すごいねReposted from Japan Today.

First Isei Elected to US Senate!

Oh what a night! President Obama won re-election and then in his home state of Hawaii the people have elected their first woman senator to represent the Aloha State. はい そ です! Sure, other people of Japanese descent such as Senior Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye (Seen pictured with Hirono) have been elected to office before but Mazie Hirono will be the first foreign born and Asian-American elected to the Senate. Originally from Fukushima Japan, the 65 year old naturalized citizen Congresswoman Mazie Hirono becomes the first Isei to be elected to the US Senate representing Hawaii. It should be further noted that she is also the first Buddhist to be elected to the Senate. With all the evangelical insanity we've seen, it's good to know we have a sane Buddhist on board.  So to Senator Hirono, we at American Mishima would like to congratulate you by saying おめでとうございます + がんばってください!

Monday, November 5, 2012

一日の画像 - Picture of the Day

In keeping with Nobunaga November we chose to feature this statue of Shibata Katsuie that sits guard at the site of Kitanojo Castle. "Oni" Demon Shibata was one of Oda Nobunaga's Generals who married Nobunaga's sister Lady Oichi. Facing defeat by Toyotomi Hideyoshi's forces, it is said that Oni Shibata died together with Lady Oichi at the end of the Battle of Shizugatake. As we continue on with the NHK Taiga Drama Hime-tachi no Sengoku or Princess Go, we will feature other real life characters who served the great warlord Oda Nobunaga.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Saying Goodbye to the U.S.S. Enterprise

As America's oldest active duty nuclear powered aircraft carrier CVN-65 U.S.S Enterprise sails home from her final patrol, we at American Mishima wanted to share our reflections on this proud ship and symbol of America's Naval Might. The Big E as she is known has not been the first warship to bear the name Enterprise nor will she be the last. But all things come to an end. Sadly, we couldn't disagree more with the manner in which that end has been slated and we will tell you why. There has not been a time in this author's life that we did not know about the U.S.S. Enterprise. As she sails off to her fate awaiting the cutting torches of the scrapyard we feel saddened that this most iconic ship that had protected us for generations could not be saved in a more dignified retirement by converting it from warship to floating museum like that of the Intrepid. It is truly a sad day for fans of the "Big E" and even sadder for those who had proudly served aboard her. Though we never served aboard her or in our military for that matter, much like a death in the family we feel like were losing a friend we have known since childhood. We've built countless models, seen her in countless movies, and have been fortunate to have met many of her proud crew who have shared their experiences in this lifetime. From Vietnam to the Wars in Iraq, she had be served by generations. It is with heartfelt sentiment that we at American Mishima offer a final Sayonara and salute to this great warship who throughout our lifetime kept us safe though the dark days of the cold war and in times of peace. Though she will never sail again nor her iconic "Island" be saved, she will forever be etched into the memories of those who knew her. As one fictional Captain of another Enterprise once said: "Let history never forget the name... Enterprise."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Greatest Generation: Navajo Code Talker Passes On

Growing up as member of the Generation X, we grew up with many of what would be called "The Greatest Generation" who would be our grandparents, neighbors, teachers, and friends. As we now we go more than half a century from their days when their nation needed them, we have reached that twilight moment where the last of those brave souls are crossing over and leaving us. It is sad and noteworthy for us at American Mishima to note these old warriors passings for the days where there will be no more. Sadly, one more has left us. It was reported on CNN that former USMC Sgt. George Smith has passed away. We do not know his exact age but what we do know is what his contribution and that of the Navajo Nation did for the United States. You see, the Japanese Imperial High Command could break every code the US Navy put out there until the USMC brought in Navajo volunteers who served between 1942-1945. They alone created a code using the obscure Navajo language which has no written form and is said to be impossible for a non-Navajo to learn. The Japanese had no reference or any idea what this code was nor could they decipher its cryptic messages. This proved crucial to the war effort and particularly in the Battle for Iwo Jima. Their exploits became immortalized in the 2002 John Woo film Wind Talkers starring famed Native American actor Adam Beach. There are so few left today. So we will take this moment to offer a salute to former USMC Sgt. George Smith of the proud Navajo Nation and thank him for his service. Our nation will always be indebted to these proud Warriors of the Navajo Nation.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

織田 信長 Nobunaga November - Warlord Understood

A recent commercial for Bacardi asked "Who says history is boring?" Well in Japan it's not. Far from it. In fact it's been raised on television to a high art form we know as Taiga Drama which draws many of Japan's finest artists to play some of the greatest historical roles of Japan's history. Of the most prominent and sought after roles in Japanese Taiga Drama, none other stands out more than the ever daunting complex role of the Warring States Period most powerful Warlord Oda Nobunaga. Without question, his mark on Japan's history and perhaps the world's cast a long shadow both filled with historical admiration and stark controversy some of which we will state in brief here.
In previous posts we have talked much about Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin as our favorite Warlords of the Sengoku Jidai or Warring States Period. Up until now we have deliberately avoided Oda Nobunaga until we had reached a point where we could better understand him and his motivations. I can honestly say I have reached that point. You see as both a Koyasan Buddhist and Shinto practitioner, I have been troubled with the knowledge of a godless Oda destroying temples & shrines and in that process murdering it's priests. In war there are always motivations not always clearly defined nor understood. The issue was raised in this recent election cycle of when churches interfere with politics or take sides if consequences should follow. In the Sengoku Jidai consequences rarely left without bloodshed. People just did not mess around back then hence Oda had his reasons. It's not that we sanction murder nor agree with his actions at Mt. Hiei and Ise but this was the Warring States Period and to say this was his only controversy would be a mere oversimplification distracting from his many great accomplishments.
In our writings and research for American Mishima's upcoming novels we have paid much attention to the Bakumatsu Era Samurai and the Boshin War. What is not always realized outside of Japan is that the same problems faced by Katsu Kaishu & Sakamoto Ryoma were the very same problems faced 300 years earlier when the Portuguese & Dutch arrived on Japan's shores. Faced with a growing threat from the West and true understanding of Japan's place in the world it was Oda Nobunaga who like Katsu Kaishu understood the urgency to modernize Japan as one country in order to save it from being conquered. But given his time, the only way this would happen would be by brute force and a sea of blood. Understanding this crisis, Oda Nobunaga took action that would ultimately lead to an end of the era of big warring armies of feudal states. But as history recalls, Oda would never complete his mission due to the betrayal by Akechi Mitsuhide whose army attacked Oda at the Honnō-ji Temple. Nobunaga's grand vision for a unified Japan would fall onto his successors Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa. But give the devil his due. It took one man to start that process and that man was Oda Nobunaga.
We have seen many depictions of the great Warring States Period Warlord played by many great actors but I must state that it is Etsushi Toyokawa's performance in Princess Go that really put a tangible feel for who this man was. Albeit NHK Taiga Drama's tend to romanticize a bit, it is still draws you in on a level of what their world was like. Etsushi Toyokawa (featured in the above photos from Princess Go) who we recently featured in The Sword of Desperation plays Oda Nobunaga with deep conviction and a sense of realism one could imagine the real Oda having. It is not to say he is portraying Oda as a nice Lord but that of one of strong fortitude and iron resolve that is not lost on his own humanity. In Etsushi Toyokawa's portrayal, he personifies a man of reason and intellect that has either been absent from other depictions that came off rather cold or well acted yet too brief to truly savor. Etsushi Toyokawa truely delivers as both a capable actor and a powerful one at that I would see anything this man would appear in. But it is Toyokawa's portrayal of Oda that has changed my view on the Warlord to one of admiration. (Damn NHK for making me like this Lord!) If you are an affectionado of what one fellow blogger calls the Man who Changed the World, then I invite you to indulge in this latest depiction of what the Great Sengoku Jidai Warlord Uesugi Kenshin called "The Greatest General of his Time" in NHK's 50th Taiga Drama Princess Go.

To find Princess Go and other Taiga Drama please visit our man Eddie at