The latest installment of Did You Know Anime? spotlights the delightful fusion of history and fiction known as Samurai Champloo (2004–2005). The purposefully anachronistic Champloo gives viewers a taste of Edo-era Japan via a fresh (albeit skewed) perspective unlike any preceding it: modern urban culture blends with mainstay traditions of a Japan set far in the past.
Director Shinichiro Watanabe (best known for directing the quintessential ‘space western’ Cowboy Bebop (1998–1999)) chose to blend together ingredients from the two most differing things he could come up with—a traditional samurai period piece and Hip-Hop culture—to create a truly unique work that serves as fitting tribute to, of all things, cooking! (Watanabe’s neologism “champloo” is derived from the Okinawan chanpuru style of cooking.) In a way, the work also exists as an apropos metaphor for its creator. As a Japanese filmmaker heavily inspired by Western films of the twentieth century, Watanabe himself is a rather fascinating mixture, and it definitely shows in his projects: time and again he blends the nuances and traditions of Eastern and Western cultures to produce memorable series with their own distinct ‘flavors’ whether it be via break-dancing ronin, a ‘cowboy-turned-samurai’ bounty hunter, or a pompadour-wielding space explorer.
In addition to highlighting Watanabe’s avant-garde work, I also wanted to use this video and blog post to mention other great Japanese filmmakers who were both highly inspiration in Japan and abroad (such as Akira Kurosawa) and were known to break molds while creating a few conventions of their own (such as Seijun Suzuki). During the research process, I found myself returning to one of the sources of my undergrad study materials which has since become a cherished addition on my personal bookshelf: Asian Cinema: A Field Guide (2007). Written by film critic and Asian-cinema expert Tom Vick, the book proved extremely helpful and made the task of script writing that much more enjoyable.
Thanks to narrator Ninouh for his enthusiastic presentation, to Tom for writing such a comprehensive book, and of course to Michael for adding yet another savory selection to the DYKA menu!
(Okay seriously, no more food references…I’m making myself hungry!)
– J. G. Lobo
© 2015 (text)